Five Thoughts: Pavel Datsyuk continues to impress; Roenick sounds off on Patrick Marleau

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Last night’s incredible comeback by the Red Wings to beat the Sharks and send the series to a Game 6 has us really spinning our wheels about just what in the world is going on.

1. In a playoffs where we’re seeing unknown guys get a lot of the headlines while some superstars get ripped for not showing up enough, there’s one guy that continues to amaze and solidify his legacy as one of the best in the NHL. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk continues to do things with the puck and play the sort of game that just brings you out of your seat when he rushes up the ice with the puck.

During last night’s 4-3 Game 5 win over San Jose, Datsyuk was supposedly playing with a hurt wrist. He wasn’t doing his normal part in taking the bulk of faceoffs but instead was dazzling Sharks defenders with his ability to wheel out of a cluster of players and help set up the game-winning goal in the third period. His assist on Tomas Holmstrom’s game winner was his third assist of the game.

While Detroit is still down 3-2 in the series, should they find a way to get past the Sharks and deeper into the playoffs, his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy should write itself. For now, he’ll need to keep doing his superhuman things to try and force a Game 7 at the least.

2. Jeremy Roenick caused a stir with those watching the post game coverage on Versus last night. Roenick voiced his displeasure with the play of Sharks forward Patrick Marleau saying he played a “gutless” game and lacked the heart to help his team out. Roenick even went as far as to say that 19 of the 20 guys that suited up for the Sharks last night came to play. Never mind that he’s counting backup goalie Antero Niittymaki there as well (and perhaps that was intended)his takedown of Marleau is something we’ve heard from others before. While his words were harsh and Roenick being a former teammate of Marleau’s certainly adds to the drama, in this series he’s got a point.

Against Detroit through five games, Marleau has zero points and is a -2. Marleau did rack up five points (2 goals, 3 assists) against the Kings in the first round, but against Detroit he’s withered away and played very small. Marleau goes through fits like this in the postseason. Last year against Colorado he had a goal and two assists in six games but rebounded great against both Detroit and Chicago. In seasons previous to that, however, his track record shows that when the going gets tough, Marleau tends not to score.

Roenick took to Twitter to say that he wants to see Marleau play angrier and with a purpose because it makes him a better player. Perhaps JR’s words will give Marleau the spark he needs to prove Roenick wrong.

3. Detroit needed Jimmy Howard to play huge in Game 5. They didn’t necessarily need him to steal them a game, but they needed him to play huge. They got just that from him as he again faced over 40 shots (42 this time) and made 39 saves, many of them spectacular to get the win. The Sharks have been throwing tons of shots at the net in these playoffs and while Jon Quick suffered from that in the first round, Howard has thrived. Now that he’s getting the offensive support, the Wings are winning. With each of the games in the series being decided by one goal, it’s performances like last night that make all the difference.

4. The psychological mettle of the Sharks is something that many bring into question over time thanks to their episodes of playoff failure. They showed last year that they could get over such things when they struggled with Colorado in the opening round but ultimately won out before beating up on Detroit in the second round. Getting swept by Chicago in the West finals wasn’t a shock considering how good they were.

This year, the script started the same struggling a bit with the Kings. Now they’re fighting with the Wings and while still one win away from moving to the West finals again, dealing with the Wings is never a simple matter. These Wings, unlike last year’s, aren’t gassed from just making the postseason. The Sharks have a handful of players who show no mental blocks. Guys like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are too new to be affected by anything in the past. Still, the rest of the team tightens up a bit when things start getting tough. How they handle things going ahead is worth paying attention to closely because if Detroit keeps hitting them where it counts, history leads us to believe that’s really bad for the Sharks.

5. How the series between San Jose and Detroit might pan out could hinge on how some of the depth defensive pairs work out for both teams. We saw some bad play from Brad Stuart and Jonathan Ericsson for the Wings and from Ian White and Niclas Wallin for San Jose. Teams have taken advantage of those matchups and you’d better believe that Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan will be juggling things around to get their top guys out against them. It’s worth paying attention to in Game 6.

