NHL playoffs update: Sharks drowning in San Jose

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Sharks.jpgIn one, busy day the playoff picture all at once cleared up a bit and became more crowded and muddled. In the East, the No. 2 seed is still up for grabs while New Jersey continues to knock on Pittsburgh’s door for the division lead. In the West, the Coyotes continue their incredible surge and the race for 8th looks just a bit clearer now.

Will somebody tell me just what exactly is going on down in San Jose?

After the jump, updated standings and the games from yesterday that mattered. Anyone care for a Stanley Cup final between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Buffalo Sabres?

Eastern Conference

DIV GP W L OT Pts GF GA DIFF Home Away L10 Streak
1 SE 72 48 14 10 106 283 203 +80 26-4-4 22-10-6 7-1-2 Won 1
2 ATL 72 42 24 6 90 224 205 +19 21-10-4 21-14-2 6-2-2  
3 NE 71 39 22 10 88 200 180 +20 21-9-6 18-13-4 6-3-1 Won 3
4 ATL 71 42 25 4 88 189 169 +20 24-10-1 18-15-3 5-4-1 Lost 1
5 NE 72 37 30 5 79 194 212 -18 23-10-4 14-20-1 2-7-1 Lost 5
6 ATL 72 37 30 5 79 212 199 +13 21-13-2 16-17-3 4-4-2 Lost 2
7 NE 72 36 29 7 79 196 198 -2 18-13-4 18-16-3 7-2-1  
8 NE 71 32 27 12 76 176 181 -5 15-14-6 17-13-6 5-4-1 Won 1
9 SE 72 32 29 11 75 218 230 -12 18-13-5 14-16-6 4-5-1 Won 4

 

I’m leaving the New York Rangers out of the picture because even if the are still mathematically in the race, they don’t deserve to be. Here are the games that mattered:

New York Rangers 1, Boston 2 – The Bruins were awake for this one and nabbed an all-important two points to continue to hold on to the 8th spot and to build a bigger lead on the Rangers. It’s a good thing because…

Atlanta Thrashers 3, Philadelphia 1 – Someone told me yesterday that the Thrashers have a better record than the New Jersey Devils do since the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. I’ll run those numbers later today, but if that’s true you all owe Don Waddell an apology.

Buffalo 5, Carolina 3 – At one point, I had hopes for a magical, Cinderella run by the Canes into the playoffs. Oh well. The Sabres continue to keep pace with Pittsburgh, and they have a game in hand.

Western Conference

DIV GP W L OT Pts GF GA DIFF Home Away L10 Streak
1 CEN 71 45 19 7 97 234 179 +55 26-7-3 19-12-4 4-4-2  
2 PAC 73 46 22 5 97 201 179 +22 26-10-2 20-12-3 9-1-0 Won 9
3 NW 72 44 24 4 92 236 187 +49 26-8-2 18-16-2 6-2-2  
4 PAC 72 43 19 10 96 232 192 +40 22-6-8 21-13-2 3-6-1 Lost 5
5 CEN 73 42 26 5 89 206 203 +3 21-12-2 21-14-3 7-3-0 Won 6
6 PAC 70 41 24 5 87 207 185 +22 20-12-3 21-12-2 5-4-1 Won 1
7 NW 71 40 25 6 86 213 190 +23 22-11-2 18-14-4 5-5-0 Lost 2
8 CEN 71 35 23 13 83 193 192 +1 19-10-5 16-13-8 7-2-1 Won 1
9 NW 72 36 27 9 81 184 181 +3 18-16-3 18-11-6 6-4-0 Lost 1

 

I can picture the San Jose Sharks fan, sitting on their beds and clutching their knees tight to their chest muttering to themselves over and over “Not again…..not again…”

Here are the games that mattered:

Calgary 3, Minnesota 4 – It’s funny, ever since the Wild were pretty much taken out of the playoff race they’ve started to play much better. Calgary but desperately needed two points to keep pace with Detroit.

Nashville 3, St. Louis 2 – The Predators are going to be dangerous in the playoffs, and no one is paying any attention. More on them later today.

