Mike Halford

Despite deficit, Sharks will ‘hold off on the funeral’

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PITTSBURGH — By now, you’ve probably seen the stat.

But if you haven’t, well, here it is:

The all-time series record of home teams sweeping Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final is 33-3.

It was trotted out quite a bit following Pittsburgh’s 2-1 OT win over San Jose in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. The victory gave the Pens a commanding 2-0 lead — with both wins coming at Consol — and presented the Sharks with a daunting task:

To win it all, they’ll need to beat Pittsburgh in four of the next five games.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer didn’t say if he was aware of “the stat” or not, but did say he’s holding off on eulogies.

“Game 1 was decided in the last two minutes. Tonight is an overtime game,” DeBoer said in his postgame presser. “I think we’ll hold off on the funeral. We have a lot of hockey left to play.”

DeBoer is right. And he’d probably be wise to point out that, of those three teams to rally after losing the first two games on the road, two of them happened within the last seven years.

What’s more, one of them was the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins.

But if the Sharks are going replicate what the Pens did seven years ago, they’re going to need more production across the board. DeBoer stressed the need for more goals at 5-on-5 — San Jose has just two in the series — and there are individuals, especially at forward, that haven’t shown up yet.

Joe Thornton has no points. Joe Pavelski has no points. Melker Karlsson has yet to put a puck on net. Chris Tierney is scoreless. So too is Tommy Wingels.

To a man, the Sharks know a more collective effort is required. Especially when they look across at Pittsburgh, and see the likes of Connor Sheary and Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta chipping in with points.

Despite all these issues — like the fact his team has been out-shot 71-48 — DeBoer was defensive when pressed about them. The way he sees it, things aren’t as one-sided as everyone’s making them out to be.

“This was a game that went back and forth,” he explained. “They’re at home. They carried the play for parts. We carried it for parts.

“We’ve got to go back home now, and get back in the series.”

Sheary the OT hero as Pens take crucial 2-0 Cup Final lead

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PITTSBURGH — From undrafted to unforgettable.

Conor Sheary became exactly that on Wednesday night, scoring the biggest goal of his professional career at 2:35 of overtime to give the Pens a 2-1 win over the Sharks in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It was the first-game winning goal the 23-year-old Sheary — a UMass-Amherst product passed over at the draft — has scored in his brief stint in the NHL.

And what a time for it.

Sheary’s heroics came after Pittsburgh had the game somewhat under control. The Pens clung to a 1-0 lead — earned when Phil Kessel tapped in Nick Bonino‘s shot midway through the second period — and while a one-goal advantage is always tenuous at best, the Penguins had to feel confident, given they’d held the Sharks to just 11 shots through the first two periods.

But then came the third.

San Jose, sensing the possibility of falling behind 0-2, made a strong push in the final frame and were rewarded when d-man Justin Braun scored with under five minutes remaining. In the third, the Sharks nearly matched their shot total for the entire game — after 11 SOG in periods one and two, they had nine — and could’ve salted things away in the final moments of regulation, as they created havoc around Pens netminder Matt Murray.

Wasn’t to be, though.

As such, the Sharks now face a truly uphill battle in their quest for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Pittsburgh’s 2-0 lead is massive — the all-time series record of home teams sweeping Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final is 33-3, a winning percentage of .917.

If the Sharks are going to get back into this thing, they’ll have to figure out their possession game. A club that averaged over 30 shots on goal during the regular season had 24 in Game 1 and 22 tonight, which isn’t nearly enough.

They’ll need to give Martin Jones some support. He’s only received three goals of offense thus far but has been brilliant, stopping 66 of 71 shots faced.

The Sharks will also certainly need more from Joe Thornton, who’s scoreless in the series.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has to be thrilled about holding serve at home. The club is now just two wins away from its first championship in seven years, and continues to get contributions from across the board. The “HBK” line continued to produce — Hagelin got the secondary assist on the Bonino-Kessel connection — and Sheary now has more goals than any other skater in the series.

Of course, the Pens will be leery of getting too caught up in their lead.

Remember those three teams that rallied to win the Cup after losing the opening two games on the road?

Yeah, well the 2009 Penguins were one of them.

Colorado really, really didn’t like its 2014 draft class

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Alexis Pepin of the Colorado Avalanche poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Conner Bleackley? Gone.

