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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.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.