Phoenix 3, Dallas 2 (SO) – By the power of Dave Tippett’s lost mustache, the Coyotes are riding a nine-game winning streak to the top of the Western Conference. Chicago still holds the top spot thanks to tie breakers, but they don’t count.

San Jose 1, Edmonton 5 – I got nuthin.

Colorado 2, Anaheim 5 – I think we’re starting to see the inexperience and youth of the Avs start to come through.

Yzerman: ‘I think the best thing for this team is Jonathan Drouin being on it’

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 30:  Jonathan Drouin #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders  during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 30, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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Talk about a whirlwind season for Jonathan Drouin.

The talented forward, and third overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, went from the center of a well documented controversy for a public trade request to a pivotal component for the Tampa Bay Lightning in its playoff quest that fell just short of a Stanley Cup Final berth after a Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.

The 21-year-old Drouin, recalled from the AHL when Steven Stamkos was taken out of the lineup with a blood clot, scored five goals and 14 points in 17 playoff games. And, based on the comments of general manager Steve Yzerman to reporters, he’ll be a regular on this team when the 2016-17 season begins in the fall.

Drouin has one more year remaining on his entry-level contract before he’s a restricted free agent, as per General Fanager.

Funny how some things can change.

The Drouin trade request was one of the more contentious — not to mention ongoing — storylines this season. But it could be that both sides have since resolved their differences.

“I definitely want to be here,” said Drouin, as per the Tampa Bay Times. “I love the way this ended, I guess with this different and weird year. But the way this finished and it’s definitely somewhere I want to play.”

In this case, the best deal was the one Yzerman never made. Even as speculation and reports and rumor circulated the situation for weeks leading up to the trade deadline.

“He makes us a better team. Simple as that,” Yzerman told reporters. “He can do things — a talented young player that’s only going to get better.

“I think the best thing for this team is Jonathan Drouin being on it.”

 

Penguins enter Stanley Cup Final as favorites over Sharks: online bookmaker

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The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, were last in the Stanley Cup Final in 2009, when they hoisted hockey’s silver chalice.

The San Jose Sharks are in uncharted waters, having never been here before, and that includes Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both veterans of more than 1,000 regular season games played.

Perhaps that’s why the Penguins, one of the marquee NHL teams given their generational super star Crosby, are -135 favorites to win the Stanley Cup, according to online bookmaker Bovada on Friday. The Sharks were listed as +115 underdogs.

The Penguins, a force in the NHL since a coaching change in mid-December, became the betting favorites to win it all following their series win over Alex Ovechkin and the rival Washington Capitals in the second round.

Game 1 of the final goes Monday in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins will start with home ice advantage.

So far in these playoffs, the Penguins have gone 7-3 at Consol Energy Center. The Sharks are 5-4 on the road, where they actually started 3-0 following the first round against the L.A. Kings.

Right now, the Sharks possess the top three point producers in these playoffs in Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski (the leading goal scorer with 13) and Brent Burns, while Phil Kessel — as part of that dynamic HBK Line — is fifth in the league and leads the Penguins with 18 points in 18 games.

 

‘Two legends’ Thornton and Marleau prepare for first Stanley Cup Final

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been linked ever since they went one-two in the 1997 NHL draft to Boston and San Jose.

They became teammates with the Sharks more than a decade ago, won a gold medal for Canada at the 2010 Olympics and each had their captaincies stripped as they became the faces of so many postseason failures in San Jose.

Now at age 36 and after more than 3,000 combined games, 949 goals and 2,610 career points in the regular and postseason, Thornton and Marleau have the opportunity to add the only thing missing on their impressive career resumes if they can win the Stanley Cup.

“It’s just the next step for us,” Thornton said Friday. “We’ve been doing a really good job of staying day to day, shift to shift. This is just another challenge we’re hoping to come out on top on.”

Related: Here’s your  TV schedule for the Stanley Cup Final on NBC Sports

The two will take the ice in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their careers on Monday night in Pittsburgh, ending a long journey that included many disappointments and criticism that was often undeserved.

“It’s two legends,” teammate Brent Burns said. “I’ve said it before. Those two are some of the best players to ever play the game. It’s huge to get them here. They’ve done pretty much everything else. They sometimes take a bad rap in the media, which is unnecessary. Anybody that’s played with them sees the way that they work and what kind of teammates they are, what kind of people they are. They’re two of the best.”

