SAN JOSE — All season long the San Jose Sharks faced questions about why they could be so dominant on the road but struggle to win at home.
In the biggest game yet of their season, the Sharks hope their playoff home success carries over to Game 7 of their second-round series against Nashville on Thursday night when a spot in the Western Conference final is on the line.
“I love our game at home. I really do,” center Joe Thornton said. “I know it was a big part of the story going into the postseason how our home record was. But I’ve loved our home game and I love the energy the crowd has been giving us. It’s been great.”
The Sharks led the NHL with 28 road wins this season but had a losing record at home, where their 18 wins in 41 games were the fewest of any playoff team. But after losing their first home game of the postseason to Los Angeles, the Sharks have rolled off four straight home wins as the Shark Tank has once again become an imposing building for opposing teams.
The Sharks find themselves in a must-win Game 7 because they were unable to win any games in Nashville this series. The Predators took all three home games, including a triple-overtime thriller in Game 4 and an overtime win in Game 6 on Monday night.
That was San Jose’s ninth loss in its past 12 games with a chance to eliminate an opponent.
“Past experiences or not, it’s about what’s in this room right now and about us,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “We kind of said that early. This is a different team.”
The Game 6 win sent Nashville on its ninth flight between California and Tennessee this postseason after winning the first round in seven games in Anaheim. Like they did before that seventh game, the Predators packed extra clothes in hopes they would win and head to either Dallas or St. Louis for their first conference final appearance in franchise history instead of home for the summer.
“Everyone knows what’s at stake, and we’re going to be ready to go,” captain Shea Weber said. “Big point in a lot of guys’ careers. It’s time guys step up.”
Here are some other things to watch in Game 7:
TOP LINE: San Jose’s top line of Thornton, Pavelski and Tomas Hertl have led the way all season and for much of the playoffs. But those three were completely outplayed, generating just three shots on goal and being on the ice for Nashville’s first goal. With a last chance at home, the Sharks may be able to get that top line more ice time when Nashville’s top defensive pair of Weber and Roman Josi aren’t on the ice.
“This is bigger than one line or on one or two guys,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’ve talked all year about depth and I think it’s on everybody to bring their AA-plus game tomorrow.”
WHERE’S FORSBERG?: Nashville F Filip Forsberg tied the franchise record scoring 33 goals during the regular season, but he has been held to only one goal in this series and two through 13 games of the postseason. Forsberg wasn’t the only one struggling to score in this series. Nashville defenseman Roman Josi had taken 38 shots before scoring his first postseason goal in Game 6, the most of any player in these playoffs who has yet to score.
POTENT POWER PLAY: The Sharks have one of the game’s top power plays led by a top unit that features Thornton’s playmaking, Brent Burns’ big shot from the point and Pavelski’s goal-scoring. That power play has been a barometer for San Jose’s success this postseason with the team converting 9 of 24 chances in seven playoff wins and just 2 of 15 in four losses.
PLAYOFF COLIN WILSON: The Predators left wing now is only a goal away from matching the six goals he scored in 64 games during the regular season. He’s already set a franchise-record with a seven-game points streak. Wilson has scored a goal in three of the past four games, three of those Nashville victories.
NIETO’S HEALTH: Sharks F Matt Nieto left Game 6 in the first period after crashing into the net and did not return. Nieto did not practice Wednesday and his status for Game 7 is in doubt. If he can’t play, the Sharks will miss his speed but will put Tommy Wingels back in the lineup after scratching him the past two games