SAN JOSE — Since early in his career in Nashville, the playoffs have brought out the best in Joel Ward. So it shouldn’t have come as any surprise to the Predators that Ward delivered in the third period in his first postseason game against his former team.
Ward set up the tying goal and then put San Jose in the lead for good with a tiebreaker with 8:11 remaining in regulation to help the Sharks rally past the Predators 5-2 on Friday night in Game 1 of their second-round series.
“I just try to embrace the moment,” Ward said. “I think it’s just the atmosphere of the crowds whether it’s home or away. It’s fun. Everyone is ramped up.”
Ward set up Tomas Hertl’s power-play goal that tied the game earlier in the period before scoring one of his own to help San Jose win its first playoff game when trailing after two periods since 2011.
Logan Couture added a power-play goal and an empty-netter for insurance, before Tommy Wingels sealed it with another empty-net goal as the Sharks found their game after having six days off since beating Los Angeles in a five-game series in the first round. Martin Jones made 29 saves.
“The first 40 minutes we were spinning our wheels a little bit,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We weren’t playing as fast as we would have liked to have played. Some credit to them for bottling things up. I thought we went out in the third and started to play the way we wanted to play.”
Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen scored for the Predators, who allowed five goals in the third period after having only one day off since winning Game 7 of a first-round series in Anaheim.
Pekka Rinne made 33 saves but got little help in the third when two Nashville penalties led to a pair of power-play goals for San Jose.
“I think we just shot ourselves in the foot tonight by turning over the puck so much tonight,” Johansen said. “We took a couple of penalties and they fed right into that.”
Ward has long played his best hockey in the postseason, most notably when he scored seven goals in 12 games in 2011 to help lead Nashville to its first appearance ever in the second round. He proved he could do it just as well against the Predators.
He started the comeback by setting up Hertl near the side of the net late in a power play early in the third. Hertl then fired a shot just under Rinne’s glove on the short side.
Ward then scored his 15th career playoff goal when he was left all alone after taking a pass from Joonas Donskoi. He stickhandled past Rinne before tucking the puck into the net.
“He’s stopped a lot of my shots,” Ward said of his former teammate. “It is a little bit frustrating once in a while when you’re shooting against him but I was just happy to get one by him.”
Couture’s first goal on the power play gave San Jose breathing room it needed when Johansen scored with 1:49 left and Rinne off for an extra skater.
But Couture and Wingels answered with the empty-netters to clinch the win.
“As the game went on we got better, and we could feel them on their heels a little bit,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “It was just good to see the guys keep feeding off the crowd, feeding off goals and really pushing for that next one.”
The game lacked the usual playoff atmosphere in the Shark Tank at the start where there were rows of empty seats in the first non-sellout in the playoffs in franchise history.
Nashville’s tight-to-the-vest play also helped keep the crowd out of it as the Predators did their best to prevent the Sharks from setting up in the offensive zone and Rinne was once again sharp against San Jose.
The Predators struck early in the second after Matt Nieto was sent to the box for tripping in the offensive zone. Nashville had failed to convert on 26 of its first 27 power-play chances this postseason, including one in the first period, and appeared on its way to another blown opportunity.
But late in the man advantage, Johansen slid a cross-ice pass to Fisher, who beat Jones with a wrist shot from the circle to the short side.