Joe Thornton

Another choking label erased? Joe Thornton, Sharks take series with dramatic OT win

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Indulge me for one moment and picture the laziest heckler in the world. This person doesn’t get to watch every game, but knows enough about final results to christen players as “chokers” or “heroes.”

That person must be awfully unhappy right now. In the span of one round, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks – two teams who are choke joke staples – didn’t just win their series, they showed serious guts in the process.

Nothing could be more symbolic than Joe Thornton (perhaps the most scrutinized player in the NHL) scoring the overtime game-winner that sent the Sharks to the second round.

San Jose 4, Los Angeles 3 (OT); Sharks win series 4-2

While the Sharks frequently dominated the play from a scoring chances standpoint in this series, the Kings deserve a lot of credit for making it a tough grind for San Jose. This series went to overtime three different times (all wins by San Jose), including the Sharks’ historic comeback. In other words, this series was much closer than I predicted.

Before we get into the impact for both squads, let’s take a look at the game itself.

The first and second periods:

Jonathan Quick was brilliant in the first period, keeping the score 0-0 despite the fact that the Sharks out-shot the Kings 16-5.

Kyle Wellwood defied all the Internet’s fat jokes by putting in a rebound to make it 1-0 for the Sharks early in the second period. Justin Williams was able to tie the game up on the back end of a double-minor power play that probably shouldn’t have happened because it wasn’t Joe Thornton’s stick that ended up knocking out Brad Richardson’s teeth. (Yes, you read that last bit correctly.)

Jason Demers scored his second goal of the playoffs by roofing it past Quick to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame.

The third period and overtime:

The Kings just wouldn’t die in this game, which makes it a microcosm of their hearty work in the series. Ryan Smyth scored a rebound goal just 18 seconds into the third thanks to a nice setup by Jarret Stoll.

Dany Heatley hasn’t exactly been a major factor in this series, but he did give the Sharks a 3-2 lead thanks to a wicked wrist shot. Los Angeles didn’t roll over after that one, either, as Trevor Lewis scored his first career playoff goal to make it 3-3.

The remaining moments were dominated by a couple boneheaded penalties. The first one involved a Drew Doughty high-stick/cross-check to the face of Devin Setoguchi, a hit that might draw some league attention.

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The outcome of this game lessened the impact of the second call, but it was still a huge moment when referees handed Jamie McGinn a five minute major penalty and game misconduct for charging. There’s little doubt that it was a charge, but many hockey fans wondered if it was an extreme call considering the fact that it was made late in a big game. The Sharks were able to kill that penalty, with 3:23 of the shorthanded time in regulation and 1:37 in overtime.

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Ultimately, the Sharks killed the penalty and Thornton put home that series-winning rebound goal 2:22 into overtime and then delighted the hockey world with his victory slide.

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What it means for San Jose, Los Angeles

The Sharks continue to look like a “different” team, a point underscored by their comeback win and three away wins in the series. They should feel great about their offense, with Antti Niemi and their occasional lapses in discipline being their biggest concerns.

The Kings still haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, but it’s still safe to describe them as up-and-comers. The team is strong on defense, promising in net and just an asset or two away from being dangerous on offense. This loss will hurt for some time, but they have something to build on after giving a great team a run for their money.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.