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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    The Buzzer: Spezza bounces back after healthy scratch; another injury for Predators

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    Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

    On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.

    When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.

    Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.

    He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.

    Another big injury for Nashville

    The Nashville Predators are already playing without two of their top forwards with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson sidelined.

    They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.

    Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.

    Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.

    The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.

    Highlight Of The Night

    Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Factoid Of The Night

    A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.

    Scores

    New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1

    New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

    Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

    St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

    Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0

    San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    Report: Blackhawks concerned Crawford could miss remainder of season

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    Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.

    Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.

    Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.

    [Related: Corey Crawford has become the Blackhawks’ most important player]

    In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.

    In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.

    As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    Rick Nash snaps out of slump, powers Rangers to huge win

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    The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are two of the teams in the middle of the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoff race that had five teams separated by just three points heading into Tuesday night.

    Both teams had been rolling in opposite directions over the past week with the Flyers having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Rangers were riding a three-game losing skid and had lost four out of five.

    Their past two losses coming out of the bye week were especially ugly, losing to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins (two other teams they are competing with) by a combined score of 12-4.

    Both the Rangers’ and Flyers’ streaks came to an end in their game on Tuesday with the Rangers picking up a huge 5-1 win.

    Rick Nash was the big star for the Rangers on Tuesday with a pair of goals, including a breakaway goal in the first period to tie the game at one after the Rangers gave up an early goal. It was a big performance for Nash because he had been mired in a brutal slump that had seen him go 12 consecutive games without a goal. He also had just one assist during that stretch. That slump has contributed to a down year offensively that has him on track for one of the least productive seasons of his career.

    But he came through in a big way on Tuesday to help give the Rangers two huge points and move them three points ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers still have one game in hand while the two teams will still play three more games the rest of the season.

    The Rangers’ win on Tuesday, combined with the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, moves the Rangers back into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

    The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

    Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

    The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

    Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

    More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey