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.

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.

Outdoor game rumors: Jets host Oilers, Red Wings at Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings face off during the first period of the Winter Classic outdoor NHL hockey game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so are rumors about hockey fans bundling up for outdoor games next season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went over two possible outdoor matchups coming for 2016-17 during Saturday’s Headlines segment.

A smart move for a potential game in Winnipeg: Imagine the Jets hosting a game in Winnipeg in February? Ilya Bryzgalov almost turned off his TV in protest.

Instead, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Jets are likely to host the Edmonton Oilers in October. That would be a smart logistical move, as long as it isn’t too hot.

(Also, playing it then would hopefully increase the odds of the mainstream sporting public seeing Connor McDavid in an outdoor game.)

Toronto’s turn: Friedman reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to host the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Winter Classic (or at least an outdoor game), almost certainly on New Year’s Day 2017.

The two teams combined for a great Winter Classic at Ann Arbor in 2014, so that could be a fun time.

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Keep in mind these are reports (and well-placed ones at that) rather than official announcements for the NHL. These things could always change.

Related: Could the Penguins host the Flyers outdoors next season, too?

Ducks likely to recall Khudobin after Gibson injury

Chicago Blackhawks' Richard Panik (14), of Slovakia, collides with Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Chicago. Anaheim won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.

The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).

The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.

Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:

The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”

Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.

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.