The Buzzer: Penguins dominate, Sharks sweep

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Wednesday’s scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Philadelphia Flyers 0 (Penguins lead 3-1):

Pittsburgh dominated from pillar to post in this one. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each had three points nights. Matt Murray, meanwhile, grabbed his second shutout of the playoffs in the win, which puts the Flyers on the brink of a playoff exit. Philly has just six goals in four games now and five of those came in Game 2.

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning lead 3-1):

Nikita Kucherov was a force in this one, scoring the twice and adding an assist while laying a massive (and controversial) hit on Devils’ defenseman Sami Vatanen, which knocked the latter out of the game. J.T. Miller tied the game in the first period and assisted on both of Kucherov’s goals for a three-point night of his own. Andrei Vasilevskiy, up for the Vezina this year, turned aside 27-of-28 shots.

Nashville Predators 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (Predators lead 3-1): 

The Predators held off a late comeback attempt by the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead back to Nashville. Colton Sissons and Craig Smith scored in the second period, following Filip Forsberg‘s highlight-reel first-period marker to give the Preds a 3-0 advantage going into the third. Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Kerfoot brought the Avs back to within one, but that was as far as they’d get. The Avs lost more than just the game as goalie Jonathan Bernier left after the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return.

San Jose Sharks 2, Anaheim Ducks (Sharks win 4-0):

Tomas Hertl scored 1:16 after Andrew Cogliano tied the game 1-1 in the third period to give the Sharks their second sweep in franchise history (they previous swept the Vancouver Canucks in 2013). The Ducks looked better than their Game 3 effort (just showing up would likely do that), but still only managed a single goal (and just four in the series). Martin Jones made 30 saves for the win. The Sharks will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round after Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

Three stars

Matt Murray, Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby each had three-point nights, but Murray’s 26 saves made sure the Flyers came nowhere near the Penguins as he picked up his second shutout of the series, sixth playoff shutout of his career and fourth in his past six playoff games. Those are some ridiculous numbers from the Pens’ No. 1.

Nikita Kucherov, Lightning: Two goals — the game-winner and the dagger into the empty net to ensure victory — capped off a big night for Kucherov, who has scored in all four of the series’ games thus far. Kucherov added an assist on the game-tying goal in the first period and laid a massive hit on Sami Vatanen (which could earn him a call from the league).

Filip Forsberg, Predators: Got the Predators off on the right foot with his first-period marker which, as you will see below, was from another world. He also assisted on Colton Sisson’s tally that gave the Preds a 2-0 lead in the second period. Forsberg now has five points through four games in the series.

Highlights of the Night

Forsberg’s theatrics:

Jones was a huge problem for the Ducks, as seen here:

Man deposited into bench:

Vezinalevskiy:

Factoids of the Night

Thursday’s schedule

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Bruins lead series 2-1
Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (USA, NBCSWA) — Blue Jackets let series 2-1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks advance after sweep of hapless Ducks

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Few figured the San Jose Sharks would have had it this easy against the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim came roaring into the postseason, winners of five straight and eight of their past 10 as they worked their way into second place in the Pacific Division

Perhaps they just ran out of gas or, perhaps, the Sharks are quite good at Duck Hunt. Either way, the Sharks made quick work of their California rivals, recording the sweep after a 2-1 win on Wednesday in Game 4.

The truth is the Sharks were far and away the better team in the series and the Ducks — outside of John Gibson — were horribly inept offensively and couldn’t handle the Sharks’ offensive attack, or solve Martin Jones.

After being shutout in Game 1, the Ducks lost a close 3-2 decision in Game 2 only to follow that up with an incredibly embarrassing effort in an 8-1 loss in Game 3.

In Game 4, and on the cusp of being swept, the Ducks managed just a single goal as they went crashing out of the playoffs.

That’s four goals in four games.

Poor John Gibson. The Ducks’ No. 1 faced a combined 69 shots in Games 1 and 2 and then 24 in Game 3 before being pulled, mercifully, in favor of Ryan Miller. In Game 4, Gibson faced a further 24 shots and once again received next to no run support.

