Are the San Jose Sharks really chokers?

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jumbojoe.jpgOne of my instincts is to question conventional wisdom. (After all, if I didn’t then I would have just crumbled in high school as people laughed at my clothes and mountain scent. I was raised by wolves.) If there’s one common refrain for hockey fans, it’s that “the Sharks choke in the playoffs.”

Certainly, there’ some fire to go with that smoke. There’s that series with the Edmonton Oilers, when the team coughed up a 2-0 series lead to the Pronger fueled Oilers squad (too soon, Edmonton fans?). There were times in last year’s series against the Ducks that I felt like it might be necessary to check Joe Thornton’s pulse.

Then again, one thing strikes me about all those moments of “choking”: the Sharks lost to some really good teams (not surprising since it’s the West). Just take a look at the series they lost the last few years and what those teams went on to do.

2008-09: Sharks lose to Ducks 4-2 in the first round. Eight seeded Ducks push the Red Wings (the Western Conference’s Stanley Cup Finals representative) to the limit in a seven game series.

2007-08: Sharks lose to Stars 4-2 in the second round. Dallas has a nice run before meeting Red Wings-based reality. So San Jose loses to the team who lost to the Stanley Cup champions, basically meaning they lost to the Cup champions by One Degree of Kevin Bacon.

2006-07: Sharks lose to Red Wings 4-2 in the second round. The Red Wings lose to eventual Cup champions Anaheim. Once again, Kevin Bacon’d.

2005-06: Sharks lose to Oilers 4-2 in the second round. Oilers go on to lose in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

2004-05: Boo lockout. Boo to you.

2003-04: Sharks lose to Flames 4-3 in conference finals. Flames go on to lose in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

After looking at those results, I cannot help but wonder if the Sharks are just wildly unlucky. Everyone loves to beat up on Jumbo Joe Thornton, but his San Jose playoff numbers actually are pretty solid (35 points in 41 games). Perhaps it’s all about how they lose, not who they lose to, though. Thornton and Patrick Marleau are a microcosm of that: they aren’t prone to dramatic expressions of sadness; rarely will you see them break a stick on the ice or, you know, yell.

But are the Sharks really chokers? I’m not so sure. They might just be unlucky. Speaking of which, that Craig Anderson kid’s pretty good …

Video: Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have spoken out against a late, high hit that Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik threw on Olli Maatta early in the first period of an eventful Game 2 on Saturday.

Maatta left and didn’t return. He played only 31 seconds, and the Penguins were reduced to five defensemen for a large portion of the game. Orpik was given a minor penalty on the play, but the league’s Department of Player Safety may see it differently.

The hit occurred well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck. He struggled on his way to the dressing room for further evaluation.

Based on multiple reports, Orpik wasn’t made available to the media following the game, which went to the Penguins as they earned the split on the road.

But the Penguins have taken issue with the hit.

“I thought it was a late hit,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Game on: Penguins even series with rival Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.

Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.

Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.

It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.

For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.

Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.

Video: Penguins’ Letang was furious after Capitals tie up Game 2 with power play goal

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Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.

Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.

Also, it seems this is worth mentioning:

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.