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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.

Injury to Burakovsky allows Capitals to evaluate depth

Washington Capitals center Zach Sanford celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game as Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson, back, looks on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, in Washington. It was Sanford's first NHL goal. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) If there was ever a good time for the Washington Capitals to go through an injury, it’s now.

That’s not a knock on Andre Burakovsky, who was a point-a-game player the last 14 games before a hand injury sidelined him until mid-to-late March. But without the 22-year-old forward, the Capitals get a chance to see what they have in youngsters like Zach Sanford, Jakub Vrana and others in case they’re needed in the playoffs.

Burakovsky was having a productive stretch when he took a slap shot to his right hand on Feb. 9, but his absence gives general manager Brian MacLellan several games to evaluate Washington’s depth ahead of the March 1 trade deadline

“Mac needs to know what we have and how comfortable we are with everybody there,” coach Barry Trotz said last week. “This last (24) games, it’s going to crank up another level. Some guys will thrive in that environment, and some guys will fall off. We’ve got to really try to find that out before the trade deadline. We feel fairly comfortable, but we’d still like to have more info.”

The Capitals lead the Eastern Conference by five points over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who are the example for finding silver linings in significant injuries. Last season, injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Beau Bennett and Marc-Andre Fleury opened the door for players like Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray to get quality NHL ice time and show what they could do under pressure.

Washington has been the healthiest team in the league this season, so opportunities for call-ups have been limited to nine games missed by top-line right winger T.J. Oshie, a handful of precautionary blips and now Burakovsky’s absence. Only 26 players have appeared in a game for the Capitals this season, tied for the fewest in the league, but if that luck runs out, they need to be prepared.

“It’s really important that you have guys who can step in, too, in case something happens to anyone,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who quietly is fourth in the league in scoring with 61 points.

The Capitals added to their depth on defense by acquiring Tom Gilbert from the Los Angeles Kings last week and stashing him with Hershey of the American Hockey League. Whether MacLellan seeks to make another depth move, especially up front, could depend on how Sanford does in Burakovsky’s place Wednesday at the Philadelphia Flyers and beyond.

The 22-year-old rookie had one point in his first 21 games before scoring in consecutive games upon his return.

“It’s good for a guy like (Sanford) to come in, he scores in back-to-back games, and get his confidence up a little bit because down the line we might need him to come in and be good and help us win,” forward Brett Connolly said. “There’s so many things that can happen. Guys can play poorly in the playoffs and they want to switch it up.”

The best candidates to be the 2017 versions of Sheary, Rust and Kuhnhackl are Sanford, Vrana, Tuesday call-up Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson and Liam O’Brien. Alex Ovechkin sees those players as more than capable of filling in if injuries happen.

“We have very good prospects and young talented players in Hershey, so they can jump in right away and play as good as they are,” Ovechkin said. “I hope nobody gonna get hurt, but it’s hockey. It’s a tough sport.”

Trotz said it’s a “next man up mentality” when injuries happen. But that next man has to be ready for the challenge, and Sanford can show that down the stretch and put his early-season confidence issues behind him.

“I think that’ll be huge for me,” Sanford said. “The playoffs are a whole different beast and hopefully when you get there if I get in (the lineup), hopefully the beginning of the season here and what we’re going through now helps me feel comfortable.”

Related: A rebuilt third line has been key for the Caps

 

NHL wants ‘two dedicated weeks’ for bye weeks next season

Montreal Canadiens v Minnesota Wild
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There’s a new plan for NHL bye weeks.

Next season, assuming the new plan is implemented, half the teams will take their bye week one week, then the other half will take it the next week.

“We’re going to try to find two dedicated weeks, and perhaps split the clubs up almost on a 50-50 basis so that each group of clubs will be having their bye weeks at the same time, then perhaps we can schedule a little better out of those bye weeks in terms of clubs who’ve had rest versus clubs who haven’t had rest,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN 1040 radio today (audio).

The fact teams coming out of their bye weeks are 4-12-4 is a clear factor in the change. Hence, the plan to schedule rested teams against rested teams, making first games back a more equitable matchup.

Nine teams — the Stars, Sharks, Canucks, Wild,  Blues, Jets, Sabres, Red Wings, and Blue Jackets — are currently on their bye weeks. The Ducks are the last team to take theirs; they’re off from Feb. 26 to March 2.

Teams started taking their bye weeks on Jan. 1.

Pre-game reading: The Panthers are back home and feeling good

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— Up top, Kelsey DiClaudio from Pittsburgh is defying expectations as the first woman to compete with the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team. “As long as I can play hockey, I’m fine,” she says.

