Quick hits from the Shark Tank after San Jose’s 3-2 victory Thursday night over Montreal.
*Sharks coach Todd McLellan loved watching his team’s gritty come-from-behind victory, but he hated seeing center Scott Nichol get shoved head-first into the boards early in the third period by Montreal’s Maxim Lapierre.
Let’s set the scene for what unfolded.
Torrey Mitchell whipped a pinpoint pass to a streaking Nichol on a break-away. Going full speed, Nichol fired a shot off the right post. As he zoomed past the net, Lapierre shoved Nichol from behind, giving him no chance to stop. Nichol went crashing into the boards.
Nichol got up off the ice holding his right should but still tried to confront Lapierre.
Surprisingly, Lapierre was not penalized for the play.
“I’m a Shark and I’m going to have an opinion on the call,” McLellan said. “I think it was a missed call. I think it was a real dangerous play. I wouldn’t want to see one of their players go in like that and I certainly don’t’ want to see one of ours.”
Nichol didn’t return to the game, and McLellan said he was waiting to receive a medical update.
“On the Scotty Nichol play, it’s a tough play,” Sharks defenseman Rob Blake said. “That’s the plays we don’t like to see just because it’s a very vulnerable position. It’s a tough call. The refs were up front about it.”
That play seemed to energize the Sharks. They trailed 2-1 at the time and outscored Montreal 2-0 the rest of the way.
*Playoff hockey in March? In some respects, it felt like it Thursday night. Both teams were grinding hard, and goals were hard to come by.
“I think that’s the way it’s going to be down the stretch,” McLellan said. “I’m glad we got to play in that game. You’re in the middle of it, and you’re down a goal, you’re wishing you could score. By the end of the night we stuck with the plan and won the game.
“Those are good games for us to play in. I didn’t see anybody going off on their own. They stuck with the program. I think what you’re asking me is was it frustrating to see the goaltender make as many good saves as he made. That’s what happens at this time of the year. You have to find a way to beat them.”
The game got chippy at times, and each team drew seven penalties.
*The Sharks came into Thursday night’s game on a two-game losing and scoreless streak. But according to Blake, their biggest concern wasn’t simply avoiding a three-game skid.
“We’re really more concerned with how we’re going to play,” he said. “Our record’s up there for a reason. We’re more concerned with style. These are games you’re going to see. We have 18 left and a lot of them are against teams fighting for the playoffs. So you’re going to see that style before you get in the playoffs.”
*Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov needed a strong game after what he’s been through this month, and he got one, stopping 28 of 30 shots and making some huge plays.
“He’s been great all year,” Sharks winger Dany Heatley said. “He keeps us in so many games. Tonight he was outstanding again, especially in the third period when he kept it 2-1 for a long time.”
Earlier in the month, Nabokov had a six-goal Russian Olympic nightmare against Team Canada. He gave up four goals in the first period and two more in the second before being yanked after facing just 23 shots. Then in his first post-Olympics NHL game, he gave up four goals Tuesday – three in the second period – in a 4-3 loss to New Jersey at the Shark Tank. In that loss, he faced only 21 shots.
Nabokov got off to another rough start Thursday, giving up a goal with 9:39 still left in the first period. Montreal’s Brian Gionta took a pass from Scott Gomez and, directly in front of the crease, blasted a long shot past Nabokov’s stick side.
Later in the period, Nabokov made up for his early lapse. In one rapid-fire sequence, he stopped Benoit Pouliot’s break-away shot from the right circle then blocked Gionta’s blast of the rebound with just over 7 minutes left. Moments later, Nabokov reached high for made a glove save while doing the splits.
Nabokov gave up a power-play goal to Scott Gomez at 2:06 of the second period. Later in the period he made a bad pass, right to the Canadiens’ Roman Hamrlik above the left circle. Hamrlik unleashed a laser, but Nabokov caught it. Threat – and potential embarrassment – over.
After giving up that second goal, Nabokov was a wall for the rest of the night, especially in the closing minutes when he made a handful of nice saves.
“They were coming,” Nabokov said of the Canadiens. “I was able to see the puck and I was able to make the saves.”
Nabokov also heard the chants of “Nah-bee! Nah-bee!” as he shut the door on Montreal.
“That’s nice to hear,” he said.
*The Sharks scored their first goal – short-handed, no less – just 53 seconds into the second period. That’s when Patrick Marleau, planted in front of the net, redirected Blake’s long slap shot from near the right boards for his 39th goal of the season.
That goal gave Marleau a new single-season career high with 18 games still left to play.
That 1-1 deadlock lasted all of 69 seconds before Montreal’s Gomez answered with a power-play goal.
For most the remainder of the second period, the Sharks and Canadiens spent their time drawing penalties and coming up empty.
The Shark’s Dan Boyle had the best scoring chance, but he was wide right by a fraction of an inch on a penalty shot, hitting the post. Boyle got his chance after Canadiens goalie Carey Price lost his stick and defenseman Hal Gill tossed it toward him while the Sharks were attacking.
There’s no throwing sticks in hockey.
*Heatley tied the game 2-2 with 7:28 with a power-play goal, re-directing Dan Boyle’s shot. Then with 4:55 to play, Manny Malhotra’s one-timer from the point off a Torrey Mitchell feed beat Carey Price and put the Sharks ahead 3-2.
“We had stressed all night getting on the ‘D,’ forcing them into turnovers, getting pucks to the point and getting shots” Malhotra said. “(Mitchell) had enough patience to find me. I don’t even think Price saw the puck.”
Thanks to a screen from a fellow Shark.