Patrick Marleau is quickly making the first round his round, the San Jose Sharks captain loomed large on the minds of the Nashville Predators Thursday night, as he paced the Sharks to a 5-4 victory by picking up a third career playoff hat trick.
Marleau was simply dominating in this game, as he fought his way into open ice and took the hits in the crowded areas to pot the three goals, all of which would be needed as the game wrapped up with a flourish of a come back from the battered Predators.
While the prognosticators were gushing over the expected play of Thornton and Cheechoo before the series got under way, the Sharks captain went almost un-noticed, until the series was under way that is. But once the puck dropped in game one, it became apparent that Marleau was going to make sure he got his share of the press by the time this series would come to an end.
With the Preds trying to key on the Thornton – Cheechoo combination, it seems they have focused so much angst on them that Marleau almost has a free reign on the ice in the Nashville end.
The Sharks benefited from a lack of discipline on the Predators side of the ice, far too often the Preds would take stupid after play penalties, setting up short handed situations that the power play line up of Marleau, Thornton and Cheechoo took full advantage of.
With Marleau on a goal scoring spree it appeared that the Sharks were home and clear by the time the third period got underway, but a few lapses by the Sharks allowed the Predators to claw their way back into the game. Full credit has to be given to Barry Trotz team, which refused to give up and kept coming at the Sharks in the third, coming to within a goal of sending game four into over time.
The road now however is daunting for Nashville, the Sharks when they aren’t making mental mistakes in their own end, seem to be gaining confidence with each shift. They looked as fast and physical as they have all year in the first two periods of the game, if they can keep that pace up in game five Saturday in Nashville, they’ll be able to rest their weary bones for a few games. A win Saturday wraps up the series for the Sharks, the Predators should be aware, Marleau may wish to pad his stats if he’s going to share some down time with his team mates between rounds.