San Jose Sharks v Phoenix Coyotes

Pressing Question: Can the Sharks get over past playoff hurdles?

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One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

It’s playoff time. For the San Jose Sharks, this time of the year has not been too kind to them.

Sure, they’ve been a terrific regular season team dating back to the resumption of National Hockey League operations following the 2004-05 lockout. They even won a Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top regular season team back in 2008-09, and the addition of Joe Thornton only helped that team roll over the competition but only up until playoff time.

Including that season, the Sharks have amassed a record of 271-130-57. Impressive. Here comes the ‘Yeah, but…’

The post-season is now upon us again. The Sharks go into their first-round series up against the L.A. Kings – Stanley Cup champions from 2012 and Western Conference finalists a year ago.

So, if the Sharks are indeed to follow up a strong regular season with a substantial playoff run, it will need to go through their California rivals, the Kings. No easy task.

“It’s a very evenly matched series and I think both teams respect each other,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Sharks watched this season as Joe Pavelski emerged as one of the league’s top scoring threats. He recorded 41 goals, which was 10 above his previous career best set two years ago.

Yet, based on reports out of San Jose, it appears he could start this series on the third line.

According to CSN Bay Area, 20-year-old rookie Tomas Hertl, out for 45 games due to an injury suffered on Dec. 19 in a collision with Kings’ captain Dustin Brown, could slot back onto the top line with Thornton. And certainly Hertl has his own motivation in this series, admitting he doesn’t like the Kings after what transpired earlier on.

“The debate isn’t a raging one in the coaches’ locker room. We feel equally comfortable going either way,” said Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan, as per CSN Bay Area.

“The wild card is Tomas, and making sure that he’s capable of handling minutes against the other team’s key players, and [Raffi Torres’] potential return to the lineup. A lot of that will dictate which way we’ll go.”

Goaltending might be the biggest factor if San Jose is to make a run. Consider who the Sharks will face in the first round. Jonathan Quick has, since taking the Kings to a Stanley Cup victory two years ago, emerged as an elite goalie in the league.

Who the Sharks start in goal isn’t set in stone as of yet. Will it be Antti Niemi, the incumbent, or Alex Stalock, who played 24 times this season with a 12-5-2 record?

“It’s been, the whole season, a little different playing L.A. because we have faced them twice in the playoffs, and last year we lost to them,” Niemi told CSN Bay Area. “So, you always get a little extra energy against those guys.”

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

Video: Chris Kreider doesn’t just fight Cody Eakin, he hits him with his helmet

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Tuesday’s Dallas Stars – New York Rangers almost seemed destined to be a wild affair, and so far, the two teams aren’t disappointing.

For one thing, Chris Kreider and the Rangers were open about “not forgetting” Cody Eakin‘s hit on Henrik Lundqvist, something Eakin realized heading in. The Stars had their own irritations coming into this game, as they clearly weren’t happy with their loss to the Buffalo Sabres and their shaky play overall.

So, yeah, plenty of reason for this to be a rowdy affair.

Kreider is delivering in particular, with the most memorable moment being his strange fight with Eakin, which you can see above. SBNation’s Pat Iversen points out that Kreider probably should have been ejected for hitting Eakin with a piece of his equipment, a violation of Rule 53.

As many know, Kreider has even more of a reputation for “interacting” with goalies, as he did once again with Antti Niemi:

The Stars currently lead the game 5-3, so it’s been a busy one on the scoreboard, too.

Video: Maple Leafs lose Morgan Rielly after fall into boards

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Down 2-0 to the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a shaky start on Tuesday. Still, their concerns likely revolve the most around the health of defenseman Morgan Rielly.

As you can see from the video above, the young Buds blueliner was shaken up by an awkward spill into the boards.

It’s too early to know if he avoided injury or might miss some time, but there’s at least some concern that he might have aggravated an issue from before his NHL days:

We’ll need to wait and see, but with his offensive skills and overall importance in mind (average just under 23 minutes a game this season, more or less in line with his breakthrough year in 2015-16), the Maple Leafs are crossing their fingers that this isn’t anything major.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck as he turns against Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on December 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks need to put a tough weekend behind them; maybe the Colorado Avalanche are just what the doctor ordered.

Colorado is clearly ranked last in the league, whether they believe they have some assets in the likes of Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog or not. Perhaps there will be a few scouts on hand to see how such potential Avs trade targets perform against a contending team?

It’s rarely a dull night when the Blackhawks roll out talented players like Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews – among others – so it should be a good time on NBCSN on Tuesday.

You can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Short-lived return? No Tyler Ennis for Sabres tonight

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 25:  Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres takes a shot on goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center on October 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Tyler Ennis‘ return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup on Monday after a 30-game absence seemed like a breath of fresh air. Tuesday, then, represents letting the air out of the balloon.

The Sabres announced that Ennis wasn’t out for warm-ups heading into tonight’s Sabres – Toronto Maple Leafs game. It certainly gives the impression that his groin injury isn’t fully healed.

Ennis contributed a goal to Buffalo’s 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Monday and nearly scored another in “lacrosse” style:

When healthy, he’s been a 20-goal, 40+ point player for Buffalo lately, so he was missed. The team tweeted out Ryan O'Reilly‘s comments about Ennis’ return mere hours ago, so you get the impression that it was a surprise for many:

Maybe it’s just a minor setback?

Update: The Sabres deem it a “precautionary scratch,” according to John Vogl of the Buffalo News. So maybe file this under minor setback. We’ll see.