Tomas Hertl gets a very specific look on his face when the puck doesn’t find the back of the net the way he thinks it should. It’s a look of sheer disbelief and disappointment, like a kid who was just told he can’t have ice cream after dinner even though he ate all his greens.
That same look spread across his face in the first period of Thursday night’s game against the Predators, when his up-close shot, which passed goalie Pekka Rinne, was called a “no goal” after Hertl was pushed into the crease by Michael Santorelli. Anyone who watched San Jose’s home game against the Oilers back on February 3, which resulted in a 5-4 shootout loss for Team Teal, experienced deja vu.
But the sophomore forward was all smiles after Thursday’s tilt, as the he had notched the game-winner with help from his mates on the third line in the Sharks 2-0 shutout of Nashville. “I almost forgot how you feel after (you score) a goal,” he said grinning from ear-to-ear. “I have good chemistry now with Tommy and Tierny.”
The Tierny-Hertl-Wingels combo wasn’t the only high point on the evening. Thursday marked the second Sharks-Predators games in San Jose this season in which Antti Niemi has pitched a shutout, and he came up big in his second consecutive win — following a stellar performance against the Penguins on Monday — with some big saves late in the game to keep a surging Nashville team off the board. The most impressive? Probably the sprawling stop while lying on his back to deny a goal with 3:13 left in regulation and preserve a 1-0 lead.
“He made some very difficult saves look easy, and there weren’t a lot of leftovers laying around in the crease area,” McLellan complimented. “The team feels good with the team in there right now.”
That “good feeling” helped boost the rest of the team against the netminder at the other end of the ice. Rinne was an absolute beast in the Predators 5-1 win over the Sharks in Nashville back on February 18. Having the confidence to get the puck in his kitchen was a big achievement for San Jose on Wednesday.
“You’re usually not going to beat him with the first or second shot,” Justin Braun simplified. “It’s going to be the third or fourth shot that gets it done.”
Well, maybe more than “three or four” as San Jose didn’t get on the board until the second stanza. Despite having the better chances at the start of the first period, the momentum visibly shifted from the home team to the visiting Preds after Hertl’s goal was waived off. San Jose’s offense was having trouble figuring out Rinne, even going 0-for-3 on the power play.
But on their fourth attempt on the man advantage, Hertl snatched the loose puck in the paint after Rinne couldn’t cover up the rebound and poked it in, avenging his first period “no goal” and putting San Jose on the board 1-0.
Pavelski credited that second power play unit for getting the Sharks going. “They went out and really established the momentum for us, and it was a big turning point in the game.”
McLellan added: “I thought our power play sucked the life out of us a little bit in the second period. For that group to come in and get it done, put us back on the board, and back with some energy …”
That special teams momentum helped the Sharks keep the Predators from gaining control of the game thereafter, including two huge penalty kills in the third frame to keep Nashville off the scoreboard. When the Sharks were gifted with a fifth power play attempt with a mere three minutes left to play, Tommy Wingels skated in alone to notch the empty-netter that solidified the 2-0 win.
So that’s two big home wins, with the Chicago Blackhawks coming into town on Saturday. “You’ve got to bring it every night,” Braun explained. “At this point, you can’t think about the last (game). You’ve got to think about the next one — moving forward and getting those two points.”