Tuesday night's game three ushered in a level of desperation the Predators had failed to show thus far in the playoffs. Even when facing elimination against Anaheim, there always seemed to be a level of confidence that couldn't necessarily be viewed as desperation.
The biggest question being asked prior to Thursday's game four was whether or not Nashville could match that same level of intensity or if San Jose could somehow find an answer instead.
Nashville started the game rather quickly, as Colin Wilson notched the fastest home goal in playoff history only 41 seconds into the first period.
While Brent Burns would tie it up a little over two minutes later, Mike Fisher would re-capture the lead near the midway mark of a period that Nashville would own the possession mark and stay deep inside the San Jose zone for much of the period.
A little over 12 minutes into the second period, Nashville found themselves on the wrong side of a controversial call that turned out to be ruled correctly after review.
As Filip Forsberg tried and failed to send the puck down into the Sharks zone during a critical penalty kill, defenseman Paul Martin was able to wrangle the puck away and poke it into Nashville's zone -- where Joel Ward was trying to tag up back at the blue line.
Martin never actually possessed the puck prior to Ward tagging up, which he barely accomplished in time, and that led to a Joonas Donskoi shot deflecting off Ryan Ellis and behind Pekka Rinne.
Most definitely one of the most unfortunate and confusing plays in Predators playoff history, it was the correct call.
After a Brent Burns power play goal to take the lead in the third and a game-tying goal by James Neal with less than five minutes to go, this game would head to overtime -- the first of the playoffs for Nashville and making them the last team left in the playoffs to head past regulation.
This was new territory for the Predators, but in reality it wasn't. Nashville had been here before. So had San Jose. What was beginning to make this game so special was the back-and-forth play of both Martin Jones and Rinne.
It was a true goaltenders duel. And oddly enough this wasn't the first time that the Sharks had been in this situation.
Flash back eight seasons to May 4th, 2008. Facing off against the Dallas Stars with Evgeni Nabokov guiding them in the net, Marty Turco out-dueled the Sharks and would help clinch the series for Dallas in that deciding game six. It's not to say that Nabokov failed in his duties, but eventually a goal is going to have to end up in the back of the net after four overtimes.
But there's no way in hell that Nashville would play a long overtime game at home against San Jose in the playoffs, right?
Flash back again to 2007. These same two teams battling on the ice Thursday night would face each other in the longest overtime game at home in Predators history -- prior to tonight's game, which set a new record. A 5-4 double overtime thriller ended by Patrick Rissmiller -- where current and long-time Sharks forward Patrick Marleau assisted on it.
Even seeing the game go that long seemed like a stretch, right?
Boy, how wrong we all were.
No one would have guessed that the city of Nashville was in for, arguably, one of the longest and most thrilling nights in the cities sports history -- and easily the most entertaining game of the playoffs so far.
Through the first 20 minutes of overtime, the Sharks nearly ended it on one of the more controversial calls in recent playoff history. After pressing the play into Nashville's end, Thomas Hertl's shot towards Rinne was blocked and ended up behind him -- where Joe Pavelski was there to slap the puck into the net.
The only problem? Pavelski was on top of Rinne after being cross-checked into him by Paul Gaustad. That much was clear. The refs, however, along with Toronto deemed it incidental contact and therefore the goal was disallowed.
For all intents and purposes, it should have counted. Luckily for Nashville, it didn't.
"The explanation that I got was they ruled [Pavelski] did get his stick on it before it crossed the goal line. So it was a good goal from that point of view, but that he made incidental contact with the [Rinne] and that is why they waved it off," said a visibly frustrated Peter DeBoer during his press conference. "I guess if incidental contact is your crosscheck from behind while you’re in the air and you have the opportunity to stop… I guess that’s what it is. That rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year so why should it be different tonight?"
One of the biggest concerns as the game stretched on was Nashville's inability to stay out of the penalty box. A penalty each in the second overtime and third overtime, respectively, put fans on pins and needles hoping the trips to the box wouldn't negatively affect the outcome on the scoreboard.
"We were just trying to do all we could do to just find a way, and everyone did a great job," said Mike Fisher. "Everyone in the lineup played solid, played hard."
Nashville had been playing with fire since the third period. They had allowed San Jose to drive back into the game after a dominating two periods of play and were looking like the more exhausted group of players on the ice. Ultimately, both teams had great chances in each period. One chance towards Jones would then be converted to a chance on Rinne, and vice-versa.
"I don't think you're going to play six periods against San Jose and beat them up every period. It's not going to happen," said head coach Peter Laviolette. "We're going to have to play defense. We're going to need incredible saves from our goaltender, which we got. You keep going back and forth. I thought at times we had things going on. I thought at times they had some good looks and some things going on.
"It came down to a shot in triple overtime to win a hockey game. It's give and take. It's not going to be an easy thing against a team like San Jose."
Wayne Gretzky said it best: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." That's what was going to win it: one shot or some fluky bounce caused from said shot.
If Wilson has become Mr. Playoff, then Mattias Ekholm should now be known as Mr. Clutch.
In another example of why he's become one of the best at putting shots on net, Ekholm's wheeling shot from the point 11 minutes into the third overtime hit Jones and bounced off him, allowing Fisher to collect the rebound and put it into the net -- ending one of the greatest games in Nashville playoff history.
"The guys played so hard. When you get that deep into a game, there's a lot invested," said Laviolette. "I'm so happy for the guys for pulling it out and getting the win. They invested a lot and there's a lot of character in our room. To get a win like that, it's big. The other scenario, you're 3-1 the other way.
"This ties it up 2-2 and shortens the series. Our guys played like champs tonight."
The Predators have been on the losing end of long overtime games. Just last year they lost a triple overtime thriller to Chicago.
Karma definitely comes in full circle. This time in favor of Nashville.