April 29, 2011
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SAN JOSE -- Benn Ferriero. Of course Benn Ferriero. Why the hell not Benn Ferriero?
I mean, Friday was his birthday. Hed never played in a Stanley Cup playoff game before. He had been on the ice for 4:38 of the entire game. Hed taken one shot, on his only shift of the third period. Hed been, well, a fourth-line wing on a three-line team, and happy just to hear coach Todd McLellan say, Be ready.
Until the solar system parted and he threw a what-the-hell shot at something that looked like the Detroit Red Wings' net. And his shot, which looked like it was heading for the crowd net, hit defenseman (and former Shark) Brad Stuarts stick high on the shaft, rocketed down and skipped between goalie Jimmy Howards pads for the overtime winner in San Joses 2-1 victory in Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal.
It was so planned, so well-constructed, that Ferriero wore this grin throughout his interviews that said, What a lucky boy am I?
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That was pretty much it, he said after San Jose's best playoff game in years. Cooch (Logan Couture) and (Detroits Justin) Abdelkader fought along the wall for it, Cooch got it to me, I just turned and threw it at the net, and it hit a stick or skate or something and it just went in.
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In other words, your standard playoff overtime goal -- a sloppy, goofy, happy mess for a kid who was considered an afterthought in Phoenix and was biding his time in the Sharks system up until the moment when McLellan got his inspiration.
He told me about 30 seconds before to get ready to go on, Ferriero said of McLellan. Thats my job, to stay ready for when Im called upon.
Inspiration? More like a shot in the dark.
Oh, Im no genius, he said of his decision to insert Ferriero on the fourth line with Scott Nichol and Ben Eager. He just brought some things to the table that I thought we needed, is all. Wed had some guys who were out there (on an extended power play) pretty long, and I thought we were getting to the point where we were going to go to some of our other guys.
Yeah. Overtime. Legs getting wonky. Five minutes and the winning goal. Thats pretty specific duty for a guy who under normal circumstances would be at a bar toasting his own 24th birthday.
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The goal ended a sensational game, one dominated by the Sharks with presence and persistence, but dominated even more by the spectacular work of Howard, the Detroit goalie who was blamed by many for the Wings exit from the playoffs last year at the hands of the Sharks. Howard was nicked for only a Joe Pavelski open-aired swat at 10:22 of the third period of the 45 shots he saw before Ferrieros, and was as good as Los Angeles Jonathan Quick had been in the Sharks first series.
But the game truly turned in the overtime, in a four-and-a-half minute swing that nearly blew up on the Sharks.
It began when defenseman Niclas Wallin blocked Abdelkaders shot on a 4-on-1 rush toward San Jose goalie Antti Niemi, and as the two headed to chase the puck in the corner, Abdelkaders stick caught Wallin somewhere in the beard, he laughed.
Wallins beard bleeds, then, because Abdelkader went off on a double-minor for high-sticking, and though the power play did not go well for San Jose (three shots, none of them truly worrisome and nine clears), it did not take them long to re-establish the Detroit zone as base camp.
Thats where Couture came in battling Abdelkader for a puck along the wall to Howards right.
I just sort of got body position on him, and got in on his stick and knocked the puck to Benny, Couture said. That was about it.
Ferriero collected the puck, took a stride and leaned into a left turn and then did the one thing that makes the most sense in such chaos. He threw a shot at the net from the top of the faceoff circle.
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They tell you that when youre a little guy, shoot and see what happens, defenseman Dan Boyle said. Thats what he did.
And it was an OK enough shot, just nothing great, until it clipped Stuarts stick. It also looked like it might have caught fellow defenseman Niklas Kronwall, but all he did was help obscure Howards view from the puck that changed directions so radically.
When the puck went in, at 7:03, Stuart hurled his stick with one hand into the netting behind the glass in disgust. The Sharks exploded with glee at their fourth overtime win. And McLellan breathed a sigh of relief.
They did such a good job killing the penalty, and maybe if Bennie shot doesnt go in, now theyve got momentum, he said, ever the worrying type. We would have had to regroup, settle ourselves, because you dont convert on something like that, you sometimes tend to droop a little.
There was no droopage, though. Benn Ferriero had been kissed on the head by whatever deity was handling hockey this weekend, and got his goal, on his second shot, in his sixth minute of playoff hockey of his first playoff game.
You cant make it up. Well, you could. You just wouldnt ever be able to sell the screenplay to anyone who doesnt have his office in the trunk of his car, is all. But be sure to give it a snappy title.
Like, "Why The Hell Not Benn Ferriero?" Fits on a poster quite nicely.