Kyle Wood? Gone.

Nick Magyar and Alexis Pepin? Also gone.

If you’re not up to speed with that lede, let me explain — those guys were Colorado’s first four picks at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Now, none of them are with the organization.

Bleackley and Wood never received entry-level deals, and were dealt to Arizona in the Mikkel Boedker trade. Today, per ESPN, the Avs decided not to sign Magyar and Pepin, meaning both can re-enter this year’s draft.

(At this point, it’s probably worth mentioning Colorado fired director of amateur scouting Rick Pracey just months after the ’14 draft.)

Magyar, 20, is a right winger that has spent the last three years with OHL Kitchener. He had 11 goals and 20 points in 49 games this year, missing time with a broken ankle.

Pepin, also 20, spent last year in Val d’Orscoring 23 goals and 47 points in 62 games. At 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, he’s regarded as a decent power forward prospect.

The complete gutting of a draft class is quite rare, but the Pracey era did yield some odd results (another prospect, ’13 draftee Will Butcher, is still unsigned and reportedly set to play his senior year at Denver University.)

The ’14 draft wasn’t all for naught, though. The Avs did recently agree to terms with Swedish d-man Anton Lindholm, who they took in the fifth round.

Related: Coyotes won’t sign former first-rounder Bleackley, say compensation pick is ‘more valuable’

Coyotes won’t sign former first-rounder Bleackley, say compensation pick is ‘more valuable’

2014 NHL Draft - Round 1
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Another tough development for Conner Bleackley.

Bleackley, the 23rd overall pick at the 2014 draft, won’t be signed by the Coyotes, and now has the option to re-enter this year’s draft, per NHL.com.

“We’re going to take the [2nd-round] compensation pick,” Arizona GM John Chayka said. “There’s a lot of value in that pick.

“That’s not to diminish anything Conner has done or the type of player he is. He had a good Memorial Cup. He’s a good player, but at this point [the draft pick] is a more valuable asset for us.”

Bleackley, 20, had 46 points in 55 games for WHL Red Deer this season, and valiantly returned from a wrist tendon laceration to play in the Memorial Cup, scoring two points in four games.

But that’s about it, as far as recent positives go.

Upon getting drafted, Bleackley’s Red Deer coach, Brent Sutter, said the kid wasn’t ready for NHL hockey. Bleackley then arrived at his first Avs camp out of shape, and was sent packing early. Colorado balked on signing him, and shipped him to Arizona as part of the Mikkel Boedker trade at this year’s deadline.

Bleackley learned of the trade while recovering from a broken kneecap.

Two weeks after returning, he suffered the aforementioned wrist tendon laceration.

So yeah… quite the ride.

Last month, Bleackley addressed the possibility of having to go back into the draft, and seemed to be setting it up as a potential motivator.

“If [not getting signed] does happen, I think two teams would’ve made mistakes,” Bleackley said, per the Calgary Herald. “”I feel like I’ve got a lot left to give.

“A lot of people may have counted me out already, but you won’t be able to convince me otherwise until it’s all said and done.”

‘With great regret,’ Jets’ Clitsome retires due to back injury

Grant Clitsome
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Sad news out of Winnipeg this morning, as 31-year-old d-man Grant Clitsome has been forced to retire due to a serious back injury.

“It’s tough when something unexpected, and out of your control, suddenly ends your career,” Clitsome said in a release. “Despite the circumstances, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream and play in the NHL.

“I am also very grateful for all the great people that I have met, and all the friendships that I have made playing hockey.”

A seven-year veteran with over 200 games on his resume, Clitsome broke into the NHL with Columbus and was scooped off waivers by the Jets four years ago.

He parlayed that opportunity into a nice payday, scoring a three-year, $6.2 million deal in 2013. He was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Clitsome underwent back surgery in January of 2015 and hadn’t played since. At the time of the procedure, Jets head coach Paul Maurice described Clitsome’s health as a “very difficult situation,” but said the organization was hopeful he could return to play

Unfortunately for Clitsome, that never happened — but he did appear in over 100 games for Winnipeg, and seemed to cherish the opportunity.

“It truly was a special place to play,” he said. “I’m proud to retire as a Jet.”