Jason Brough

The Sharks have rediscovered home-ice advantage

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) All season long the San Jose Sharks faced questions about why they could be so dominant on the road but struggle to win at home.

In the biggest game yet of their season, the Sharks hope their playoff home success carries over to Game 7 of their second-round series against Nashville on Thursday night (9 p.m. EDT, NBCSN) when a spot in the Western Conference final is on the line.

“I love our game at home. I really do,” center Joe Thornton said. “I know it was a big part of the story going into the postseason how our home record was. But I’ve loved our home game and I love the energy the crowd has been giving us. It’s been great.”

The Sharks led the NHL with 28 road wins this season but had a losing record at home, where their 18 wins in 41 games were the fewest of any playoff team. But after losing their first home game of the postseason to Los Angeles, the Sharks have rolled off four straight home wins as the Shark Tank has once again become an imposing building for opposing teams.

The Sharks find themselves in a must-win Game 7 because they were unable to win any games in Nashville this series. The Predators took all three home games, including a triple-overtime thriller in Game 4 and an overtime win in Game 6 on Monday night.

That was San Jose’s ninth loss in its past 12 games with a chance to eliminate an opponent.

“Past experiences or not, it’s about what’s in this room right now and about us,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “We kind of said that early. This is a different team.”

The Game 6 win sent Nashville on its ninth flight between California and Tennessee this postseason after winning the first round in seven games in Anaheim. Like they did before that seventh game, the Predators packed extra clothes in hopes they would win and head to either Dallas or St. Louis for their first conference final appearance in franchise history instead of home for the summer.

“Everyone knows what’s at stake, and we’re going to be ready to go,” captain Shea Weber said. “Big point in a lot of guys’ careers. It’s time guys step up.”

Here are some other things to watch in Game 7:

TOP LINE: San Jose’s top line of Thornton, Pavelski and Tomas Hertl have led the way all season and for much of the playoffs. But those three were completely outplayed, generating just three shots on goal and being on the ice for Nashville’s first goal. With a last chance at home, the Sharks may be able to get that top line more ice time when Nashville’s top defensive pair of Weber and Roman Josi aren’t on the ice.

“This is bigger than one line or on one or two guys,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’ve talked all year about depth and I think it’s on everybody to bring their AA-plus game tomorrow.”

WHERE’S FORSBERG?: Nashville F Filip Forsberg tied the franchise record scoring 33 goals during the regular season, but he has been held to only one goal in this series and two through 13 games of the postseason. Forsberg wasn’t the only one struggling to score in this series. Nashville defenseman Roman Josi had taken 38 shots before scoring his first postseason goal in Game 6, the most of any player in these playoffs who has yet to score.

POTENT POWER PLAY: The Sharks have one of the game’s top power plays led by a top unit that features Thornton’s playmaking, Brent Burns‘ big shot from the point and Pavelski’s goal-scoring. That power play has been a barometer for San Jose’s success this postseason with the team converting 9 of 24 chances in seven playoff wins and just 2 of 15 in four losses.

PLAYOFF Colin Wilson: The Predators left wing now is only a goal away from matching the six goals he scored in 64 games during the regular season. He’s already set a franchise-record with a seven-game points streak. Wilson has scored a goal in three of the past four games, three of those Nashville victories.

NIETO’S HEALTH: Sharks F Matt Nieto left Game 6 in the first period after crashing into the net and did not return. Nieto did not practice Wednesday and his status for Game 7 is in doubt. If he can’t play, the Sharks will miss his speed but will put Tommy Wingels back in the lineup after scratching him the past two games.

 

Albany d-man Kelly gets 10-game suspension for ‘sickening’ head shot on Toronto prospect

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Albany Devils defenseman Dan Kelly has been suspended 10 games “as a consequence of a match penalty for an illegal check to the head” of Toronto forward Andreas Johnson during an AHL playoff game on Tuesday.

From the AHL press release:

Kelly will miss Albany’s next 10 games, beginning with Game 5 of the North Division Finals vs. Toronto tonight (May 12). If Albany is eliminated before the suspension can be served to completion this postseason, remaining games would carry over to the next time Kelly is active on an AHL club roster.

Johnson, 21, was taken to the hospital with a suspected concussion as a result of Kelly’s elbow.

“He was in pretty rough shape leaving here,” Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe said Wednesday, per the Toronto Sun. “He didn’t remember anything and there was pretty good cause for concern when he went off to the hospital.

“A member of our training staff and our captain, Andrew Campbell, stayed with him there. (After his release) we took care of him through the night. He came to breakfast late this morning in good spirits and that made me feel a lot better after watching that hit over and over. It was sickening.”

Kelly, 26, is a pending unrestricted free agent. He’s spent the past six seasons with Albany, after going undrafted out of the OHL.

Could the hiring of Boucher help the Sens sign Hoffman?

Mike Hoffman
AP

After scoring 27 goals in 2014-15, Ottawa winger Mike Hoffman went to arbitration and was awarded a one-year, $2 million contract.

At the time, the Senators wanted to see if Hoffman could “do it again.” Which is to say, they weren’t 100 percent convinced. Otherwise, they might have tried harder to get him signed long term.

Well, Hoffman did it again. Despite the odd benching by Dave Cameron, he scored 29 goals in 2015-16, and that means decision time again for the club. The 26-year-old has rights to arbitration, and now he’s just one year away from unrestricted free agency.

Cameron, of course, isn’t around anymore. He was replaced by Guy Boucher, who just so happens to be Hoffman’s old junior coach.

