Five Thoughts: Sharks and Red Wings provide a Game 7 for the ages

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A legendary Game 7 between Detroit and San Jose fills us with tremendous pride as hockey fans that we can get such nice things this late in the year. With two more rounds to go we can only hope there’s more great things to be had because after this most anything else could feel like a letdown.

1. Let’s give it up for Patrick Marleau for helping get the monkey off his back in in clutch games. Marleau’s goal in the third period proved to be the eventual game winner in San Jose’s 3-2  Game 7 win over Detroit thanks to Pavel Datsyuk’s ridiculous late goal that cut San Jose’s lead from 3-1 to 3-2. It didn’t take too much effort for Marleau to earn the tap in on Devin Setoguchi’s original shot, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get things rolling for you in a positive way.

While Jeremy Roenick was more than critical of Marleau after San Jose’s Game 5 loss to Detroit, Roenick was more than happy to praise Marleau’s effort in Game 7 and for good reason. While Marleau wasn’t an overwhelming presence with the shots on goal or forcing the offensive pressure, he was involved in the play on both ends of the ice. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Marleau’s past in the playoffs, expect him to be a major factor against Vancouver.

2. It’s about time we retired the “Joe Thornton is a choker” label, isn’t it? Thornton had quite the history in Boston for coming up short in the playoffs and not leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. His time in San Jose hasn’t proven to be much better since being dealt to the Sharks but in these playoffs, he’s been impressive. Through 13 playoff games, Thornton has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) including a great assist on Devin Setoguchi’s first period power play goal. Thornton’s offensive work hasn’t been the only thing of note for him though as his work shadowing both L.A. and Detroit’s top forwards has been stellar.

Thornton isn’t much regarded as a solid defensive center but in these playoffs he’s given headaches to both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg while following them around the ice. We’ve advocated already this postseason to slow it down with the “playoff choker” label for Thornton and his play keeps making us feel good about that.

3. How about the work of Antti Niemi in the playoffs? He’s done some truly outstanding work and his efforts against Detroit in the second round have been other-worldly. Against Detroit he had just one game that you could hold against him in Game 5 where he gave up four goals on 22 shots. Aside from that, last year’s Stanley Cup winning goalie was solid allowing just 17 goals through seven games against Detroit with a .931 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average. While the GAA isn’t mind blowing, that save percentage is. Niemi was tested quite a bit by the Red Wings and still found a way to come out on top of things. That kind of effort will be needed against Vancouver in the next round in a big way. Vancouver went 3-0-1 against San Jose this season.

4. Since this was just a Conference semifinal round many fans won’t be quick to remember how great this series was and just how dominant a player Pavel Datsyuk is. With all the bumps and bruises the Wings had in Game 7 with Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi leaving the game with concussions, it’s scary to think what could’ve been had those players been able to play all along. Still, Datsyuk did his part to be a creative and dominant force all over the ice both offensively and defensively and came up with one of the prettiest goals you’ll see all playoffs in the third period in Game 7. Datsyuk is lauded rather often for his play but not generally brought up in the same context as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. It might be time to start adding another name to that list.

5. For as great as Antti Niemi was in this series, Jimmy Howard of Detroit was right there with him. The lack of solid backup goalie for the better part of the second half of the year didn’t affect Howard very much and while things were a bit hairy against Phoenix in the opening round, Howard looked outstanding throughout Detroit’s series with San Jose.  When the Sharks were able to put together shots in close Howard stood tall. Many fans wonder if Jimmy Howard is capable of being the tried and true starting goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. If this series and the regular season didn’t sell it to the skeptics, there’s little doubt that those fans will ever be satisfied with how things are. Jimmy Howard is here to stay in Detroit.

Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

  • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
  • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
  • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
  • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


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

Jaden Schwartz’s ankle injury derails career-year pace

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Jaden Schwartz was on pace to flirt with a triple-digit point total this season.

‘Was’ is the keyword here because, for the second time in three years, Schwartz will miss a significant chunk of time with an ankle injury.

How long he will be on the shelf this time around is undetermined, but Schwartz won’t be evaluated for six weeks after blocking a shot off his right ankle in a 6-1 rout of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Schwartz’s ankles. During the 2015-16 season, he was limited to just 33 games after sustaining a broken ankle in practice.

The fresh diagnosis is a frustrating blow for Schwartz and the Blues, who have watched his line with Brayden Schenn and Alexander Steen turn into one of the top trios in the NHL this season.

Through 30 games, the 25-year-old had 14 goals and 35 points, placing him second on the Blues, behind Schenn, and ninth in league-wide scoring, tied with Connor McDavid.

At his current pace, Schwartz, playing roughly 20 minutes a night, would have hit 98 points. And a little lucky bounce or two here and there might have propelled him above the century mark, setting career highs along the way.

For the Blues, dealing with devastating injuries is all-to-familiar this season.

But what’s probably most impressive about how successful the Blues have been this season is how they’ve been able to exceed all reasonable expectations despite dealing with a hefty number of major ailments.

The injury bug has been more akin to a foul beast in the Gateway to the West. From Robby Fabbri gone for the season with a torn ACL and Zach Sanford sidelined for months with a shoulder problem to Jay Bouwmeester missing 20 games to start the year and Steen missing the first six.

Not many predicted the Blues to be where they are in mid-December: second place the Western Conference standings with 42 points, just two back of top spot in the league.

And now the Blues, in the midst of a three-game winning streak, will have to navigate another injury to a key piece of their lineup.

They’ve shown the ability to overcome injury adversity before, but losing a key piece of your top six and a top scorer is never easy.

If anyone has the formula down, however, it’s the Bluenotes.


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

The Buzzer: Another shutout for Bobrovsky; Kings make it eight in a row

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Player Of The Night: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Already with a pair of Vezina Trophies in his trophy case, Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky looks like he wants to add another one to his collection. Thanks to his 35-save effort on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes Bobrovsky was able to record his league-leading fourth shutout of the season. His save percentage after Saturday’s game sits at .930, a mark that is tied for the top spot in the league (minimum 15 appearances) with Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Eight in a row for the Kings

It wasn’t easy, and they nearly let it slip away by giving up two goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime, but the Los Angeles Kings extended their winning streak to eight games with a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Tanner Pearson scored the game-winning goal in overtime.

Vegas Does It Again

Speaking of winning streaks, the Vegas Golden Knights were able to keep pace with the Kings in the Pacific Division by winning their fourth in a row with a 5-3 win over the Dallas Stars. They have already put together two five-game winning streaks this season and have a chance to do it again. They are an expansion team. It is early December. They have a shot at three five-game winning streaks in their first season and are likely headed to the playoffs. This is all astonishing.

Highlight Of The Night.

The Colorado Avalanche blew out the Florida Panthers on Saturday night with a 7-3 win. It also produced the highlight of the night when Nathan MacKinnon cruised through the Florida defense and scored this absolute beauty to tie the game, 2-2. The Avalanche would score five more goals after that.

He made that look easy.

The Panthers were happy to help, it seems.

Factoid Of The Night.

If Mike Cammalleri could play all of his games against the Montreal Canadiens this season he would be unstoppable. His goal on Saturday night in Edmonton’s 6-2 win over the Canadiens was just his fourth of the season. Three of them have come against Montreal. In three games against the Canadiens (with two different teams — the Los Angeles Kings and now the Edmonton Oilers) he has five points in those games. He has just six points against everybody else in the league in 22 games.

Panarin Offers Another Helping Hand

With his assist on the lone Blue Jackets goal Artemi Panarin has now assisted on each of the past six Blue Jackets goals. He set up all five of their goals in the Blue Jackets’ 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night. All six of those assists over the two games have been the primary assist on every goal. He is the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer with 26 points in the team’s first 30 games. He is eight points ahead of Josh Anderson, the second-leading scorer on the team.

Scores

St. Louis Blues 6, Detroit Red Wings 1

Boston Bruins 3, New York Islanders 1

Edmonton Oilers 6, Montreal Canadiens 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Winnipeg Jets 3

Colorado Avalanche 7, Florida Panthers 3

New York Rangers 5, New Jersey Devils 2

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3

Columbus Blue Jackets 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Dallas Stars 3

San Jose Sharks 5, Ottawa Senators 0

Calgary Flames 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

Los Angeles Kings 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Backes ejected for head-butting; Marchand catches Tavares with late hit

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The NHL’s department of player safety will have a couple of things to look at from the third period of the Boston Bruins’ 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday night as the Bruins were assessed a pair of major penalties, including one that was accompanied with a game misconduct.

Let us start with the latter play.

Bruins forward David Backes was ejected with just under nine minutes to play when he was called for head-butting Islanders forward Andrew Ladd during the skirmish seen below.

That is not one that you see get called very often, but it did get called here and it ended up giving Backes an early exit.

That came about 10 minutes after Bruins forward Brad Marchand was given a five-minute major for interference when he hit Islanders captain John Tavares with a high, late hit.

Video here (via Chris Abraham)

Tavares seemed to be a little shaken up initially but remained in the game.

Marchand and the Department of Player Safety are quite familiar with one another and Marchand does have a history of suspensions and fines throughout his career, so it would not be a shock if he ended up getting a phone call this weekend from the league for that hit.

Marchand has become one of the best players in the league in recent seasons, a development that makes his repeated run-ins with the DoPS all the more frustrating.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.