A blown lead and the possible loss of their top goal scorer is not the way the San Jose Sharks hoped to start the playoffs. A series-opening road victory, however, is exactly what they wanted.
With a 4-2 lead in the second half of the third period, San Jose appeared to be on its way to a win in Wednesday’s series opener. The Predators, though, scored twice in the final seven minutes, including the tying goal following a giveaway by Patrick Rissmiller with 51 seconds left in regulation.
“I had a couple of chances to clear the puck,” Rissmiller said. “The guys rallied around me. I’ll take that on my shoulders. I had two great chances to clear it and I didn’t.”
Rissmiller, though, redeemed himself in the best possible way, scoring his third career playoff goal at 8:14 of the second overtime to give the Sharks a 5-4 victory.
“We’ll feel good about having survived a blown lead and winning in overtime,” San Jose coach Ron Wilson said.
As important as winning Game 1 on the road was, San Jose’s playoff drive may have taken a major hit with the right knee injury suffered by Cheechoo in the second period.
Cheechoo, the team leader with 37 goals this season and the NHL leader with 56 in 2005-06, was involved in a knee-on-knee collision with Nashville’s Scott Hartnell, who was given a five-minute major for kneeing and an automatic ejection. Cheechoo, who also lost a tooth on the hit, was to have an MRI to determine the extent of the damage to his knee.
“It could be serious,” Wilson said. “It was like a two-part attack. It was an elbow to the mouth that knocked a tooth out and the knee-on-knee contact, which you’ve got two of the worst things that we have in hockey … If that’s not trying to hurt somebody, I don’t know what is.”
Not surprisingly, Nashville coach Barry Trotz felt Hartnell’s hit was clean after watching the replay.
“It’s unfortunate when anybody gets hurt in the game. But looking at it, I thought it was a pretty clean hit. I mean they did collide knee on knee. But there was no sticking out of the knee.”
If Cheechoo is out of the lineup, rookie center Joe Pavelski, who had 14 goals and 14 assists in only 46 games this season, would likely take his place.
“He’s a big part of our team, but we’ll find a guy to fill the role and do the job,” Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren said of Cheechoo. “It’s tough to miss 37 goals, but we’ll wait and see. We’re going to see more people step up.”
Rissmiller, Mike Grier and defenseman Craig Rivet each had a goal and an assist for San Jose, which has won five straight playoff games against Nashville. The Sharks took the final four games of last season’s first-round matchup.
Rookie Alexander Radulov scored twice for the Predators, losers of seven of their last eight postseason games.
Predators right wing Martin Erat - fifth on the team with 57 points in the regular season - returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing the final 11 games with a knee injury. He assisted on J.P. Dumont’s tying goal in the final minute.
Nashville is still without forward Steve Sullivan, who hasn’t played since Feb. 22 due to a back injury. Sullivan was fourth on the Predators with 60 points in the regular season.
The series shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday.