Cam Tucker

Justin Braun has been ‘exceptional’ for the Sharks

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This has been a difficult time for Justin Braun and his family.

While playing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic and tasked with trying to contain Sidney Crosby in the Stanley Cup Final, Braun has been playing this series with a heavy heart after losing his father-in-law Tom Lysiak, a former NHLers, to leukemia last week.

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Braun found out that his father-in-law died the morning of Game 1. It devastated him that he couldn’t be there for his wife, an accomplished chef whom he met on a blind date. After the Sharks lost Game 1, Braun was hard on himself and said he needed to do a better job focusing after playing a part in Pittsburgh’s first two goals.

“When you’re out there on the ice, you want to pretty much shut your brain off and just play,” Braun said. “When there are other things creeping in, that’s when you’re going to be a little slow on plays and making reads.”

In Game 3, which the Sharks won in overtime to earn their first victory of the series, Crosby was held off the score sheet, playing the majority of the game five-on-five against Braun and Vlasic.

Adding to the success of keeping Crosby mostly in check — at least on the score board — with Vlasic, Braun scored once again to earn a first in his NHL career.

The fact Braun is playing and playing well under such difficult circumstances isn’t lost on his coach.

“I thought he was excellent last night. With what he’s dealt with, I don’t know if you can understand the emotion of kind of the last week for him, last couple weeks. He’s known this day was coming,” Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer told reporters.

“For him to play through and do what he’s done for us, I can’t say enough about that. I know his teammates appreciate it. He’s one of those quiet guys that just shows up every day and punches in, does his job. Really we wouldn’t be here without him either. He’s been exceptional. I think him and Vlasic are a great combination together. I thought they were outstanding last night.”

UFA of the Day: Andrew Ladd

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Every day until June 30, we’ll write about a pending unrestricted free agent. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Andrew Ladd

Talk about an eventful season for Andrew Ladd. He went from captain of the Winnipeg Jets to a member of the Chicago Blackhawks via the trade market as the defending champs at the time loaded up for another possible run at the Stanley Cup.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round and Ladd is now playing the waiting game as a pending unrestricted free agent.

Based on his recent comments to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, it sounds like Ladd won’t be returning to Chicago due to cap issues.

“When we spoke after the season, they said it would be tough,” Ladd told Friedman. “The likelihood is they don’t have the room to make it work.”

The Blackhawks have nine forwards already under contract for next season — that includes Bryan Bickell for one more year at $4 million — and they have two pending restricted free agents in Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik.

(In April, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wasn’t sure if he’d be able to re-sign Shaw — again due to the cap and what it might be for next season.)

Ladd’s five-year contract with a cap hit of $4.4 million is set to expire. At the age of 30, he’s coming off a productive 25-goal, 46-point season combined between the Jets and Blackhawks, and that could signify a raise on the open market. According to a report from the Winnipeg Free Press in December, Ladd was said to be asking for a six-year deal worth at least $41 million.

He had only one goal and two points in seven playoff games with Chicago.

Ladd, who had sports hernia surgery last spring, had been in talks during the regular season with the Jets about re-signing but those talks eventually broke off as the trade deadline approached.

In speaking to Friedman, Ladd said he hasn’t closed “the door” on signing back with the Jets, but admitted it takes “two willing combatants.”

Ladd also admitted he’s thought about the possibility of returning home to British Columbia, where the Vancouver Canucks play. He’s never played for the Canucks, but he’s a local product in that market.

The Canucks will also have some cap space this summer to be active on the free agent market, and Ladd could provide a physical, scoring left winger for a Vancouver team that needs an offensive spark and still seems intent on at least trying to be competitive in the West after a brutal 2015-16 regular season that saw them finish 28th in the overall standings.

Recently from The Province newspaper:

As it happens, the Canucks have over $13 million in cap space with only Baertschi and Etem left to be signed. Clearly, there is room for one of the big UFAs — Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd, Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson or Mikkel Boedker.

At this stage, the only question seems to be which one.

The Florida Panthers — with former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon — were also rumored to be interested in Ladd prior to the trade deadline.

