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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    Video: Ovechkin joins elite company with this goal vs. Coyotes

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    Barring a miraculous barrage of goals in the final stretch of games, Alex Ovechkin very likely won’t hit the 50-mark this season.

    Now 31 years old, there has been talk that this could be the beginning of the decline for Ovechkin.

    But on Saturday, he scored the 30th goal of his season, letting that famous Ovechkin shot rip from his favorite spot on the power play.

    For Ovechkin, that’s 12 straight seasons with at least 30 goals scored. He has been consistently prolific since joining the league in 2005-06. He’s an elite player, as everyone has known for years, and he once again joined elite company with this latest goal.

    Per the Capitals, Ovechkin joins Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky — he was good — as the only three players in NHL history to score at least 30 goals in each of their first 12 seasons in the league.

    Sharp to undergo hip surgery, expected recovery is 4-5 months

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    Patrick Sharp‘s difficult season is now over.

    The Dallas Stars announced on Saturday that the 35-year-old forward will undergo hip surgery on Tuesday. The recovery time, according to the club, is between four and five months.

    Sharp is in the final year of a five-year contract with a $5.9 million cap hit, per CapFriendly

    “We are going to get the surgery done and let him heal. He’s going to train and let’s take a look at him,” said Stars GM Jim Nill, per NHL.com. “We’ve had conversations. If he comes back, he wants it to be Dallas. He thinks he’s a Dallas Star.”

    Not only has Sharp dealt with injuries on the ice, but he is dealing with a personal matter off it.

    From the Dallas Morning News:

    But in battling through two concussions, hip pain, and his dad’s fight with leukemia, Sharp has shown significant fortitude. The Dallas chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Sharp Saturday as its candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy, given each season to a player who displays the attributes of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

    “It shows what kind of person he is and what kind of hockey player and leader he is,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “I think that’s why he’s a winner at every level he’s played at. I think that’s why he’s a great leader for this team and a great guy for a lot of these young guys to look up to.”

    Sharp was first sidelined with a concussion in October. He was then placed on injured reserve with another concussion in December.

    He has been held to just 48 games, with eight goals — his lowest total since the lockout-shortened season — and 18 points.

    ‘That was embarrassing,’ says Boudreau after Wild lose to Canucks

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    The Wild continue to struggle and fans on Saturday expressed their frustration.

    Think about this: The visiting Canucks are terrible at scoring goals, ranked 29th in the league in that category. Yet they managed to score four goals in the second period against the Wild. So bad was Minnesota’s performance to that point that there was a Bronx cheer directed at goalie Darcy Kuemper after he made a save on a harmless shot and fans later booed the Wild off the ice into the intermission.

    It’s bad when the Canucks, 27th in the overall standings, embarrass an opposing team.

    The Wild failed once again to clinch a playoff spot after a 4-2 loss. That score flattered the home team, which got late goals from Ryan Suter and Eric Staal. Too little, too late. Afterward, coach Bruce Boudreau lit into his team.

    “That was embarrassing. I’m embarrassed,” Boudreau told reporters. “To me, if I was the fans, I’d be booing even more because they pay good money for this.”

    As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Wild are in, even if they haven’t yet officially secured a spot. Sports Club Stats is giving them a 100 per cent chance of qualifying for the post-season.

    But prior to this month, Minnesota looked like a team that could do some serious damage in the playoffs. That’s not to suggest they are suddenly incapable of going on any prolonged run but they very clearly have some issues that need to be addressed over the next few of weeks.

    “Yeah, it wasn’t good enough,” Jason Zucker told the Pioneer Press.

    “We are leaving guys open. We aren’t winning battles. We are hanging our goalies out to dry. … I don’t think we’re prepared enough to start some periods and they score and we’re not being resilient enough to come back.”

    Meanwhile, for the Canucks, this game should provide at least a glimmer of optimism for their fans. Less than 24 hours after his college season ended with a double overtime loss to Boston University, Brock Boeser signed an entry-level deal and made his NHL debut versus the Wild.

    What a debut it was.

    Boeser, a first-round pick of the Canucks in 2015, scored the winning goal and was tied for the team-lead in shots on goal with four alongside Reid Boucher, who also scored twice.

    The unfortunate news? Jack Skille left the game with an ankle injury and didn’t return. The outlook doesn’t look good, as Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said afterward, “I wouldn’t expect to see Skille in the line-up for a while.”

    Only eight games remain in Vancouver’s season.

    Another shutout for Bobrovsky as he steals one for Blue Jackets

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    Sergei Bobrovsky continued to make his case for the Vezina Trophy on Saturday afternoon when he stopped all 36 shots he faced in a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

    The win helped the Blue Jackets avoid what would have been their first three-game losing streak of the season.

    In a game where his team was outshot by a 36-21 margin and managed just a single goal (an Alexander Wennberg tally in the second period), it would not be unfair to say that he probably stole a couple of points for his team as the Blue Jackets continue to compete with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in both the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL.

    Bobrovsky being the difference in a game is nothing new for the Blue Jackets lately because he has been a brick wall in their net for much of the season. But for as good as his performance has been overall, it is over the past few weeks where he has really started to establish himself as a Vezina Trophy front runner.

    With his win on Saturday the Blue Jackets are now 9-0-2 in his past 11 starts.

    Bobrovsky remains the NHL’s leader in pretty much every major goaltending category, collecting his 40th win (first in the NHL), raising his overall save percentage to .934 (also first in the NHL), his even-strength save percentage to .940 (also first in the NHL), and recording his seventh shutout (tied for second, just one behind Braden Holtby).

    He has four shutouts in the month of March alone.

    There are a lot of factors you can point to for the Blue Jackets’ massive turnaround this season, but none of them have been bigger at this point than the play of Bobrovsky.

    He has already won the Vezina Trophy once in his career, and he is putting together a pretty convincing argument to win it again this season.