After being one of the league’s top teams for most of the season, the Nashville Predators seem to be falling apart in the 11th hour. Their latest setback came in the form of a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi stopped all 35 Predators shots to earn his fifth shutout of the season. San Jose has gone 4-1 this month and Niemi has played a significant part in that with a 1.48 GAA and .956 save percentage in March.
Pekka Rinne was solid between the Predators’ pipes, but Tomas Hertl found the back of the net with the man advantage late in the second period to break the scoreless tie.
Tommy Wingels scored an empty-net goal to make it 2-0 with less than a minute left in regulation.
Between Winnipeg losing and Los Angeles winning tonight, the Sharks are now three points behind in the battle for the second Wild Card spot. Their journey to the playoffs is about to get even more challenging though as they’ll face Chicago on Saturday before beginning a seven-game road trip.
Nashville has now lost seven of its last eight games and the one exception was an overtime victory against the lowly Arizona Coyotes. Thanks to St. Louis’ victory tonight, Nashville is no longer in control of the Central Division’s top seed. Instead, if the playoffs were to start today, the slumping Predators would be up against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
As is the case with San Jose, the Predators schedule isn’t going to get any easier in the near future. They’ll complete their road trip with games against Los Angeles and Anaheim on Saturday and Sunday respectively before hosting the red hot Minnesota Wild Tuesday night.
Last year the Los Angeles Kings came back to eliminate the San Jose Sharks from the first round of the playoffs. Will this latest Kings surge cause the Sharks to start their offseason even earlier in 2015? That’s a real possibility, although the Sharks took the first step towards preventing that with their 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars tonight.
Even if we ignored the fact that the Kings won their last six games and claimed the second Wild Card spot from San Jose on Wednesday in the process, this would still be a critical win for the Sharks. The Dallas Stars are another threat in the battle for a postseason berth and San Jose has struggled lately with just two wins in its last nine contests coming into tonight’s game.
Under that backdrop, San Jose came out strong tonight. Marc-Edouard Vlasic established the Sharks’ lead just 3:24 minutes into the contest and from there they maintained their edge all game. Although the Dallas Stars did make things interesting when Erik Cole found the back of the net with 2:16 remaining in regulation time:
Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels each capitalized on the Stars’ empty net within 11 seconds of each other to squash Dallas’ hopes.
San Jose has regained possession of the second Wild Card spot with a two-point cushion, but the Sharks’ position is still far from ideal as they’ve played in three more games than Los Angeles.
They’ll have a chance to build upon that tenuous edge on Saturday though when the Sharks host Los Angeles in an outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium.
Back from the brink, Kings still ‘have a lot of work left to do’
With just two wins in their last nine, the San Jose Sharks are shaking up their lines for tonight’s game in Dallas.
From CSN Bay Area:
Against the Stars, indications are Logan Couture will center Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels on the (top?) line, while Joe Thornton skates between Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson on another line. Tyler Kennedy will get bumped up to a third line role with center James Sheppard and Matt Nieto, while rookie Chris Tierney will be between Tomas Hertl and Andrew Desjardins on the fourth line.
Couture has spent most of the season skating with Marleau, while Thornton has most often been with Pavelski.
Of the four, it’s Marleau the Sharks could use more from. The 35-year-old has just 11 goals in 59 games. He finished last season with 33 goals.
Five-on-five, Marleau and Thornton haven’t skated regularly together since 2011-12.
Related: Sharks risking ‘national embarrassment’ in outdoor game: columnist