(Burns photo credit: Zeke Mo)
If you're having a difficult time understanding this San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators second round series, you're not alone.
Through six games thus far, the only game of the series that has made any sense was Game 1.
With Nashville coming off a tough seven-game series against Anaheim, the Sharks dominated the play for the final 40 minutes of action to win by a 5-2 final.
The rest of the series has been plain weird.
San Jose won Game 2 by a 3-2 final, but Nashville was clearly the better team that evening. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones stole the show by making 37 saves on 38 shots for the first 59:56 of the 60 minutes of action. The Predators got a second goal with four seconds remaining to cut the lead from 3-1 to 3-2.
The Sharks were the best road team in the league this season and won all three of their away games in the first round against Los Angeles. However, in Game 3 in Nashville the Sharks had their second straight poor performance of the series. Despite trailing going into the third period by a goal, the Sharks were out-shot 12-9 and out-scored 2-0 in the final 20 minutes.
In Game 4, the Sharks continued to play below what they are capable of for the majority of regulation. In overtime though they were the better possession team and should have won the game as Joe Pavelski scored in the first overtime on a goal that should have counted. The referees and the league botched the call and even though San Jose carried the action through the second overtime, the Predators would prevail in the third overtime on a goal by Mike Fisher.
Despite dropping Game 4, the Sharks carried their strong play from overtime into Game 5 where they were flying on all cylinders. Nashville didn't severely lose the possession battle in the first two periods, but they made crucial, lazy mistakes. They left Joe Pavelski all alone in a prime scoring area for San Jose's second goal and a terrible line change sprung Logan Couture for his breakaway goal in the first minute of the second period. San Jose executed well on this night, but Nashville looked like they weren't ready to play.
And finally, this past Monday the script was flipped. For the final 40 minutes the Predators were absolutely on fire and the Sharks were the team that didn't look ready to play. Nashville absolutely crushed San Jose in terms of possession during the final two periods of regulation. The Sharks were lucky that the game even got to overtime. Viktor Arvidsson scored just two minutes into the overtime period to keep Nashville's season alive, forcing Thursday's do or die Game 7.
Game 7 Prediction
Fans love reading predictions from their favorite sports writers. However, one thing fans love more than predictions is their favorite writers being honest. And you can always trust this sports writer to be honest. Honestly, I can't give you guys a prediction. This series has been exactly like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.
A big part of the Puck Times is explaining why the Sharks played the way they did. Sometimes though, even yours truly is at a loss for words to try and explain it. San Jose's Game 6 performance, or lack thereof, is simply a head scratcher. A complete team-wide dud in the final 40 minutes of action with a chance to close out a series cannot be explained.
So your guess is as good as mine about Game 7. Sure, some of you will be predicting the Sharks to win because they have home ice and thus far the home team has won every game in the series. For me, though, that's too easy to think that way. After all, Nashville deserved to win Game 2 in San Jose and the Sharks deserved to win Game 4 in Nashville. Road teams could easily have two wins in this series.
Not to mention, the Sharks were not a great home team overall this season, so just because they have a four-game home win streak in the playoffs, doesn't make me overly confident.
However, I will say this, with last change on Thursday Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer will (more or less) be able to get his top defense pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun out against the red-hot Predators line of James Neal, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson. This line has accounted for the lion's share of the Predators offense in this series. In Game 6 though, Wilson's tying goal in the third period came with San Jose's mediocre (at best) third pair out on the ice.
Outside of plays where they ice the puck, San Jose will get to dictate the matchups in Game 7, and hopefully for us Sharks fans, that will be a slight advantage that pays off in a victory. But if I told you as an observer that I'm confident about Thursday, that would be a lie.