Given his production and resume — two Stanley Cups — there could be quite a few teams in line to try to land Ladd this summer.

Click here for all our 2016 UFA profiles.

The unsung heroes are stepping up in the Stanley Cup Final

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — This is a Stanley Cup Final filled with stars who have won the Hart Trophy, Olympic gold medals and numerous other awards.

With players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the final features some of the biggest names in hockey.

The one place where those players haven’t showed up so far is on the goal-scoring sheet. In a series that has featured three straight one-goal games all decided either in the final three minutes of regulation or overtime, some of the lesser-known players have delivered the goals.

“You look through these playoffs and third-line, fourth-line guys have stepped up for both teams and scored big goals,” Sharks center Logan Couture said Sunday. “It’s not necessarily that the big guns have scored the huge goals for both teams. You need that when you get to this point.”

Sharks rookie Joonas Donskoi was the latest to get on that list when he scored the overtime winner in San Jose’s 3-2 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night that cut Pittsburgh’s series lead to 2-1. Game 4 is Monday night in San Jose.

Donskoi matched the overtime goal scored just one game earlier by Penguins rookie Conor Sheary. Before that, it had been 30 years since a rookie had scored in overtime in the final when Montreal’s Brian Skrudland did it in Game 2 against Calgary.

But Donskoi and Sheary are far from the only unusual suspects to score in the first three games. Sharks defenseman Justin Braun has two goals in the past two games, matching his total from the previous 40 contests.

“I’m happy I can finally chip in offensively,” Braun said. “A lot of other guys have done a lot of heavy lifting to get us here. I’m just trying to do my part.”

Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who has 15 goals in 334 career regular season games, scored one of the Penguins’ goals in Game 3 and set up the other that was deflected in by Patric Hornqvist.

Nick Bonino got the Game 1 winner for Pittsburgh when the other goals were scored by rookies Sheary and Bryan Rust.

And after three games, players like Crosby, Malkin, Thornton, Pavelski, Kris Letang, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are all still looking for their first goals.

“You just try to worry about yourself and make sure you’re doing your job and as a team you’re doing the things necessary to give yourself a chance to win games,” Crosby said. “It’s tight. Like I keep seeing year after year, there’s a small margin of error. Just make sure you’re competing and give yourself a chance to create and ultimately produce.”

It hasn’t been like those players haven’t performed well. Crosby was dominant the first two games and set up a pair of goals that helped Pittsburgh take the 2-0 lead. But he got much less generated on the road when the Sharks were able to match top defensive pair Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun against him consistently. Even a few shifts with Malkin couldn’t generate many chances for Pittsburgh.

“We’re playing against good defensemen,” Malkin said. “They play so close and so tight, it’s tough to shoot sometimes.”

Thornton had a few good chances late, especially after Couture joined him and Pavelski on San Jose’s top line. But Pavelski, who leads the NHL with 13 playoff goals, has been mostly silent with no points and only four shots on goal through three games.

“It’s tough this time of year,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “Every round, he’s getting a lot of attention, just like Brent Burns is getting a lot of attention, just like Jumbo is getting a lot of attention. That’s not an easy role to play. I have no doubt he’s going to break through here. He has all year for us. It’s just a matter of time.”

One of the factors limiting Pavelski’s effectiveness has been Pittsburgh’s propensity to block shots. The Penguins blocked 38 shots alone in Game 3, including 12 from Burns. With fewer point shots getting to the net, Pavelski has been unable to utilize his elite hand-eye coordination to deflect pucks like he was so successfully the first three rounds.

“We’re creating some chances,” Pavelski said. “It’s just that end result hasn’t been there. You just stay with it, keep trying to have the puck and play with it and get open. Try to get a few more.”

Quality versus quantity: DeBoer presents his theory on why shot totals have favored Penguins

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 04:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks makes a save in front of Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period in Game Three of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 4, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The trend continued Saturday.

For a third consecutive game in the Stanley Cup Final, the Pittsburgh Penguins held a decisive edge in shots on goal over the San Jose Sharks, recording 42 shots on Martin Jones. It’s the second time in three games the Sharks’ netminder has faced 40-plus shots versus the Penguins.