The Ducks’ veteran core of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry combined for four points in the series. Perry was shutout entirely and the trio failed to combine for a single goal.

The Sharks were very much the opposite.

Captain Joe Pavelski had a goal and four assists. Logan Couture had two goals and five points. Evander Kane, acquired at the trade deadline, scored three times and added an assist.

And then there was Marcus Sorensen, who in 32 regular season games only scored five times but had three goals and an assist in four games in the series.

Jones got all the run support Gibson didn’t and was equally as good, turning aside 131 of the 135 shots he faced during the four game.

The Sharks will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round after Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings in four games on Tuesday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Avalanche’ Jonathan Bernier forced out of Game 4 loss

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Bad news hit the Colorado Avalanche’s playoff hopes on Wednesday.

The Avs’ woes in the crease suffered another blow when the team announced that Jonathan Bernier would not return for the third period because of a lower-body injury.

It’s not known when Bernier got hurt. Andrew Hammond, the team’s No. 3, replaced the Avs’ starter for the final frame.

Colorado is already without Semyon Varlamov, who was ruled out the playoffs after a late-season injury after a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco.

The Predators lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 after taking Game 4 with a 3-2 win.

Nashville had a scare of their own during the second period when Avs forward Gabriel Landeskog went to hit forward Ryan Johansen with an open-ice hit. As Landeskog approached, Johansen looked up and tried to duck out of the way but took what appeared to be Landeskog’s knee to his head.

Johansen had a tough time getting back to his feet and headed down the tunnel and out of the game once he did.

Johansen was not on the bench to start the third but eventually returned around the mid-way point of the period and played five shifts.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Penguins follow Matt Murray’s lead, take Game 4 over Flyers

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers came up short in what head coach Dave Hakstol called the “biggest game of the series, so far.” It was another night where the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offense could not be stopped and their 5-0 victory in Game 4 means they take a 3-1 series lead back home with a chance to close things out Friday night.

It could have been a different game if not for the play of Matt Murray, who stopped 26 shots for his second shutout of the series and fourth shutout in his last seven playoff games. One of the bigger opportunities for the Flyers was a period of extended offensive zone time late in the first, but Murray stood tall, and when the pressure subsided the Penguins transitioned the other way resulting in a Phil Kessel goal.

 

“That’s what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” said forward Carl Hagelin. “There’s going to be momentum swings. You’re going to get pinned in your zone for an extended time and that’s what happened there. But we didn’t give up many Grade A chances.”

That cool demeanor of Murray’s isn’t just effective for him, it also positively affects his teammates.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

“It helps. He’s a confident guy. He calms us down,” said Hagelin. “He’s always a calm guy. It’s one of those things we have a lot of faith in him. He trusts his ‘D’ and his forwards to do the job in front of him.”

“He [makes] saves at key times, too. That’s huge,” said defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. “Not just here and there, but early in the game or when we’re down a goal, he does a good job switching momentum. He’s definitely a special goalie that way.”

Through four games, Murray, who became the fastest goalie in NHL history to reach 25 career playoff wins, is rolling with a .958 even strength save percentage and has allowed only three goals at five-on-five in the series. A hostile Philadelphia crowd wasn’t going to faze the 23-year old goaltender. Before helping the Penguins to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016, he was thrown into the fire for his first playoff start on the road in Game 3 of their first-round series against the New York Rangers. He’d win both those games at Madison Square Garden and the rest was history.

So with the first period nearing a conclusion and Travis Konecny on a breakaway after leaving the penalty box, the Penguins had no cuase for concern. Murray would make the save and his teammates would add to the lead in the second period, putting the game, and potentially the series, out of reach.

“When you get those types of saves it certainly helps your team’s chances of winning,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “But that’s what Matt does for our group. I thought he was locked in all night long. He made the timely saves for us when we needed him to. Those are big points in the game, but you have to get that save if you’re going to win at this time of year.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.