NHL Playoffs, Blackhawks v. Sharks, Game 3: Sharks strike first, Hawks tie it up

Hawks5.jpgEastern Conference Finals, Game 3, 2nd Intermission

Chicago Blackhawks 1, San Jose Sharks 1

Blackhawks lead series 2-0

The San Jose Sharks have been able to score on Antti Niemi so far this series, but they have yet to truly exert their offensive force on the Blackhawks. While we always expected great defensive play from the Blackhawks, the inspired play of Niemi in the Conference finals was something that surprised nearly everyone, including the Sharks.

In Game 3 in Chicago, a critical contest for the Sharks as they try to avoid the nearly insurmountable 0-3 series deficit, the Sharks have played much more aggressive and much more confident and it finally paid off in the second period. The Blackhawks put their share of pressure on the Sharks in the first 20 minutes, but Evgeni Nabokov was able to do what he couldn’t in the first two games: makes the big saves when his team needed it the most.

His big saves gave the Sharks the chance they needed, and they responded with heavy pressure to open the second and forced the Blackhawks to take two penalties, giving the Sharks a lengthy 5-on-3 chance. It looked as if the Sharks would come away incredibly frustrated as Niemi turned away several prime chances until Patrick Marleau was able to finally sneak a puck past Niemi’s glove to give the Sharks a much needed 1-0 lead.

With the way the Sharks have been endlessly frustrated by the Hawks and Niemi despite some actual decent play in two games, you would have thought the Sharks would have been invigorated by getting the lead. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks proved once again just how strong a team they are and tied it up just three minutes later on a power play goal of their own.

Once again showing that he is the early Conn Smythe favorite, Jonathan Toews completed a brilliant no-look, cross-crease pass to Patrick Sharp for a slam dunk goal on Evgeni Nabokov. The Hawks used the goal to wake from a bit of an early stupor and responded with some heavy pressure of their own the rest of the period, and only a couple of sprawling saves by Nabokov kept the Hawks from taking what would have been a demoralizing lead over the Sharks.

Heading into an incredibly important third period, the Sharks have a great chance to at least build on a solid 40 minutes and hope to steal an important win in Chicago. Somehow they’ll have to find a way to solve Antti Niemi, who continues to play at a much higher level than I ever thought he would the deeper the Blackhawks moved into the playoffs.

Fortunately for the Hawks, Evgeni Nabokov has finally been able to do his part.

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    More details emerge re: Isles’ arena plans

    ELMONT, NY - JUNE 06:  A sign is seen at Belmont Park on June 6, 2014 in Elmont, New York.  On Saturday, June 7, California Chrome will attempt to win the triple crown with a win in the Belmont Stakes.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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    Big day for NHL arena news.

    First came a report out of Arizona that the Coyotes’ public financing plans could be in trouble.

    Now comes another report that the New York Islanders may have a solution to their Barclays Center problem.

    From Bloomberg:

    A supergroup of New York sports executives, including owners of the New York Rangers and the New York Mets, is lining up to invest in a new arena just outside of Queens for the National Hockey League’s Islanders, according to people familiar with the discussions.

    The new arena proposal is a joint venture between the Islanders, Oak View Group and Sterling Project Development, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because the talks are private. James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co., which controls the Rangers, long the Islanders hated rivals, is an investor in Oak View Group, the private equity group run by Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff. The Wilpon family, which owns the Mets, controls Sterling Project Development. 

    Bloomberg notes that NHL owners are allowed to “have a stake in another club’s arena,” so Dolan’s involvement shouldn’t be an issue with the league.

    Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed last month that the Isles’ owners were exploring their options beyond the team’s current home in Brooklyn.

    “The owners are committed to the franchise, they’re committed to New York and the great fan base that has followed the Islanders,” said Bettman. “There are some issues about playing in Barclays that may be fundamental as to the ice system, and that’s not something that can be fixed in the short term. I think, as is prudent, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking very seriously at what their options are.”

    According to Bloomberg, the current focus is on a site at Belmont Park in Elmont. For more on that, read Newsday’s story from July.

    Related: Tim Leiweke could play role in redevelopment of Seattle’s KeyArena

    Neuvirth ‘scared’ Flyers will trade him at deadline

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 24: Goalie Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the Washington Capitals during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Washington Capitals won, 1-0. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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    At the 2014 trade deadline, Michal Neuvirth was traded from Washington to Buffalo.

