EDMONTON – Entering Game 1 of their first round series with the Oilers, the players listed on the Sharks’ roster had a combined 1,169 games of playoff experience, second only to Chicago. They are, of course, still the defending Western Conference champions, too.
Perhaps that’s why in the first intermission, when they trailed 2-0 and were on the verge of getting pushed out against a young, hungry Oilers team playing in front of a berserk crowd, yelling and screaming in the dressing room was not required.
“I think there wasn’t much that needed to be said. There wasn’t much panic,” Joe Pavelski said.
Pete DeBoer said: “At the end of the first the message from me, but more importantly from the guys in the room, was we feel good about [our] game and there’s a lot of hockey left. Just stick with it.”
They might have been the only ones that weren’t unnerved at that point. After all, the Sharks backed into the playoffs by playing their worst hockey in two years under DeBoer from mid-March on, and were without emotional and offensive leader Joe Thornton. Logan Couture, who did manage to play, was admittedly not very effective, either.
But a huge power play goal to start the second period by Joel Ward tilted the ice drastically in the Sharks’ favor. After a first period in which shots were 10 apiece, the Sharks had a 34-9 advantage the rest of the way, culminating in Melker Karlsson’s tiebreaking score a little more than three minutes into overtime.
Ward finished off a slick pass from Joonas Donskoi at 1:43 of the middle frame, with just three seconds to go on a hooking minor to Drake Caggiula, cutting the Edmonton lead to 2-1. It was all Sharks after that.
“Yeah, gained some momentum,” Ward said. “I thought we were still playing well, we just needed a little bit of a lift. It was good to put one home, and start it off for the fellas.”
Even with their renewed energy, though, it took the Sharks nearly 24 more minutes to tie it. In the third period, Tomas Hertl – the Sharks’ most effective forward of the night – took the puck hard to the net. Cam Talbot kicked it away, but Paul Martin charged in to deposit the loose puck at 5:22 of the third period.
It was encouraging for the Sharks to get contributions from guys like Donskoi and Hertl, especially, as those two had inconsistent regular seasons interrupted by injury but were such important contributors to the Stanley Cup Final run last season.
“We understand what those guys can do, all of us,” Pavelski said. “Those guys’ games just got better and better as the night went on. As they settled in, it was big for our team.”
Karlsson had the biggest moment of all. The Oilers failed to sort out coverage in their defensive zone, leaving the Swedish forward wide open. Pavelski found his linemate streaking ahead, and Karlsson whizzed a wrist shot past Cam Talbot’s glove hand at 3:22 of the extra frame.
Game, 3-2, visitors.
“I got a little space there and Pav made the pass, saw me going in the middle,” Karlsson said. “Had a half-breakaway, so it was nice.”
It was the proper result in a game the Sharks deserved to win.
“Wardo scored a big goal and for the rest of the game, the second period on, we had control of that game,” Couture said. “It was just a matter of time before the puck was going in.”