SAN JOSE – The raucous home crowd and the return of their emotional leader helped to give the Sharks the start they were looking in their attempt to regain the lead in their first round series with the Edmonton Oilers.
In the first playoff game at SAP Center since last June’s Stanley Cup Final, and with Joe Thornton back on the ice, San Jose was skating, hitting and making plays as they hemmed the Oilers into their defensive end for most of the opening frame.
What they needed, though, was a goal. That never came, and the Oilers steadily improved after the intermission. Unlike the Sharks they scored on one of their chances, when Zack Kassian intercepted a careless David Schlemko pass midway through the third period and slipped it through Martin Jones to give the Oilers a 1-0 win in Game 3.
Had the Sharks beaten Cam Talbot in those first 20 minutes, the game against the inexperienced Oilers might have taken on a completely different trajectory. They didn’t, though, and they now find themselves trailing for the first time.
An early goal “definitely would have given us another extra jolt,” said Chris Tierney, who shot the puck high on a partial breakaway in the first on one of several chances that were squandered. “I think Jumbo playing gave us a good jolt right off the bat, and I thought our legs were good. We had chances, we just couldn’t find the goal.”
After getting outshot 13-6 in the first period, the Oilers flipped the tables with a 12-4 advantage in the second period. Still, it remained scoreless.
In the third, though, Schlemko tried getting the puck ahead to Tomas Hertl in the defensive zone only to have Kassian knock it down in the circle. He was free to glide towards the crease and push a backhand through Jones’ five-hole at 10:45 of the third, before a diving Schlemko could recover.
"Just going back to get the puck and tried to bypass a couple of guys,” Schlemko said. “I don't know if it hit his skate or leg. It's a tough bounce. It's a game of mistakes, and that one ends up in the net.”
While Schlemko’s blunder was the biggest moment of the night, the Sharks failure to score for a second straight game is the larger issue. It’s just the second time in franchise history the Sharks have been blanked in consecutive playoff games (Games 1 and 2, second round at Dallas, 2000).
Talbot has now stopped 77 of 80 shots he’s seen (.963 save percentage). In Game 3, the team in front of him blocked just as many shots (22) as it allowed on its goalie.
”It doesn’t matter how well a goalie is playing, you have to find a way to get to him,” Joe Pavelski said. “We need a little bit more there. We’ve got better, flat out. We do.”
Logan Couture said: “I don’t think we generated enough Grade A chances. … I thought we had the puck in their zone, we just got stuck in corners. They block shots. Got to find a way to create some more offense.”
The power play also had another miserable night, going 0-for-2 and failing to record a shot on goal. The Oilers had just one advantage, though, so special teams didn’t play much of a role.
Still, the biggest difference between this year’s Sharks team and the one that made its way to the Stanley Cup Final last season is its inability to score with a man advantage. Somehow, the Sharks look worse on the power play in this series than they did in the regular season, and that was even with Thornton back out there.
“You’ve got to shoot the puck. You’ve got to score some goals. We know that,” Couture said. “Obviously that’s been a concern for us all season, our power play hasn’t been where we need it to be. We need to be better. It’s simple to say, it’s easy to say, but we’ve got to be better.”
Their backs will be against the wall in Game 4 on Tuesday. Lose that one, and the series and season may be all but over going back to Rogers Place.
“These are momentum battles,” DeBoer said. “Last year on our run we found a way to be on the right side of those games and get that goal, and we didn't tonight. So we've got to get that the next time.”