Sharks vs. Predators: It Comes To This

What began to look like an easy series for the Sharks quickly turned into a slog through the mud between two teams who may be at the end of their ropes physically and mentally. Six games and two overtime decisions later these players are spent, especially the Predators who came off a grueling series against the Mighty Ducks. One of the wins in this series was even a triple overtime to add insult to injury. No matter what happens on Thursday, San Jose and Nashville are leaving it all on the ice.

When the Predators finally knocked off Anaheim in Game 7 of their first round series they only had one day to rest before starting Game 1 against San Jose. The lack of down time might help explain why Nashville seemed completely out of gas by the third period, allowing a total of 5 goals in less than 17 minutes. While Predator goalie Peka Rinne managed to shut the Sharks out for two periods the wheels fell off the cart in the third and San Jose took the early lead in the series.

With just one day off between Games 1 and 2 the Predators hoped to rejuvenate and tie the series at 1 apiece. It didn’t turn out as planned with San Jose eking out a 3-2 win. Of the 5 goals scored during that matchup, 4 came in the third period making Nashville fans worry that if their team didn’t get a break they might find themselves out in the second round.

Game 3 came two days later with travel from California to Tennessee in between. With San Jose undefeated on the road in the post-season and a weary Nashville team heading to the ice things were not looking good. Maybe it was the hometown advantage. Maybe their backs were against the wall. Whatever the reason, the Nashville Predators dominated the Sharks to a 4-1 win, putting the series at 2-1. Pekka Rinne was the standout again with 26 saves against a Sharks team who hadn’t lost an away game since March 17th.

Game 4 stayed in Tennessee giving the Predators two full night’s sleep in their own beds. They needed it because Game 4 went into triple overtime before Nashville center, Mike Fisher, finally put one past Sharks goalie Martin Jones. The series was tied at 2.

Game 5 came after another travel day back to California where the long string of hockey games without a break may have finally done the Predators in. San Jose dominated the game with a 5-1 win that put them back in the lead 3-2.

A haggard Predators team came back to Nashville for Game 6. Tapping into whatever reserves of energy they had they managed to force overtime on a Colin Wilson goal in the third period.  Two minutes into overtime 23-year old Viktor Arvidsson scored his first career playoff goal to keep Nashville’s hopes alive. ''The second most exciting part of him scoring was that it was in the first three minutes,'' Predators left-winger Colin Wilson said. ''We get to get to bed at a regular time.”

Game 7 will feature something the Predators haven’t seen since mid-April; an extra day off thanks to a Selena Gomez concert at the SAP Center in San Jose. Perhaps that extra day’s rest will make a difference. Either way the winner of this game will face the winner of the Blues/Stars series, which has also reached Game 7, proving once again that the NHL Playoffs are a marathon not a sprint.