Vancouver Canucks v San Jose Sharks - Game Four

San Jose Sharks deny playoff demons heading into Game 5

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When you put some of the San Jose Sharks’ playoff disappointments in context, it makes them a little easier to understand. As Tim Panaccio pointed out, the Sharks lost to the eventual Western Conference champion in five of their last seven postseason exits.

There’s no doubt that it is embarrassing to get swept, but the Sharks suffered that fate thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup champions in 2010. Sure, they lost a first round series when they were the first seed and the Anaheim Ducks were the eighth seed in 2009, but let’s not forget that the Ducks still had many of the pieces of a Stanley Cup championship team. (Not to mention Jonas Hiller’s sterling play in his breakout playoffs.) Really, the strongest argument for “choking” might have been the Sharks losing to the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 after building a 2-0 series lead. Even in that case, they lost to a team that fell one win short of winning a Cup during that year.

Yes, the Sharks have had some disappointments, but they seem to be the victim of other people’s expectations and tough playoff matchups more than anything else. Critics dismiss the jarring difficulty of getting through the Western Conference playoffs too easily. After all, only the Detroit Red Wings and Ducks made two or more Stanley Cup finals appearances since 2000.

With these factors in mind, it’s understandable that players and coaches might get a bit annoyed by the stream of questions about “demons” and “curses.” As usual, head coach Todd McLellan had something interesting to say about all the demon talk.

“You guys think we have demons,” McLellan responded. “They don’t exist in our world. We’ve had a lot of success as an organization and as a franchise. We can keep referring back to the Conference Finals in 2004, say that we had an eight-game losing streak. I think some of you wrote that. I don’t know what the hell 2004 has to do with 2011.

“I don’t think we have demons. We have a team that’s worked extremely hard to get to the Conference Finals. We’ve had a team that’s faced a lot of adversity, external adversity.

“The only people we answer to are ourselves in that locker room. We don’t answer to the media. We answer to our fans somewhat here at home. We owe them an effort. We owe them a commitment level second to none. But that’s it.”

Deep down, the Sharks’ biggest demons are the Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks must find a way to beat the best team from the 2010-11 season three times in a row or they’ll open themselves up to another round of the same line of questions next year. Regardless of how well Joe Thornton and other often-criticized members of the team play, they probably won’t hear the end of those jabs unless they win a Stanley Cup.

That would be a devil of a challenge this time around.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.