In the end, it was the Sharks who prevailed in Game 3 with an overtime win with 26 total shots on net, as they avoided going down 3-0 in the series.

OK, it hasn’t been very close on the shot clock (though, the Sharks had more shot attempts Saturday, as per hockeystats.ca, while the Penguins had 38 blocked shots). But every game so far in this series has been decided by just one goal, with two games needing overtime.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer has already answered questions about what his team needs to do to generate more shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray.

His answer, following a Game 1 loss: “We weren’t happy with the number of shots. We weren’t happy with the quality of shots. We weren’t happy with the guys who didn’t get enough shots.”

DeBoer was again asked on Sunday about the differential. He offered a theory and took exception to any idea that the Penguins are dominating simply based on shot totals.

“One, they shoot from everywhere. They sling pucks from everywhere. You do have to look at quality versus quantity. I don’t think it’s as easy as looking at the shot clock and saying you’re getting dominated because they’ve got 40 shots and you’ve got 26. I don’t think the game is that simple,” said DeBoer.

“They get pucks to the net. We can probably do a better job of limiting that, getting in some more lanes. Historically during the year, we’ve been one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league. But they fire from everywhere, every angle, all over the place, then cause confusion around the net.

“We’ve got to do a better job. But does the fact that they have 30 more shots in the series bother me? Not as much as it bothers you guys.”

Related: DeBoer says Hertl is still day-to-day

Sullivan: Malkin has ‘another level’ as the Penguins star searches for first point in Stanley Cup Final

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 04:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts against the San Jose Sharks in Game Three of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 4, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Three games into the Stanley Cup Final, and Evgeni Malkin has yet to record a point.

The Pittsburgh Penguins still lead the championship series 2-1 over the San Jose Sharks, but Malkin’s lack of production — zero points with eight shots on goal so far — is now under the microscope after his team was unable to take a stranglehold lead following Saturday’s overtime loss.

“I think one of the things we’ve always impressed upon our group is we are a coaching staff that doesn’t believe in taking the sticks out of their hands. We want our players to make plays. We want them to act on their instincts. We also want them to have calculated risk in mind,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.

“Geno is no different. He is buying into our team concept here. He’s been a big part of this playoff success. But certainly I know that there’s another level that he has to help us win.”

Malkin has already endured a slump in the post-season, going six games without a point through the second round and into the third.

He then came alive with a five-game point streak totaling six points to close out the Eastern Conference Final and help defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“No, what do you mean? We lead 2-1 in the series,” said Malkin on Sunday when asked if he’s getting frustrated.

“I’m not scoring much but I’m trying to help my team in different ways. Play better in d-zone. I’m trying, it’s not easy but I’m trying to score. Maybe tomorrow. I’m trying my best.”

Malkin isn’t the only star player in this series finding it difficult to score or produce points. For example, Sharks’ captain Joe Pavelski, who leads all players in these playoffs with 13 goals, has also been held without a point through three games.

“Those guys get a lot of attention,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. You get asked the same thing about Malkin and some of the guys on their end. It’s tough this time of year.”

On the road Saturday, Malkin’s line with Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust saw a healthy dose of Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon at five-on-five and held control of the possession numbers throughout, as per War-on-Ice. It was a little tougher against Brent Burns and Paul Martin, but Malkin was still able to have favorable possession numbers at even strength against those blue liners, as well.

It’s interesting to note that Malkin was briefly put together with Sidney Crosby as it looked like Sullivan was trying to load up a line in search of a goal. Worth noting, too, that in 2:54 of five-on-five play, the duo of Malkin and Crosby had seven Corsi Events for and only one against.

It remains to be seen if Sullivan starts to work that pairing a little more in Game 4, but it definitely seems like something to seriously consider in a bid to get Malkin on the board.

“It just takes a bounce or a goal or some sort of momentum to kind of get that confidence going, and I think when you have the chances, usually that confidence is there. And he’s had them, so that’s a good thing,” said Crosby.

“I think you look at his game and what he generates for himself and the guys around him, it should be just a matter of time.”