They just haven’t always been considered that way because of the lack of playoff success that was at times as much a reflection on the lack of help they got as it was on any deficiencies in their games.

But both also had times when they failed to raise their game at the biggest points of the season. Thornton went pointless during a seven-game series loss to Montreal in his final playoffs in Boston in 2004 while he played with torn rib cartilage. Thornton also posted a -11 rating in the 2010 playoffs in San Jose when the Sharks got swept by Chicago in the Western Conference final.

Marleau struggled in the 2007-09 playoffs when San Jose got knocked out twice in the second round and then lost as the top seed in the first round to Anaheim in 2009. That led to the Sharks demoting him from captain.

The two have had plenty of playoff success along the way as well, but it has been the failures that colored people’s perceptions of them, none more than blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 in a collapse that ultimately led to Thornton being stripped of the captaincy.

“We’ve been through a lot here,” teammate Logan Couture said. “I’ve only been here seven years but those guys have been here longer than I have and they deserve this. They’ve been through a lot, Patty especially.”

Marleau played 165 playoff games before reaching his first final, the most of any player. He lost his first three trips to the conference final and needed 16 trips to the playoffs to reach the final round.

Thornton was next on that list with 150 games, including two conference final losses before making it to the Cup in his 15th postseason.

The fact they will be there in Sharks uniforms only makes it more special. There was talk they could be traded the summer after the 2014 playoff collapse, Thornton had a public feud with general manager Doug Wilson last season and there were reports that Marleau was seeking a trade earlier this season.

Nothing ever materialized and the two are still in San Jose to the delight of all sides. Thornton is playing perhaps the best two-way hockey of his career, posting three goals and 15 assists through the first three rounds and dominating possession against the other team’s top players.

After spending much of the year as a third-line center, Marleau moved back to his more familiar spot of a second-line wing alongside Couture. He has four goals and eight assists so far, including two helpers in the third period of the conference final clincher against St. Louis.

“We’re just enjoying the ride right now,” Marleau said. “We’ve had some really good teams over the years. This team is a little bit different. The confidence we’ve built over the regular season and now in the playoffs, I think winning on the road helped us get close as a group during the regular season. It carried over into the playoffs so far. Just having each other’s back out there, working for each other.”

Stamkos: ‘If both sides want it to work out, we’ll work something out’

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2016, file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) skates before an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in Tampa, Fla. Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman says he won’t trade captain Steven Stamkos before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
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When it comes to Steven Stamkos, the drama that unfolded in the minutes prior to the official lineup being announced for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final may not compare to the off-season ahead.

Stamkos is a pending unrestricted free agent, at the end of his five-year, $37.5 million contract. His contract status has provided months of fodder, speculation and excitement about where he could go this summer.

At the age of 26, and one of the most prolific scorers in the league with 312 career goals and 36 this past season, an NHL team is going to have to doll out huge amounts of cash to land the talented forward — the most prized free agent in the past four years — if he decides not to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning and instead tests the open market.

But he’s also coming off a post-season in which he played only once after undergoing vascular surgery due to a blood clot. His health situation was publicly revealed at the beginning of April.

The challenge for the Lightning — having made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and one win shy of the same feat this year — and general manager Steve Yzerman goes beyond trying to reach a deal with Stamkos, though that could be a pricey endeavor as well.

There are numerous players on the Bolts roster that will need new contracts this summer or next. The list includes Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Jonathan Drouin. And they’ll likely all be asking for raises, too.

Especially the 22-year-old Kucherov, who made $711,666 this season, is a restricted free agent this summer as per General Fanager, and had 11 goals and 19 points in 17 post-season games.

Just the realities of the salary cap, with a team loaded with talented players.

“It’s tough to build teams, it’s tough to keep teams together,” said Stamkos, as per the Tampa Bay Times. “Especially when you have so many great young players that are on entry level deals who are going to get a raise. There’s some tough decisions to be made, not only for this organization but for a lot of other organizations.

“I’m sure if both sides want it to work out, we’ll work something out.”