SAN JOSE, Calif. – All's well that ends well? Maybe not.
Yes, the San Jose Sharks did become just the ninth team to start a season 8-0 at home, but the bad news was right there on the floor in front of their All-Star goalie's locker-room stall.
Evgeni Nabokov appeared to sustain a left knee injury on the final play of Thursday night's shootout, a 5-4 win over the very game St. Louis Blues. After remaining face down on the ice as teammates started to celebrate around him, the goalie eventually got to his feet with assistance and hobbled off the ice, finally walking alone down the narrow hallway to the locker room with a noticeable limp.
Minutes later, all that remained where Nabokov usually conducts his postgame interview was a trail of gear spread over a 10-foot swatch of the carpet, not assembled in its usual organized manner. No, this looked more like the act of someone tossing aside the gear as quickly as possible.
Nabokov was out of sight, obviously being tended to in the trainer's room, and San Jose head coach Todd McLellan really was in no mood for speculation.
"I haven't received an update, so that should put an end to all of those questions," the rookie bench boss said.
We're probably not talking about a Martin Brodeur injury here, but anyone with Brian Boucher on their fantasy team could get a little boost here in the next week or two. It would appear Nabokov sustained a twisted left knee, a strain or as much as possibly a sprain. Hey, don't expect any sympathy from Rick DiPietro – these shootouts can be goalie killers.
What this proves is that no matter how well a team is playing, there's another challenge lurking just around the corner. Nabokov was San Jose's MVP last year and probably the team's most unsung star this season, one in which almost everything has gone the Sharks' way.
"We just have that confidence," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "We know we have a good team. We know we play really good at home. Every night we throw on the jersey we feel we're going to win."
You never know what you'll see at a hockey game. Thursday night, for instance, David Backes earned a 10-minute misconduct penalty for breaking a panel of plexiglass by swinging his stick in frustration after losing possession during a second-period Blues power play.
Or how about the sight of Al Iafrate and Al MacInnis seated together in the press box as Doug Wilson was within a heavy slap shot away in his general manager's seat? The heck with the shootout, let's just watch those three crank away from the blue line.
Then, after feeling 10 minutes of shame, Backes returned to put his stick-swinging skills to a more practical use – swiping a puck out of midair past Nabokov at 10:38 of the third period for what felt like the winning goal.
That was until, of course, the bizarre sequence of late-regulation penalty calls gave the Sharks the momentum eventually to tie the game inside of the final two minutes.
And the shootout didn't go to form, either. With Andy McDonald's conversion of St. Louis' first try in the bag and both Joe Pavelski and Jeremy Roenick having failed for the Sharks, everything had to line up just perfectly for the home team to pull this one out.
Sure enough, it did.
St. Louis forward Brad Boyes was denied when a goal would have ended it. Dan Boyle, a defenseman, had to convert to send the shootout into overtime, if you will. He did. David Perron of the Blues missed. Ryane Clowe, with two goals in regulation and a bloodied right eye courtesy of his head meeting the dasher board in the final period, converted in the shootout.
Then came the fateful final play. Patrik Berglund attempted to go low to the near post, and Nabokov stretched out with his left leg as far as he could. It turns out he didn't need to stop anything because the rookie's shot was wide of the net. But the damage was done. Nabokov had put a lot of strain on that left knee, especially as his momentum carried him from the splits to his stomach.
Not surprising, McLellan preferred to focus on Clowe and his team's gallant effort.
"He's been scoring big goals for us. For him to score that one in the shootout was a feather in his cap," the coach said of Clowe. "We have to give credit to St. Louis. They played a tough game last night, and they weren't going away. They had some legs and they worked hard. They made it hard for our club to come back. On our behalf, we worked pretty hard, stuck with it, didn't panic, and that was a good sign for us."
Now the Sharks only can wait and see if their luck continues when the medical report surfaces Friday.
- San Jose