SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)—Patrick Marleau quietly turned in another fantastic postseason performance—and the San Jose Sharks needed every one of his three goals to take control of their series with the Nashville Predators.
San Jose’s captain had his third career postseason hat trick, and the Sharks pushed the Predators to the brink of elimination with a 5-4 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night.
NHL scoring champion Joe Thornton had two assists, giving him three points in the series, but Marleau has taken the offensive lead as San Jose took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 5 is Sunday in Nashville.
Marleau, the Sharks’ franchise leader in postseason goals, scored a career-best 86 points during the regular season. He punctuated four games of outstanding hockey against the Predators with two power-play goals in the second period and a third-period tip-in on an outstanding pass from rookie Steve Bernier, his linemate and housemate in San Jose.
Marleau doesn’t say much as the Sharks’ leader by example, but his inspired postseason play is nothing new for his teammates. There have been four playoff hat tricks in Sharks history—and Marleau has three of them, including three-goal games against St. Louis and Colorado in 2004.
“He’s our captain, and it just goes to show that he’s been doing it and we’ve been following him all season long,” said Mark Smith, who scored his third goal of the series for San Jose. “The bigger the game, the bigger he is as a player.”
The Sharks went up 5-2 on Marleau’s third goal, but Mike Sillinger and Scott Hartnell scored in the final 10 minutes for Nashville, which outshot San Jose 14-3 in the third period. The Predators pulled goalie Chris Mason, but couldn’t score in the frantic final seconds.
“I thought it was done, but we let them back in,” Marleau said. “It’s too bad it took five (goals) to get it done. … I don’t know about me. It’s just a great time of the year. Everybody is pulling for each other, and everybody is working together to get the job done.”
Rookie Patrick Rissmiller also scored for the Sharks.
Paul Kariya got his first goal of the series and an assist, and promising rookie defenseman Shea Weber also scored for Nashville. Mason made 19 saves while losing again for fourth-seeded Nashville, which must win three straight games for the first playoff series victory in franchise history, and the Predators’ inspired third period could bode well for Game 5.
“We know how to break down their strengths now,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We just have to match them on special teams. Special teams were the difference. We’re just going to get better as this series goes on. We’ve found out how to beat this team.”
The Predators again were punished for lapses in discipline: San Jose scored two power-play goals and another moments after an expired penalty, giving them seven man-advantage scores in the series.
Vesa Toskala made 26 saves in his third career playoff victory, but allowed his first even-strength goals of the series.
Nashville went ahead 2-1 early in the second period on Weber’s low slap shot through traffic. It was Weber’s second goal of the postseason, matching his total in 28 regular-season games, and the Predators finally had some momentum in a one-sided series.
“We finally started to play good hockey,” Kariya said. “We outplayed them 5-on-5, but penalties killed us again.”
Indeed, the Predators’ series-long propensity for foolish penalties hurt them again moments after taking the lead, when Weber took an interference penalty. Marleau tipped in Christian Ehrhoff’s long shot for his fourth goal in three games.
Nashville then committed two more clear-cut penalties to give San Jose a 5-on-3 advantage, and Marleau tipped home Thornton’s pass for an easy goal.
Two seconds after the second penalty expired, Smith jumped on a rebound and fired a heavy shot past Mason for his third goal of an impressive series for a checking-line center promoted to a spot next to Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo.
Marleau’s third goal was set up by a crushing check by defenseman Kyle McLaren early in the third period. Bernier jumped on the loose puck, skated three-quarters of the ice and fed Marleau, who tipped it home and caused a barrage of hats on the ice.
“Down one goal, we felt like we had a chance,” Mason said. “We kept the pressure on. That’s a little something to build on.”
Steve Sullivan, the Predators’ second-leading scorer in the regular season with 68 points, assisted on Weber’s goal for his first point of the playoffs. … NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game, even serving his own dinner in the media cafeteria. … Smith, who scored in both of the Sharks’ games in Nashville, had only one playoff goal in his career before this season: The series-clincher in San Jose’s first-round victory over St. Louis in 2004.