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.

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.