— The Florida Panthers, after winning all five games of a season-defining road trip, return home to face the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow. Last night, they beat the Blues on a Vincent Trocheck goal with just 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation. “It felt like we won the Stanley Cup for just a second,” Trocheck told reporters afterward. “I think to do it with four seconds on the clock, we showed a lot of poise there in the third period.” (Miami Herald)

— As the finally-healthy Panthers surge, their Atlantic Division rivals, the Ottawa Senators, are being forced to endure an injury nightmare. “I don’t remember, to be honest, seeing that many (injuries), in so little time. These are some of your better players too,” coach Guy Boucher said. “We’re not talking about our 12th or 13th forward, we’re talking about high-end players.” Perhaps Eugene Melnyk spoke too soon about his team making a deep playoff run. The way things are trending, the Sens are in danger of dropping out of the postseason picture altogether. (Ottawa Sun)

— A pending unrestricted free agent on a team currently outside the playoff picture, Flyers d-man Michael Del Zotto knows he could be traded before March 1. “It happens every year. It’s not like it’s the first time. I’ve been traded before. It is what it is. It’s a business. You realize that pretty early in your career. I understand where I’m at as far as my contract, being a UFA this summer.” (CSN Philly)

Jarome Iginla is another pending UFA, and his Colorado Avalanche are definitely not going to make the playoffs. The 39-year-old winger would like to be traded, but with just seven goals in 57 games, it remains to be seen if there will be much of a market. “I’m not playing bad, but I still think I can get better,” he says. “There’s so many things that go into it and there are chances you’d like back, but I believe I’m going to get on a roll here in the next little bit to help us win some.” (Denver Post)

— A list of the best trade-deadline additions in NHL history, starting with Ron Francis, who joined the Penguins from the Hartford Whalers late in the 1990-91 season and then proceeded to put up 17 points in 24 playoff games to help Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Francis then stuck around to win another title in 1992, so that trade turned out OK for the Pens. (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie Nods: Laurent Brossoit gets rare start for Oilers

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 21: Connor McDavid #97 (L) and Laurent Brossoit #1 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate after defeating the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 21, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The easiest job in the NHL right now might just be the backup goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers have been using Cam Talbot as their workhorse all year, starting him in 53 of the team’s first 59 games. Obviously, that has left just six starts for backups Jonas Gustavsson and Laurent Brossoit, and only two since early December (one each for Brossoit and Gustavsson). It has been a massive workload that has resulted in him playing 200 more minutes than any other goalie in the league.

When the Oilers visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, as part of a back-to-back on their trip through Florida, it will be Brossoit getting a rare start as Talbot gets his first night off in nearly a month.

For Brossoit it will be just his fourth appearance of the season (and only second start) and only the eighth start of his NHL career.

In his first start this season he stopped 38 out of 41 shots in a 7-3 win over the Calgary Flames back on Jan. 21.

He will be trying to extend the Oilers’ winning streak to four games and help them try to close the gap in the Pacific Division as they enter the day five points behind the San Jose Sharks for the top spot.

For the Lightning, it will be Ben Bishop getting the call as they look to extend their current point streak to seven games.

Elsewhere on Tuesday night…

— After taking the loss against Detroit on Sunday evening Matt Murray is back in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes. Cam Ward, who always seems to play well against Pittsburgh, gets the start for the Hurricanes.

— It’s a pretty massive goaltending matchup in New York with Carey Price going against Henrik Lundqvist. Price still hasn’t been himself over the past couple of months as the Canadiens struggle to get out of their slump, while Lundqvist is starting to regain his form and has been sensational for about three weeks now.

— After Mike Condon got the start in two of Ottawa’s past three games Craig Anderson is back in net on Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils. He will be opposed at the other end of the rink by Cory Schneider.

Petr Mrazek goes again for the Red Wings and looks to continue his recent white hot play that has seen him record a .943 save percentage in his past four starts. The New York Islanders are going back to Thomas Greiss.

— After sitting two of the past three games Frederik Andersen is back in the crease for Toronto when they take on Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets.

— The Minnesota Wild can take over the top spot in the NHL with a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night, and of course it will be Devan Dubnyk getting the start. Corey Crawford goes for Chicago.

— It will be Brian Elliott vs. Pekka Rinne when the Nashville Predators host the Calgary Flames.

— The Kings have not officially announced their starter for their game in Colorado, but look for Peter Budaj to go once again. The Avalanche are going with Calvin Pickard.