SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)—Ville Nieminen started it with one zealous check after another. The rest of the San Jose Sharks followed, and the crowd roared to a crescendo with every white jersey falling to the ice.
Everybody knew the Sharks had speed. In their series-opening win over Edmonton, Team Teal showed plenty of bite as well.
Captain Patrick Marleau scored his eighth goal of the postseason and added an assist on Christian Ehrhoff’s go-ahead goal, leading the hard-hitting Sharks to a 2-1 victory over the Oilers on Sunday night in Game 1 of the second-round series.
Marleau’s latest offensive gem was an afterthought when the Sharks showed off their aggressive side in the final two periods. San Jose’s forechecking did much of the work in holding the Oilers to two shots in the one-sided second period—and the pesky Nieminen played an inspired game that included several big checks.
“I like whatever brings the meat loaf to the table,” he said with a grin when asked if he preferred hitting to scoring. “We noticed earlier in the playoffs that teams who had a little layoff looked flat, so the first thing in our minds was getting our legs moving. It was one of those games where you could do some hitting.”
Rookie Milan Michalek had two assists and Vesa Toskala stopped 15 shots in his fifth consecutive victory for the Sharks, who took control of the series opener with a one-sided second period featuring Ehrhoff’s first career playoff goal.
San Jose then hung on against another late-game surge by the eighth-seeded Oilers, who thrived on the road and in tight games in their first-round upset of Detroit, capped by their four-goal third period in the clincher.
“They made it difficult the last couple of minutes,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “We managed to weather the storm, and I’m happy with our effort. … We just wanted to establish a forecheck. (Hitting) got contagious, the way our crowd was responding to every hit, and we just built off that.”
The clubs won’t have much time to dwell on this one: They’re back in action for Game 2 on Monday night in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is in Edmonton on Wednesday night.
Dwayne Roloson made 28 saves for the Oilers, who went scoreless in the final 57:27 after Jaroslav Spacek’s early power-play goal. Edmonton twice grazed the post behind Toskala, but was held to fewer than two goals for the first time in the postseason.
“We were standing still at the blue line a lot,” Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. “I don’t know whether it was tough for our team to change the mentality (from the first round). I was really happy with our start, but they took it to us physically in the second period.”
San Jose knocked off the fourth-seeded Nashville Predators in the first round, while the Oilers upset the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings. With four upsets in the Western Conference’s topsy-turvy playoff openers, the Sharks were handed home ice for the second round and the conference finals, if they can repeat their 2004 appearance.
These clubs were evenly matched in the regular season, with their young rosters and speed-based styles making for entertaining hockey. The opener was just such a game—but the Sharks’ 30-16 shot advantage and aggressive play turned it into San Jose’s 13th victory in its last 15 games.
But Spacek scored a power-play goal just 2 1/2 minutes in, and Edmonton’s team speed quickly caught the Sharks’ attention. San Jose tied it 5 minutes later on a blast from the slot by Marleau, who had a hat trick while scoring seven goals in the five-game first round.
Marleau also reclaimed the playoff goal lead from Ottawa’s Martin Havlat.
The Sharks completely dominated the second period, holding Edmonton without a shot in the first 11:52 while keeping the puck in the Oilers’ end for minutes at a time.
“You could tell in the second period, we’re on our heels,” center Michael Peca said. “We didn’t really accomplish much. We weren’t aggressive in our game. They forecheck so much.”
Ehrhoff scored his first career playoff goal on a needle-threading shot from the boards at the blue line, somehow finding the net’s top corner off a pass from Marleau.
The Oilers failed to get a shot in the first 6 minutes of the third period, then couldn’t score on a power play when Joe Thornton was sent off for tripping Roloson. Edmonton pulled Roloson for the final 90 seconds, but got just one good chance.
The sellout crowd at the Shark Tank booed D Chris Pronger every time he touched the puck, a tradition since Pronger’s days with the St. Louis Blues. … Edmonton LW Todd Harvey, who played for the Sharks from 1999-04, was a scratch. San Jose briefly sent Harvey to the minors in late 2003, then didn’t attempt to re-sign him in the offseason. … Roloson’s mask came flying off when he stopped a shot by Scott Thornton in the third period. Roloson made his Edmonton debut at the Shark Tank back on March 9, stopping 31 shots in a 5-2 loss.