Sharks take 2-1 series lead thanks to one of the biggest comebacks in playoff history

Pretty much since Joe Thornton joined the San Jose Sharks, they’ve been called chokers. It’s going to be awfully tough for anyone to advance that argument again after they pulled off one the most stunning comebacks in playoff history.

That’s not hyperbole, either; the Sharks become only the fourth team in playoff history to come back from at least a 4-0 deficit and win. Here are the three other games, with scores and dates thanks to Versus.

* – Minnesota 5, Chicago 4 (OT) on April 28, 1985.
* – Los Angeles 6, Edmonton 5 (OT) on April 10, 1982.
* – Montreal 7, Boston 5 on April 8, 1971.

San Jose 6, Los Angeles 5 (OT); Sharks lead the series 2-1

No doubt about it, this is a devastating loss of the Kings. In the framework of this series, Los Angeles has some serious “What ifs” to fight through. After losing Game 1 after making their own comeback, the Kings lost on Devin Setoguchi’s beauty in OT in Game 3. In other words, they could be up 3-0 rather than down 2-1.

From a historic perspective, it’s even more unusual. In case you’re not aware, the Kings were on the winning end of an enormous and improbable comeback in 1982. Almost 30 years ago, the Kings managed to beat the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers in OT after falling behind 5-0.

As thrilling as tonight’s win was for the Sharks, they might need to worry a bit about Antti Niemi’s psyche. He allowed the Kings to take another early lead as Willie Mitchell scored an awful goal on him and Kyle Clifford made it 2-0 just 13 seconds later. Michal Handzus gave them a 3-0 late in the first period, which seemed like a tremendous lead since the Sharks only scored three goals combined in the last two games.

An unforgettable, seven-goal second period.

After building that 3-0 lead through the first, Brad Richardson chased Niemi from the net just 44 seconds into the middle frame.

Despite showing obvious rust after only appearing in four Sharks games since New Year’s, Antero Niittymaki did just enough to survive, stopping 11 out of 12 shots in relief of Niemi.

The goaltending change and slowly gathering momentum helped the Sharks put together one of the most ridiculous 20 minutes of hockey in recent memory. Patrick Marleau batted in a great pass from Dan Boyle for the Sharks’ first goal, Ryan Clowe scored on the power play three minutes later and they made things beyond interesting when Logan Couture scored.

Yet 15 seconds later, Ryan Smyth scored on a great Jarret Stoll pass thanks to a defensive lapse by the Sharks.

Perhaps the “choking” edition of the Sharks would have used this opportunity to fold, but this new edition has enough depth to spread out the responsibility during this improbable comeback. These Sharks just kept coming in that second period, as Clowe scored his second goal of the game with a minute and a half remaining and Joe Pavelski tied it up with about 30 seconds left.

Keep in mind all seven of those goals came in the second period, after a 3-0 first period for the Kings.

A rugged third period and a quick overtime.

Surely both coaches gave their teams a tongue-lashing in the second intermission, as the two teams played the kind of tight, contentious hockey that was expected from this series. The third period went scoreless.

That gave way to a high-pressure overtime that didn’t last long, as Setoguchi made no mistake about delivering on a perfect Marleau pass. After all that activity, the Sharks won 6-5 in overtime and left the Kings stunned in the process.

Big questions for both teams.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Sharks react to this situation. Will they stick with Niemi – a goalie they clearly believe is their franchise guy – even though he’s allowed eight goals on 33 shots in the last two contests?

Of course, the biggest question is how the Kings will respond to this brutal loss. If Terry Murray can keep them from getting too down, they can still win this series. They didn’t really roll over in this game, as evidenced by that rugged third period and Smyth’s 5-3 goal. If nothing else, they know they can score on this team without Anze Kopitar and skate with a great team. It’s small solace now, but they can tie it up on Thursday.

As bad as this game was for Niemi, Jonathan Quick must also bounce back from this game, even if he had no chance on most of those goals. One has to wonder if the Kings’ underrated, steady young goalie can shake this one off.

We learned a lot about the Sharks tonight, but we’ll find out a lot about Los Angeles in Game 4.

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
1 Comment

One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.

NHL, NHLPA launch program to ‘help players reach their full potential on and off the ice’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bill Daly and Mathieu Schneider present Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada with the World Cup of Hockey Championship trophy after his teams win over Team Europe during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The NHL and NHLPA have launched a program designed to help players plan their post-hockey careers long before they hang up their skates.

The Core Development Program will give players avenues to further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. League and NHL Players Association officials say the program announced Thursday targets young players, not just those in the twilight of their careers.

“The sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they’ll generally be – as much in their careers as after their careers,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said by phone.

This new endeavor is independent of the NHL Alumni’s Break Away program that focuses on player transitions once they retire. Most professional leagues have a similar process, but the NHL and NHLPA believe their program for current players is unique.

The voluntary program was spawned from player feedback. Several retired players have said they wished something like this existed.

Former player Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director, hopes the program benefits players on the ice, too.

“There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,” Schneider said. “Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally. I think generally guys just have that awareness that, yes, it is an important part of the development of pro athletes.”

Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch, said examples such as Chara are the best ways to sell this program to current players.

“I think it’s great because a lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they’re done playing,” said Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt, who’s currently studying for his real estate exam. “Even for a guy that has a college degree, I’m kind of nervous for when that day might come.”

Dumba to be healthy scratch for Wild, is ‘trying to do too much’

Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba (55) dumps the puck behind Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
1 Comment

Matt Dumba turned 22 in July, so he’s still pretty young for an NHL defenseman. But for a seventh overall draft pick, the Minnesota Wild might’ve expected him to be making more of an impact by now.

Alas, Dumba will be a healthy scratch tonight at home against Toronto. He’ll be replaced by AHL call-up Mike Reilly.

“Dumba is going to be a really good player,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “He is right now. He’s trying to do too much. We just want him to calm it down.”

The 2012 draft was notable for the eight defensemen that were taken with the first 10 picks. Four years later, some of them have panned out, like Morgan Rielly (fifth overall) and Hampus Lindholm (sixth). Some of them haven’t, like Griffin Reinhart (fourth). But for most of them, it remains to be seen what they’ll ultimately become. Dumba is in that boat, along with Ryan Murray (second), Derrick Pouliot (eighth), Jacob Trouba (ninth), and Slater Koekkoek (10th). Even Reinhart may figure it out, though it doesn’t look good right now.

Dumba signed a two-year, $5.1 contract extension over the summer. It was the kind of deal that highly touted young players sign when they still have something to prove, which Dumba clearly does.