The San Jose Sharks took Game 5 of their best-of-seven Western Semifinal series against the Nashville Predators by a 5-1 final Saturday night.
And they did it without their leading scorer getting on the score-sheet.
Defenseman Brent Burns entered the game with 13 points, one more than second-leading scorer Logan Couture and three more than Joe Pavelski.
Burns has been a shooting machine this season, but his six shot attempts in Game 5 were rather pedestrian by his standards. Despite Burns' quiet night, San Jose still lit up Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne for four goals through the first two periods thanks in large part to some key lineup alterations by head coach Pete DeBoer.
Veteran forward Dainius Zubrus drew into the lineup for the first time all postseason in place of Tommy Wingels and the 37-year old showed zero rust in his game.
The 6-foot, 5-inch forward provided exactly what he did during his 50 regular season games after he joined the Sharks mid-season as a free agent. He got in on the forecheck, used that big body to win 50-50 battles in the corners, and that long reach helped disrupt the Predators breakout attempts.
Zubrus drawing into the lineup was far from the only lineup alteration that paid off though. Not only did the new-look fourth line provide good minutes, but a new-look second line provided two big goals.
Versatility with Marleau
After having a solid first round against the Kings (four points in five games), Patrick Marleau had been rather quiet in his third-line center role in this Nashville series. Going into Game 5 he had just one point through the first four games which was essentially an empty net goal when Rinne made an awful decision to come out of his net. Marleau easily picked up the puck and slid it into the yawning cage.
Marleau's usual line with Matt Nieto and Melker Karlsson hadn't done much at even strength the last few games as a unit so a change made sense. DeBoer's decision to swap Marleau onto the line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi in Joel Ward's usual spot paid huge dividends. The Sharks were flying early and this second line had multiple strong shifts before Marleau opened the scoring at 10:47 of the first period off a brilliant feed from Donskoi.
That line would also give the Sharks a 3-1 lead on a breakaway goal by Logan Couture. Marleau didn't earn an assist on that goal, but he would pick one up later on the power play in what was his most effective game of the series by far. Not many teams have the luxury and versatility of having a third-line center who can morph into an elite scoring top-six winger.
Versatility With Tierney
While the new-look third line didn't have a great night from a possession stand point according to the numbers from War on Ice, memory serves that Ward was his usual strong self along the boards while skating with Tierney and Nieto. Not to mention, Tierney's ability to jump up into a third-line center role from his usual fourth-line spot is just another part of the versatility in this lineup.
All 13 forwards including Zubrus can play on any line and not look out of place. Recall, Zubrus, effectively the 13th forward at the moment, played a strong stretch of four or five games on the top line with Thornton and Pavelski during the regular season.