    One year later, the Sabres flipped him to the Isles.

    So it’s understandable, then, that Neuvirth — a pending unrestricted free agent — is plenty worried the Flyers might ship him out by next Wednesday.

    “For sure, I’m scared,” Neuvirth said, per the Courier-Post. “The last three deadlines I’ve been traded twice. For sure, I’m scared, yes.”

    The 28-year-old is probably right to be frightened. With an affordable $1.625 million cap hit and a history of solid stretches — including last year, when he went 18-8-4 with a .924 save percentage and 2.27 GAA — Neuvirth is a classic “upgrade your backup” option.

    Like in 2015, when Isles GM Garth Snow wanted an improvement on Chad Johnson.

    “Chad played some very good games for us over the course of the season,” Snow said at the time, per the Daily News. “But seeing Michal Neuvirth performing, especially in the last 30 days playing at an extremely high level, obviously goaltenders are hard to get in the NHL and the Eastern Conference.

    “It was an opportunity for us to make a move and get a little better at the position.”

    For a playoff-bound team, Neuvirth is a tantalizing add. His career postseason numbers are excellent — .933 save percentage over 13 appearances, with a pair of shutouts. (Yes, it’s a relatively small sample size.)

    He was also terrific in last year’s opening-round loss to Washington, stopping 103 of 105 shots faced.

    As for the Flyers, they’re in a precarious situation, sitting five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’d need to leapfrog Florida, Boston and the Isles to get there, and GM Ron Hextall hasn’t publicly identified himself as a buyer or seller.

    What’s more, Hextall doesn’t want to address his goalie situation until the offseason. Steve Mason‘s a pending UFA as well, and there’s some believe neither will be back with Philly next year.

    As for landing spots, one has to wonder if Boston will kick tires on Neuvirth. GM Don Sweeney said the club could try to solve its longstanding backup goalie problem at the deadline.

    Report: Coyotes’ arena financing plan in trouble

    GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    More bad news for the Arizona Coyotes in their quest to build a new arena and remain in the Phoenix area.

    From the Arizona Republic:

    A plan that would provide $225 million in public financing for a new $395 million Arizona Coyotes arena likely does not have the votes to pass the state Senate, key lawmakers told The Arizona Republic/azcentral Thursday.

    Sens. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said they definitely were going to vote against the plan, while Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said there is little support among the chamber’s 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he had “serious reservations” about the plan that would allow the National Hockey League team to build an arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

    It would take at least 16 votes to pass Senate Bill 1149 in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have a 17-13 advantage. Statements from those lawmakers make it appear unlikely that there is enough support to move the plan to the House.

    A vote before the full Senate could occur next week.

    The financing plan is being championed by Sen. Bob Worsley, a Republican.

    “I’m not a hockey fan but I’m a business guy and I want to save any business of this magnitude from leaving and impacting thousands of jobs,” Worsley said earlier this month, per Arizona Sports. “We would go out of our way in the Legislature to see what we could do if there was a company considering leaving so it’s appropriate to say, ‘what can we do to help?’”

    In light of today’s news, Worsley’s words do not bode well for the Coyotes, who have no intention of remaining in Glendale long term.

    The team, still holding out hope, told the Republic, “There are a lot of moving parts in this legislative process and everything is malleable and open for discussion until the very end. We will continue to educate lawmakers about a complex project that creates a true public-private partnership and offers the Coyotes an economically viable solution to remain in the Valley for the long term.”

    Related: Coyotes still ‘pretty confident’ of finding an arena solution

    Weather forecast looks good for Penguins-Flyers

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Fireworks go off before the start of the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    Pittsburgh set a new weather record today, with temperatures reaching a summer-like 76 degrees.

    But it’s supposed to cool down considerably tomorrow, with only a chance of showers during the day — good news with the Penguins and Flyers set to play outdoors at Heinz Field.

    Game time tomorrow is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET (on NBC).

    “It’ll be fun, and what the weather is, because it’s unpredictable, is one of the great intriguing parts of putting on these games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a radio interview, per the Post-Gazette.

    The last time the Penguins played outdoors at Heinz Field, in the 2011 Winter Classic, the threat of rain forced the start time from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

    Tomorrow’s forecast from The Weather Network:

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    Related: How to watch and stream Penguins-Flyers outdoor game