San Jose Sharks were waiting to exhale

1-thornton.jpgThe top-seeded San Jose Sharks are off to their second Western Conference Finals, their first since 2003-2004 and reading the reaction from bloggers and fans alike today is one that fascinates me. A lot of that is probably due to the fact that I’m not directly embroiled with the Sharks and don’t understand the perspective of what’s going on but the one thing that makes me tilt my head and go, “Huh…” is the sense of relief.

For instance, take this reaction from Mr. Plank at Fear The Fin.

The biggest series in franchise history was handled in a mere five games. It is a time of celebration and jubilation, of freedom from the demons that have plagued our souls for five years. It was a monumental event that shook the city of San Jose tonight, one that will go down in the history books as a moment where the shackles of shame were broken in one quick flick of Patrick Marleau’s wrist.

Tonight is exactly where we wanted to be.

Tomorrow is when it sets in that we’re only halfway home.

Buckle up.

Now I’d say the Sharks have had other road blocks in the last five years aside from Detroit (Ron Wilson, Anaheim and Dallas also come to mind) and I don’t really want to call it “over-dramatizing” referring to it as the “biggest series in franchise history” (the 2003-2004 Flames must feel very disrespected) but it does make me worry for this team.

While Plank is right that the team is only halfway home, my concern for the Sharks against either Chicago or Vancouver is complacency. The bulk of this Sharks team hasn’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs before and you know that that fact hung over them like the Sword of Damocles. So where does this team go after getting over that molehill before climbing the mountain it takes to reach the Stanley Cup? If you asked Adrian Dater at Versus, he’d be sarcastically congratulating Joe Thornton.

No, you still haven’t won the big dawg prize yet, that big silver punchbowl with all those names on it. Two more winning series to go before you get that.

But no longer are you the guy everybody badmouths at this time of the year. You’re still playing, moving on to another opponent, the playoff beard getting a little fuller, a little redder with every passing day.

Thornton was huge against Detroit, as was Patrick Marleau, two guys with previously terrible playoff reputations. The key for San Jose is to keep those guys scoring and that’s where Sharks fans and interested observers like ourselves are left to wonder what happens next. I’d like to think that getting over this hump will get the Sharks to tear through the playoffs and bring northern California their first Stanley Cup. I just can’t shake that nagging thought in my head that they’ll get complacent and end up getting rolled in the Western Conference Finals. Show me what you’ve got Sharks, make me a believer.

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    A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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    William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

    Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

    Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

    Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

    Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

    — Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

    Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

    “They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

    “We have lots of good players.”

    In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

    Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

    “We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

    Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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    WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

    Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

    Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

    Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

    A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

    Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

    “When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

    Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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    The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

    Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

    Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

    “His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

    Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

    The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

    NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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    The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

    In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

    Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

    In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

    Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

    Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.