Couture’s 3-Point Night Leads Sharks to 2016 Western Conference Final

By: Nick Lanciani

UnknownThe San Jose Sharks thumped the Nashville Predators 5-0 in Game 7 of their 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round matchup.

Logan Couture had a three point night and Joe Pavelski scored the game winning goal while Martin Jones made 20 saves on 20 shots faced en route to the shutout victory on Thursday night at SAP Center in San Jose.

Jones became the fourth Sharks goaltender in franchise history to record a playoff shutout and became the first San Jose goalie to do so in a Game 7. Not only that, but it was the first Game 7 of Jones’s career.

Pekka Rinne made 21 saves on 26 shots against for a .808 SV% in the loss and was pulled in the third period after the Sharks scored their fifth goal of the evening. Rinne’s replacement, Carter Hutton, notched one save on one shot on goal in 16:06 TOI.

With the win, San Jose advanced to the Western Conference Final and will face the St. Louis Blues in the next round of the playoffs. It is the Sharks first appearance in the Western Conference Final since 2011 and their fourth overall (2004, 2010, 2011 and 2016).

Entering Thursday night it was the 13th playoff game in 25 days for the Nashville Predators, who were 3-0 when facing elimination this postseason until Thursday’s outcome. It was just the second Game 7 in Predators franchise history, with their first Game 7 having been a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on road ice in Round One of this year’s playoffs.

Sharks forward, Matt Nieto, was out of the lineup for Game 7 due to an undisclosed injury. As a result, Tommy Wingels was inserted into the lineup for the first time in two games after being a healthy scratch. San Jose entered the night 3-0 at home in the series and finished 4-0 at home in the series, while Nashville fell to 0-8 in all-time playoff games at SAP Center. Peter Laviolette’s five straight Game 7 winning streak was snapped and his record as a head coach in Game 7s fell to 5-2 (1-1 with Nashville) with the 5-0 outcome.

Viktor Arvidsson took the game’s first penalty at 8:22 of the first period for sending the puck over the glass. Arvidsson’s delay of game minor gave San Jose their first power play of the night and it didn’t take them long to capitalize on the man advantage. Joe Pavelski wristed one past Rinne for his 9th goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 9:02 of the first period. Patrick Marleau (5) and Joe Thornton (8) picked up the primary and secondary assists on Pavelski’s goal.

The goal was just Pavelski’s 2nd career Game 7 goal and tied a Sharks postseason record for most goals in a playoff year with nine.

It was apparent in the first eight minutes that the Sharks were grabbing momentum of Game 7 when they had already fired numerous shots on goal before Nashville got their first shot on Jones.

In keeping with the home ice, home crowd fueled momentum; Joel Ward received a pass from Melker Karlsson that sent him in on a breakaway towards Rinne. Ward deked and slid the puck underneath Rinne’s five-hole to give San Jose a 2-0 lead at 16:51 of the period. Karlsson (1) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (7) assisted on Ward’s goal— his 3rd in five-career Game 7s.

To finish off the first period, Shea Weber took an interference minor that would extend into the second period for 38 seconds.

UnknownAfter twenty minutes of play the Sharks led 2-0 on the scoreboard and outshot the Predators 17-3. San Jose also lead in faceoff wins (15-7) and takeaways (5-0), while Nashville led in hits (16-14) and giveaways (8-5).

Both teams blocked seven shots in the first period and Nashville has yet to see time on the man advantage, while the Sharks were 1/2 on the power play.

Logan Couture extended his two-game point streak to three games with a quick goal 36 seconds into the second period that put San Jose on top 3-0. Couture capitalized on a Shea Weber mishap (that seemed to be a theme of the night) and put his seventh goal of the playoffs through Rinne’s five-hole. With two assists in the third period, Couture not only extended his point streak, but added to his already five goals and three assists (now make that six goals and five assists) in the series.

His 11 points in the series passed Igor Larionov’s 1994 Sharks franchise record of ten points in a single postseason series.

Fed up with his own play and Nashville’s general lack of effort, Mattias Ekholm went undisciplined at the end of the second period and cross checked Tommy Wingels. Ekholm received a minor penalty that would be served in its entirety to start the third period.

But it didn’t take long for San Jose to capitalize on their third chance on the power play as Joe Thornton sent a backhanded puck in the twine 32 seconds into the third period. Thornton’s 3rd goal of the playoffs was assisted by Couture (9) and made it 4-0 Sharks.

In keeping with the hometown momentum, San Jose pressured the Predators early in the third, resulting in another goal at 3:54 of the period. Joonas Donskoi sent the puck to Couture who then found Patrick Marleau for a snap shot that beat Rinne and made it 5-0 Sharks in the third period. Marleau’s 4th goal of the playoffs was enough to chase Rinne from the net, but not before Rinne swung his stick twice at the net to break it and a third time as he threw it behind him, before skating off the ice to be replaced by Hutton.

Marleau’s goal was assisted by Couture (10) and Donskoi (5).

At 14:34 of the third, Justin Braun took the Sharks first penalty of the night for interfering with Colin Wilson. Nashville was unable to amount anything on their only power play of the night and Jones and the Sharks went on to hold the 5-0 lead through the end of the game.

With the shutout, Wilson’s seven-game point streak had been snapped, along with his 4-5-9 totals in that span and James Neal’s four-game point streak came to an end as well for the Preds.

San Jose finished the night leading in shots on goal (27-20), takeaways (10-4) and blocked shots (22-12). Nashville ended the night leading in hits (46-31), faceoff wins (32-31) and giveaways (21-12). The Sharks went 2/3 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/1.

While Couture had a three-point night and Marleau, Thornton and Vlasic each had two-point nights, top Nashville defensive pair, Weber and Roman Josi finished the night as minus-3’s.

Despite trailing in shots on goal in periods one and two (17-3 and 6-5, respectively), Nashville outshot San Jose 12-4 in the third period.

With the series outcome, the team that scores first in Game 7s improved to 123-42 (.745) all-time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (4-0 this postseason). San Jose improved to 8-0 when Pavelski records at least a point and the home team won all seven games in the series, which was just the fourth such occurrence in the last 20 years (with the other times being the 2013 Conference Semifinals between Los Angeles and San Jose, the 2003 Stanley Cup Final between New Jersey and Anaheim and the 2002 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between Toronto and the New York Islanders).

For the seventh straight season, a team from California will be playing in the Western Conference Final. San Jose played in the WCF in 2010 and 2011 against the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks, respectively, while Los Angeles took on the then Phoenix Coyotes in 2012 and the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks played the Blackhawks in 2015 and San Jose is once again back in the Western Conference Final in 2016.

Game 1 of the 2016 Western Conference Final is scheduled for Sunday night at 8:00 PM EST in St. Louis at Scottrade Center and will be televised on NBCSN in the United States and CBC and TVA Sports in Canada. The St. Louis Blues have home ice advantage and play host to San Jose in Games 1 and 2, as well as 5 and 7 if necessary. The Sharks will host the Blues at SAP Center in Games 3 and 4, and Game 6 if necessary.

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