Vancouver Canucks v San Jose Sharks - Game Four

Joe Thornton will be in the Sharks lineup in Game 5, but he can’t win it alone

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While the differences between this year’s playoff run and previous campaigns with San Jose have been exaggerated, Joe Thornton really has been playing tremendous hockey for the Sharks in the 2011 playoffs. He is currently tied for second place in postseason points scoring with 17, already the best playoff output of his impressive NHL career.

Yet one of the underrated elements to his breakthrough is the free feeling that comes with knowing that other players will contribute. While Thornton had some solid linemates (even if some of them flamed out, like Jonathan Cheechoo) over the years, most of the Sharks teams didn’t have much scoring depth beyond his top line.

San Jose is now very strong down the middle thanks to a full season at the NHL level for talented rookie pivot Logan Couture and another solid campaign by Joe Pavelski. Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley give the team an imposing set of scoring wingers as well. (At least when all of these players are achieving at their expected levels.)

Just like we discussed yesterday, Thornton will indeed play in Game 5 tonight, according to Tim Panaccio. Ray Ratto asks an important question, though: will his teammates show up, too? (In the figurative sense, mind you, since Pavelski and Heatley rank among the struggling Sharks.)

The unsaid truth here is that San Jose’s future Tuesday is going to hinge not on the breadth of Thornton’s back, but on the support staff that hasn’t been very supportive in this series.

And getting that level of more across what has been a fairly thin board?

“We often say that as a coaching staff about individual players: ‘What more can we do with them?’” he said. “That’s a copout as a coaching staff.  We have to find ways to make them better, help them.  There’s a real good lesson I learned in Minnesota’s organization.  Doug Risebrough (the former general manager there) said, You always have to try to find a way.”

The Sharks watched the Detroit Red Wings march back from a 3-0 series deficit to nearly beat them in the second round. Perhaps they’ll take lessons from the way the Red Wings conducted themselves in that series, especially since Detroit’s own elite center Pavel Datsyuk was far from 100 percent himself.

Thornton is showing the guts to fight through a shoulder injury that might lessen his ability to take good shots and win faceoffs. Will his teammates have the guts to pick up the slack and keep their season alive?

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.

Blackhawks fall to Ducks in OT, lose Hossa to injury

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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:

Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.