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.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

Off-season

Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.