What's missing from this San Jose Sharks team? Heart.

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Thornton1.jpgIf there’s one thing we can count on every postseason, it’s the
endless supply of articles that rip the San Jose Sharks to shreds for
yet another playoffs disappointment. This year, I had hopes that perhaps
we could avoid all that — as fun as it may be — and even if the
Chicago Blackhawks won the Conference finals we could sit back and say
“well, at least they gave it their best shot.”

After two games, it
appears that won’t be the case.

In Game 1, you could say that the
Sharks were just unlucky as they hit an Antti Niemi that was suddenly
on fire. They outplayed the Hawks for much of Game 1, and for at least
the first part of Game 2. While plenty of inked will be spilled writing
about yet another Joe Thornton collapse, much of the attention should be
on the play of Evgeni Nabokov; specifically, how the soft goals he
allows suck every ounce of life out of the team in front of him.

You
could say that Game 1 was an anomaly; a hard fought, close game in
which the Sharks just couldn’t score on Niemi. Yet in Game 2, the team
was grossly outplayed for much of the contest and it all started with a
deflating first goal. Coach
Todd McLellan and Joe Pavelski agree:

“(That) goal took a lot out of us for some reason,” coach Todd
McClellan admitted. “You could feel it on the bench. It took us a while
to climb back and get the energy level back up where it needed to be.”

“Didn’t have nearly enough guys out there,” revealed Joe
Pavelski
said after Chicago thumped San Jose 4-2 to take the
proverbial commanding 2-0 series lead. “When we have won so far this
season, it’s been a commitment by everybody. Everybody’s showed up, and
that’s what we need.”

There’s some detailed insight for ya.

After two games, this is not a case of Niemi stealing wins, as I’ve
seen Sharks fans boast on Twitter. Instead, this is yet another instance
of a team not being able to step up and hit that extra gear with the
opposing teams take the game to another level.

This isn’t an issue with talent, this has to do with heart. For
whatever reason, this Sharks team — like others before — is incapable
of rising to the challenge with the stakes are at their highest.

You see it nearly every season and it’s painful to watch; a team with all the talent in the world falls by the wayside as a stronger and mentally tough team takes them out. It’s not about matchups and overall talent, it’s about just how much each team wants this win. Sometimes wanting it isn’t enough, sometimes the pressure is just too much.

Sometimes, the core of your team is missing something vital for playoff success.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.

Blackhawks fall to Ducks in OT, lose Hossa to injury

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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:

Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
AP
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.