(Reuters) - The San Jose Sharks did not win any style points on Sunday but they won a playoff game they probably deserved to lose.
Joe Pavelski’s first goal of the series and sixth of the playoffs sparked San Jose to a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators. Joe Thornton’s empty-net goal at 19:04 counted as the game-winner after Nashville’s Ryan Johansen scored with 3.2 seconds left.
“We won, and I think in the playoffs you have to win in all kinds of different ways,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.
The victory gave San Jose a 2-0 lead in its best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series that resumes with Game 3 in Nashville on Tuesday.
“It’s tough losing a game like that,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “The third period, the effort was there and the energy was there. We played a good hockey game.”
San Jose were nursing a 1-0 lead, courtesy of Logan Couture’s power-play goal at 18:36 of the second period, until Nashville gained the equalizer at 12:56 of the third when defenseman Mattias Ekholm beat screened Sharks goalie Martin Jones.
A game earmarked for overtime turned when Pavelski chipped in a weakside rebound of a Matt Nieto shot late in the third. Thornton’s cross-ice pass to Nieto got Pekka Rinne moving laterally, and the Nashville goalie could not move back in time to deny Pavelski.
“Pavs was able to bury it, he’s done it all season,” Couture said. “When we needed a big goal they stepped up got it for us.”
“You knew it was a game you were going to have to earn,” Pavelski added.
The rest was up to Jones, and the Sharks’ goalie was outstanding again. He finished with 37 saves to win for the sixth time in seven starts this postseason.
“He was excellent tonight, he was our best player and he needed to be,” DeBoer said of Jones. “And their guy was pretty good, too. He made some unbelievable saves, regardless of what the shot clock said.”
That was not much consolation to the Predators, however.
“I think we were the better team out there tonight,” Ekholm said. “Especially in the second, late in the first and in the third. We were just as good as they were. They got a lucky bounce in the end and scored the game winner.”
The Sharks survived an early third-period Nashville power play after defenseman Brenden Dillon roughed Johansen behind the play at 6:34.
The Predators managed one shot, and there was a scary moment for San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who was struck in the visor by a blast from Nashville defenseman Shea Weber during the advantage.
Stunned initially, Vlasic returned once the action returned to even strength and was OK afterward.
Couture scored the only goal of a tight-checking, fast-paced opening 40 minutes.
It took the Sharks only 33 seconds to convert on their second power-play opportunity of the game, courtesy of Nashville’s too-many-men penalty at 18:03 of the second period.
San Jose took advantage of Rinne’s failure to corral a dump-in. The Sharks worked the puck back to the right point, where defenseman Brent Burns’ shot was redirected on goal by Pavelski.
Rinne made a pad save, then lost sight of the puck for a moment to give an unmarked Couture the opening to punch home his fourth goal of the playoffs.
It was an odd sight as Nashville defenseman Roman Josi tried to avoid the penalty by jumping on the San Jose bench. He straddled the boards as a surprised San Jose defense pair Paul Martin and Burns kept him from fully getting off the ice.
When asked if he had ever seen that tactic before, Martin said: “Maybe get knocked into the bench, but I hadn’t seen jumping into the bench. It was a good call, we needed that.”
DeBoer agreed this was a night the Sharks were not at their best.
”Their desperation level was just a little bit higher than ours in the second and third,“ he said of the Preds. ”You’ve got a team that’s facing going down two games, you don’t want to lose the first two games of a series.
“We found a way to weather it and Jonesy was fantastic. The important thing is we won.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford