Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton

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.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Capitals – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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Even with two games in hand, some might be surprised to see the Washington Capitals tied with the Boston Bruins in standings points in early December.

That’s the case on Wednesday Night Rivalry, as a somewhat up-and-down Capitals team (which is glad to welcome T.J. Oshie back) hosts a Bruins squad that’s riding a three-game winning streak.

It should be an interesting matchup on NBCSN, which you can also watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Rangers mostly dodge a bullet: Nash only expected to miss a week

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers moves the puck along the boards during the second period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 6, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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No one wants to hear “It could be worse” when injuries are really piling up, but … uh, it could be worse for the New York Rangers.

At least, it could have been worse for Rick Nash. The team announced that he’s only expected to miss about a week after undergoing an MRI related to a groin injury.

It’s been a redemptive season for Nash, so it’s nice to see that it isn’t getting totally derailed. Granted, injuries like these can linger even if a guy returns to the lineup, so we’ll need to see if he gets back to 100 percent.

The Rangers certainly aren’t at full-strength right now. Their laundry list of injured forwards is quite daunting, even for a team with vaunted depth at that position:

(It sounds like Pavel Buchnevich is still quite a ways from returning, sadly.)

Alain Vigneault sells the biggest benefit of these issues: opportunities for other players – including Oscar Lindberg – to step up.

“I just think this is part of the NHL and it is what it is. It’s there and you deal with it,” Vigneault said . “You get a lot of players at different times that wish that they can get more ice time to prove that they can have a bigger role and that they can do more. Well, no better time than the present for us right now.”

Double whammy to Habs centers: Galchenyuk, Desharnais out 6-8 weeks

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.

The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.

It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).

Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:

Yeah, not ideal.

The road ahead

It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.

For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.

The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.

While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.

Pre-game reading: On the Isles and John Tavares

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— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.

— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)

— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)

— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)

— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)

— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)

Enjoy the games!