So, could Boucher’s hiring help the Hoffman negotiations?

“I think it’s a bonus,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said on Ottawa radio this morning. “I think our fans know that the relationship between Mike and the previous coaches wasn’t the greatest.

“But this team isn’t built around Mike Hoffman. This team is built around 20 players. So we’re going to do what’s right. … We’re going to work hard at it, but at the end of the day, if they want $10 million a year, well, we’ll say, ‘Mike, good luck, best of luck moving forward.'”

Dorion also said that he doesn’t want to go to arbitration again with Hoffman, so these next few weeks could be key in determining whether there’s a long-term relationship between player and club.

Boucher, by the way, was asked about Hoffman on Monday.

“Does he have things he can improve? Of course, but I’m so excited to be coaching him again. I know him,” the coach told Postmedia. “I know what to do with this guy and I know how to surround him.

“The questions that are asked are definitely on the negative side. I can see there’s some question marks about Mike. I just know in the past we’ve had a great relationship. Yeah, I pushed him, but I pushed him with respect because I cared like I did with all the other players and it turned out to be something good.”

Who woulda thunk it? Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin line has been quite the accidental discovery for the Penguins

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Combine hydrogen and oxygen and you get water. That’s been a scientific fact for ages.

Combine Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, and Carl Hagelin and you get one of the main reasons the Pittsburgh Penguins just advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.

Science only recently discovered that one — just the latest in a long, rich history of accidental discoveries.

Perhaps Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin could be called the Penicillin Line.

Or not.

But you’ll recall when Kessel was traded to Pittsburgh on July 1, the big debate was whether he was a better fit with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Those were the two Penguins’ star centers, and Kessel was a star winger.

Bonino? He wasn’t even an option at the time. He wasn’t traded to Pittsburgh until a month later, because the Pens needed cap space and the Canucks felt Brandon Sutter was a “foundation piece.”

Hagelin wasn’t a Penguin yet either. He didn’t come to Pittsburgh until January — dealt mid-season from Anaheim, where he’d never really found his place.

And now? Kessel, Bonino, and Hagelin comprise the hottest line in hockey. Naturally, the trio combined to eliminate the Capitals in overtime last night.

What does it mean for the Penguins’ Stanley Cup chances? It means opponents can’t just focus on shutting down Crosby and Malkin anymore. Heck, those two barely hit the score-sheet in the second round.

“When we have the balance that we do, I think it [provides] a lot of match-up challenges for our opponents,” Pens coach Mike Sullivan said last night, per Yahoo Sports. “Sid’s line usually get the top defensive assignment. Geno’s line gets one as well. I think Bones’ line is a really good line. And they present a match-up challenge, and that’s one of the things as a coaching staff that we really like the makeup of our lines.”

As the Sporting News’ Sean Gentille writes, the Penguins are no longer being done-in by their lack of depth:

If you rely too heavily on a pair of players to carry you, from a point-production standpoint, you are going to fail.

And that’s what Pittsburgh did, due to either injuries or errant roster correction, for years. Teams with sustainable playoff success can’t rely on guys like Blake Comeau, Nick Spaling, Tanner Glass and Brian Gibbons to score goals. They can’t rely on Brandon Sutter to center a point-producing line.

They can rely on Matt Cullen, though, They can rely on young, cheap whirlwinds like Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary. Those are the sorts of players that, when your two superduperstars can’t find the net, tend to pick up the slack; they don’t just drive play. They score.

In this series, most of all, Pittsburgh relied on Kessel, Hagelin and Bonino.

Not so coincidentally, the Penguins will face the Tampa Bay Lightning next.

The Bolts have been showing off their own impressive depth in these playoffs, winning two rounds without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman.

Related: Sullivan jumbles the lines, hoping to ‘stumble on’ a solution

A ‘no-brainer’ — Elliott will start Game 7 for Blues

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Ken Hitchcock slept on it, then made the obvious choice — Brian Elliott will start in goal tonight for the St. Louis Blues.

Elliott, of course, was pulled in Monday’s Game 6, after allowing three goals on just seven Stars shots. Jake Allen came in and didn’t let anything past him, but then, he only had to face seven shots himself. The Blues lost, 3-2, sending the series back to Dallas for Game 7.

Suffice to say, it would’ve been a massive surprise if Hitchcock had gone with Allen tonight. Elliott has been mostly excellent in these playoffs, compiling a .926 save percentage in 13 games. That’s why Game 6 was Allen’s first appearance of the postseason. The backup hasn’t been required yet.

Still, Hitchcock refused to commit right away to Elliott, and that meant the slimmest of a very slim chance that Allen could get the nod in one of the most important games in franchise history.

“I wanted to talk to Brian,” Hitchcock told reporters today, per the Post-Dispatch. “Brian showed up at the rink yesterday to stop pucks, which surprised everybody. He wanted to go on the ice. I think he earned the right to go at it. He had a tough start to the game like our team. He had the tough seven minutes and paid for it.

“But he’s given us a chance to get to the Game 7 again and I couldn’t think of a better opportunity for him or for us. Really, a no-brainer to be honest with you, but I wanted to talk to him and be sure he was feeling good about himself.”

So, it’ll be Elliott. The same goalie who stopped 31 of 33 shots in that nerve-wracking Game 7 win over Chicago. The same one who has a .942 save percentage in the three games the Blues have played in Dallas. The same one who’d been lauded for his poise prior to Game 6.

Now, that Hitchcock made the obvious choice doesn’t guarantee that Elliott will play well tonight, but for those who believe it should be Allen, speak now or forever hold your peace.