San Jose was already first in the NHL in comeback wins before it got its 22nd Thursday night against the visiting Nashville Predators, so it might not have come as a surprise to the fans in HP Pavilion when the Sharks turned a 4-2 third period deficit into an 8-5 victory.
But it shocked the visiting team, who watched Joe Pavelski get two goals and two assists in the third period alone, including an unassisted spinning backhand game-winner with 5:20 left that fooled Ryan Suter and surprised goalie Dan Ellis.
It was an extremely hard loss for the Preds to swallow in the second game of a four-game road trip while the ice at the Bridgestone Arena has been covered with hardwood for the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The loss was hard because the Predators looked to have put this game on ice early.
The Preds scored first, at 9:11 of the period, when Patric Hornqvist picked up his 24th goal of the season after converting on the team’s second power play chance. It was his 9th goal with the man-advantage, assisted by Suter and Shea Weber, who returned to the lineup after missing a pair of games with an injury.
The Predators spent the first three-quarters of the first period in the Sharks’ end, peppering goaltender Evgeni Nabokov with 15 shots on net — including five on their first power play opportunity — before San Jose even fired one on Ellis.
But when the Sharks did take their first shot on goal, off the stick of Dany Heatley, it got past Ellis to tie the game at 1-1.
The period ended that way with Nashville outshooting the hosts, 17-6, and in the second the Preds repeated the feat, this time to a 17-5 advantage — only they found the net more often.
Five minutes into the second period Nashville retook the lead when Patric Hornqvist, left alone on the right side of the San Jose net, tapped in a pass from Francis Boullion, who had been fed the puck on the left side of the net by Steve Sullivan.
After Joe Thornton only seconds later knotted things up again, after a penalty on Martin Erat set up a Sharks power play, it looked like Nashville was poised to take over the contest.
Erat this time drew a penalty when he took a stick to the face from former teammate Scot Nichol, allowing Nashville to grab its third lead of the evening at 11:31 of the period. There, Cody Franson took a pass from Colin Wilson and blasted a shot from the point that J.P. Dumont deflected past Nabokov.
Wilson later added a pair of goals, marking his third straight game with at least a point — a first for the Preds’ rookie.
Nashville wasn’t done with the period. At 14:04, Dustin Boyd appeared to get his first goal as a Predator, but after a video review, the goal was waved off after it was ruled that Boyd kicked the puck into the net. It was one of two tallies reviewed Thursday night — only Nashville’s was disallowed.
Replays appeared to show that it was the skate of the Sharks’ Kent Huskins that pushed Boyd’s skate and subsequently the puck. The Predators coaching staff saw it that way as well.
“He made no kicking motion at all. He was just being taken into the goalie, and Huskins kicked [Boyd’s] skate and the skate hit the puck,” said assistant coach Brent Peterson. “It should’ve been a goal but that’s Toronto’s decision [referring to the replay officials].
Less than a minute an a half later the Preds got a fourth goal that did count when Wilson chipped in the puck after getting a nice pass around three San Jose defense from Franson.
So after outshooting the hosts 34-11 after 40 minutes, things were looking good for a team trying to hold on to its 7th playoff spot, especially on a night when trailing teams Detroit and Calgary both got wins. In fact, Peterson quipped “Twenty minutes to victory,” when chatting with Predators announcers between periods.
What Peterson did apparently was recite the Sharks third-period battle cry.
At 3:40 of the final frame, San Jose made it a 4-3 game with its second power play goal when Heatly scored his 36th. The Sharks boast the league’s highest power play percentage.
"You know we won the game and that’s great but that’s not what I’ll focus on," said San Jose coach Todd McLellan. "We were clearly outworked and outhustled for two periods and that’s very disappointing.”
San Jose again got the equalizer when Manny Malhotra plucked in a rebound when Pavelski blast kicked off of Ellis’ pads. It was just the 14th shot on net for the Sharks. Ellis had allowed just five goals in his last three starts — he would give up six in San Jose on just 23 shots.
Even after falling behind 5-4, Nashville dug down and tallied its fifth goal with just under seven minutes to play. Kevin Klein was able to blast a shot from just inside the blue line that J.P. Dumont deflected past Nabokov.
But Pavelski’s ballet-like corkscrew heroics basically sealed the comeback for the Sharks.
Ellis was pulled for Pekka Rinne, who almost assuredly will be in net when Nashville visits Anaheim Friday. Trotz had given Ellis a second-straight start after stopping 30 of 31 shots Tuesday in the win over Atlanta.
“The first two periods I thought we played extremely well. I thought we controlled the puck, and didn’t give San Jose too many opportunities to capitalize," Trotz said. "Then in the third period they got the two goals to tie it up. Then the fifth and sixth goals were some of the most horrendous things that ever happened to me.”
The Preds, who outshot the Sharks 45-26, had one last great scoring chance to tie the game with three minutes left when a Weber shot trickled just inches past the San Jose net. But only minutes later Patrick Marleau punched in his 40th goal of the season, basically a punch into the gut of Nashville. An empty net goal only added insult to injury.