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.

2016 Lady Byng finalists: Barkov, Eriksson and Kopitar

Slovenia forward Anze Kopitar, left, and Sweden forward Loui Eriksson battle for the puck in the second period of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The low penalty minutes and high point totals are in, and thus we have the 2016 NHL Awards’ three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy: Aleksander Barkov, Loui Eriksson and Anze Kopitar.

OK, the actual definition for the award is that it goes “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

Same difference, eh?

Barkov really made a breakthrough this season with the Florida Panthers, scoring 59 points versus just eight penalty minutes. He only has 34 PIM in 191 career regular season contests.

You can see Eriksson and Kopitar representing their respective countries in this post’s main image. Eriksson enjoyed his best (and maybe last?) season with the Boston Bruins while Kopitar hopes to win the 2016 Selke as the Los Angeles Kings’ defensively adept – yet apparently courteous – forward.

It’s unclear who wins this “fight,” but one would assume it wouldn’t be a dirty one.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 of Islanders – Lightning, Penguins – Capitals

Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) starts to celebrate his goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) and Kris Letang (58) during the second period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Saturday. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Can Sidney Crosby and the Penguins even things up against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals? Will the Lightning avoid dropping both games at home against the Islanders? We’ll find out on NBC.

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (3:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will also be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some reading to get you pumped up:

– The Penguins are keeping chatty Marc-Andre Fleury from speaking to the media(reportedly).

Tom Wilson received a fine, not a suspension, for that knee-to-knee hit.

T.J. Oshie was the difference-maker for Washington in Game 1.

– Don’t expect Steven Stamkos to face red-hot John Tavares anytime soon (or at all, maybe).

Read about the Isles’ Game 1 win

With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) takes control of the puck in front of St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 3-0. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Patrick Eaves won’t be able to play for the Dallas Stars against the St. Louis Blues in their upcoming Game 2.

The last time we saw Eaves, he was leaving the ice by gliding on one foot after being hit by a teammate’s shot. He needed help to the locker room and was seen on crutches according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

The bad news is that Eaves cannot go. The good news is that the Stars can replace him with a player who boasts considerable offensive skill, as Valeri Nichushkin will take Eaves’ place.

Nichushkin wasn’t very effective in five postseason games so far, failing to score a point and only managed three shots on goal.

Still, if the frenetic pace of Game 1 carries on through this series, Nichushkin could very well make an impact.

Update: the Stars have other options at forward after making recalls:

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.