It didn't take long for Sharks 'choking' talk to return

franzia.jpgIf any team can relate to the “What have you done for me lately?” feeling, it’s the San Jose Sharks. They bounced back from a heartbreaking loss against the Colorado Avalanche by never losing another game in the series. After going up 2-0 at home against Detroit, the Sharks managed to snatch Game 3 in a dramatic overtime victory. Yet one bombastic 7-1 loss brought out the “choking” claims and all sorts of buzzards of negativity.

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski featured a nice roundup of the various viewpoints on the subject and offered his feedback.

Were this not the Sharks, a big loss and a 3-1 series lead headed back home wouldn’t amount to anything more than an anomaly at best and a recalibration at worst. But San Jose hasn’t earned the right to escape from a devastating loss like this without facing questions about their resolve and fortitude and …

… oh, wait, yes they have: Lest we forget they already faced them in Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche after the Dan Boyle/Ryan O’Reilly/OT Goal From Hell debacle. So beaten-down and debilitated were the Sharks that they only won their next six games by a combined score of 24-14.

So what that Heatley was shut down or that Thornton reminded us why he doesn’t wear the ‘C’. So what the Nabokov was shelled and pulled. It’s not on them to win Game 5: It’s on Pavelski and Clowe and Setoguchi and Mitchell and Couture. They’ve been the backbone of this team in this postseason, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll go spineless in three straight.

The other thing to consider: The Red Wings haven’t put together back-to-back dominating efforts in this postseason. They’ve looked this good before — think Game 7 against the Phoenix Coyotes — but haven’t followed through. And we expect back-to-back-to-back Cup-worthy efforts to win this series?

You could almost feel the relief of some lazy-minded folks who really wanted to dust off their tired choking jokes and go back to a world in which the Red Wings always “figure it out.” Now, I’m not saying it’s wholly impossible that Detroit could pull off a miracle comeback. Winning Game 5 would bring this series to 3-2 which could conceivably be followed by a series-tying win at the Joe. Then, of course, it would be a Game 7 featuring one epically nervous Sharks team (and fan base).

Still, my guess is that the Sharks come out with a thunderous vengeance in Game 5 and wrap things up either there or in Game 6. The Red Wings played too well in this series to be swept, but they’re going to have to pull off quite the turnaround to justify the surprisingly early sightings of Chicken Little.

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    Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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    Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

    The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

    Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

    You can watch the play by clicking here.

    Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

    The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

    ‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

    Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

    His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

    It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

    He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

    His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

    “It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

    Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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    The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

    On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

    The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

    “Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

    “We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

    Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.

    Mitchell signed PTO with Blue Jackets — shortly after getting cut by Blackhawks

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    When the Chicago Blackhawks announced their roster moves yesterday, John Mitchell was among the cuts.

    His professional tryout with the Blackhawks had come to an end, as it did for veterans Mark Stuart and Drew Miller.

    It can be an uphill battle to make an NHL roster for veterans on professional tryouts. But for Mitchell, he quickly received another opportunity to attend a camp and try to land a spot, signing a PTO with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Mitchell, 32, has appeared in 548 NHL regular season games with 70 goals and 177 points.

    Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are still without forward and restricted free agent Josh Anderson, as the two sides are stuck in a contract impasse right now. It was reported on Thursday that his representatives have been in contact with Hockey Canada about the 2018 Olympics.