In front of 17,562 screaming fans, the San Jose Sharks accomplished something that had not been done in their last 4 straight series openers - they won a hockey game. Their 4-3 win over the defending Western Conference Champions was exactly the right way to kick off a series against a formidable foe.
Some immediate adjustments made by Todd McLellan that I noticed in this game were the amount of time his top 6 forwards were receiving. The Heatley-Thornton-Mitchell then Clowe-Pavelski-Setoguchi lines were out there almost every other shift focussing on dumping pucks deep and matching up with the Red Wings' skill players. Joe Pavelski broke the scoreless tie 9:05 into the 1st period on the powerplay when Dan Boyle found him open in the slot for a quick shot on net. It was a 4 on 3 powerplay that had just expired, Thomas Holmstrom came out of the box, and Pavel Datsyuk shifted from the middle of the ice to the right anticipating a box formation as Holmstrom was coming into the zone. This caused Pavelski to be left wide open and in great scoring position. In the next 1:19, the Sharks would get two more goals to jump out to a 3-0 lead midway through the first. Dany Heatley got his first of the playoffs and Devon Setoguchi also tallied for San Jose.
The roof just about came off the Shark Tank after the flood gates opened but if there's one thing the Red Wings do probably better than any other team in the NHL is keeping their composure. After the third goal for the Sharks, Detroit captain Nik Lidstrom skated over to his shaken goaltender, Jimmy Howard, tapped him on the pads, and had a chat with him. One has to think it was to remind his goalie about the amount of time left in the hockey game for his team to get back in the game.
The Sharks played an almost perfect 1st period except for the missed defensive assignment that left Dan Cleary wide open on the backdoor to get the Wings on the board and out of the period 3-1.
The second period had the Red Wings getting back to their game - puck possession and offensive pressure. Neither team had many shots in the frame however a failed attempt to clear the zone lead to a goal scored by Johan Franzen cutting the lead to 3-2. The rest of the period was certainly controlled by Detroit and their puck possession style of play. Their aim was to lean on the Sharks until they tipped over. Their plan, however, was foiled by a questionable penalty called against Franzen at the end of the period that ended the period with the Sharks still on the man-advantage.
Joe Pavelski's second goal of the game just 50 seconds into the 3rd gave the Sharks breathing room making it 4-2. The two goal lead would only last another 2 minutes or so when Brian Rafalski scored to cut the lead in half with plenty of time left. The goal was the result of another defensive zone breakdown where the Sharks got caught watching the puck-carrier and Rafalski was able to sneak off his point undetected by Setoguchi and got a quick shot off the pass from Pavel Datsyuk.
The Sharks were able to clamped down defensively and worked hard on getting pucks out of their zone while keeping their shifts short. Detroit failed to get shots on goal in the 3rd only managing a total of 5. This made it easier for the Sharks to hang onto their goal advantage and the eventual 4-3 win.
Evgeni Nabokov played well, turning away 20 of the 23 shots he faced on the night including a shot by Lidstrom through traffic with under 30 seconds left in the game. It certainly was an impressive showing for the Sharks and a huge opportunity for them to head into Detroit with a 2-0 lead on the series.
Game 2 is tomorrow night at 5pm on Versus and Comcast (locally).