Sharks earn another OT win, take 1-0 series lead against Red Wings

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Controversial penalty calls dominated much of the chatter – at least among Detroit Red Wings fans – when the team lost to the San Jose Sharks in the 2010 semifinals. If the Sharks’ 2-1 OT win in Game 1 is in any indication, those tin foil hats might get some serious mileage this year, too.

The Sharks weren’t able to score after Justin Abdelkader was whistled for a high-sticking double-minor in overtime, but Ben Ferriero’s winning goal came just 20 seconds after the Red Wings killed a rare OT penalty.* People will surely discuss the fact that San Jose received six power plays while Detroit only had two man advantages in Game 1.

San Jose 2, Detroit 1 (OT); Sharks lead series 1-0

When I heard announcers mention that Friday was Mike Babcock’s 48th birthday, I thought: “Oh, so that explains Jimmy Howard’s otherworldly play … he forgot to get Babs a present.” Apparently Ferriero’s birthday (he turned 24 on Friday) trumped Babcock’s, though, as the young Sharks forward scored that OT winner in his first career playoff game.

Howard truly was outstanding in defeat, though. Perhaps the Sharks’ high-volume offense brings out the best in opposing netminders, as Howard stopped 44 out of 46 shots in this game. He didn’t win tonight, but if Howard can keep this up, Detroit must like their chances. In the opposing crease, Antti Niemi was solid in a relatively light night of work, making 24 out of 25 saves.

Things began well for the Red Wings, as Pavel Datsyuk set up a Nicklas Lidstrom goal midway through the first period to give Detroit a 1-0 lead. Howard kept that lead intact through the second period despite the fact that the Sharks out-shot his team 18-7.

There was a give-and-take between Howard and Joe Pavelski, which probably shouldn’t be surprising since “The Big Pavelski” experienced his breakout 2010 playoff run during the teams’ semifinals series. Howard sent a few blows Pavelski’s way after the Sharks forward showered him with ice.

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Pavelski got the last laugh (in this game, at least) by scoring a power-play goal that revealed his world-class hand-eye coordination.

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The overtime period didn’t last very long, as the Red Wings killed off that double-minor shortly before that Ferriero goal. On a night when the Sharks didn’t get many bounces, they earned them on their two goals. That was especially true with the OT winner, as Ferriero sent a shot that deflected off Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart’s stick and into the Red Wings net.

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The outlook for both teams:

As usual, the Sharks created more scoring opportunities than their opponents but barely won. All negativity aside, though, they found a way to win their fourth overtime contest in only seven playoff games. It’s getting tougher and tougher to glue that choker label back on them, but many won’t be satisfied unless they win a Cup.

Both the Red Wings and Capitals lost tonight after hearty breaks from playoff action. Does that mean Detroit was rusty? You might call it that, but I cannot help but wonder if the real problem is their shaky defense. It’s possible that this game might have been lopsided if Howard wasn’t playing like the elite goalie he can often be.

Still, it’s just one game, something both teams are well aware of. The Sharks won in five games last year, but few would be surprised if this series ends up being lengthy. That might be tough on both sides in the long run, but it should be a great treat for fans considering how much talent each team boasts.

* – Then again, maybe overtime penalties are becoming more common. The Sharks were forced to kill part of a major penalty in overtime themselves while Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows received a penalty in overtime of a Game 7.

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.

Report: Former NHL referee Devorski to stop by Jets camp

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There is heightened focus on penalties right now and the Winnipeg Jets have taken the step of bringing former NHL referee Paul Devorski to training camp for help.

The league is cracking down on slashes and faceoff infractions right now, although according to Sportsnet, Devorski’s influence at Jets camp will go beyond just those two calls.

From Sportsnet:

The retired NHL referee will be at training camp on Friday where he will officiate the team during battle drills to give Jets players a better sense of how to stay within the rules.

NHL teams reaching out to the league to consult on officiating is not new, but having a referee work on-ice with a team is a less common step.

Currently many NHL teams are consulting with the league over more hot-button issues like slashing and faceoff violations, but the Jets focus with Devorski will be on past issues.

Around the league, it will be interesting to see if there is an increase in the number of penalties called, especially early on, and if so, the possible impact that will have on the games once the regular season gets going next month.

Per Michael Traikos of the National Post, there had been 91 slashing penalties called through 19 exhibition games in which real-time statistics were kept prior to Wednesday’s slate of games.

“It definitely changes how you have to defend. Those reactionary slashes of the stick, taps to the hands, are so ingrained in a defenceman,” Eric Gryba told Sportsnet. “If they stay as rigid on the rules as they are right now… the whole makeup, landscape of the D-corps is going to change, from top to bottom. Everyone is going to have to be a better skater to defend.”

The new tweak on faceoffs has also garnered some critics. Like Brad MarchandHe isn’t a fan.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand told CSNNE earlier this week.

“Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

While the Jets are seeking the knowledge of a seasoned official to help them stay out of the penalty box beyond slashing and faceoff violations, it seems the entire league is in for quite a learning experience over these next few weeks.

Canucks, Kings ‘put on a show’ during first NHL preseason game in China

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SHANGHAI (AP) A golden dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about.

NHL preseason hockey made its debut in China – a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks – in a step by the league to crack an immense market.

The fans in Shanghai got a fast and physical display Thursday – 17 power plays and 57 shots on goal, all met with loud cheers. Each hard check drew a collective “oooh” or “aaah.”

“Obviously, you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’ first goal.

An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’ lion) acted out infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.

A golden Chinese dragon came out next, hoisted on poles by seven skaters. A group of Chinese kids in hockey uniforms joined the NHL players during China’s national anthem.

With Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two preseason games in a country unfamiliar with hockey. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing on Saturday.

Even if the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions.

“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know the crowd, the noise, the atmosphere,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “I think the whole thing for me is we’re here to grow the game. It’s my hope that the more they see it, the more people like it.”

Tanner Pearson scored twice for the Kings and Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter each had a goal and an assist. Jonathan Quick made 31 saves.

Team allegiances were hard to find in the crowd, the most demonstrative fans being rowdy Canadians waving their country’s flag.

Spectator Inge Zhang was more appropriately attired for an NBA game, wearing a Miami Heat jersey with pink letters. A media manager for the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, she was excited because she heard a certain NBA great might be there.

“So we came here actually for Kobe Bryant,” she said while her friend laughed. “But I love this sport, too.”

Bryant, in fact, did show, although in a video message to support his hometown Kings.

“I see more foreigners here tonight than Chinese, but I think there are still a lot of hockey fans in China,” Zhang added. “I think the NHL should take this opportunity to grow the sport here.”

That’s the plan now that the NHL has signed a contract to bring two preseason games to China for six of the next eight years.

“The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game. “We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”

But this is the first step in a long process.

“It’s great for China itself to see the NHL live and in person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “But whenever you’re bringing hockey to a new country, it’s going to take time. I think it’s great the NHL is committed to doing that.”