NHL on NBCSN: Sharks, Avs hope to keep distant playoff hopes alive

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight with a doubleheader. The second game of that series will see the San Jose Sharks host the Colorado Avalanche at the SAP Center, starting at 10:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Even in a best-case scenario, it’s difficult to imagine the Colorado Avalanche or San Jose Sharks storming to a playoff berth this season. Many members of each team seem to know that.

According to Sports Club Stats, the Avs boast a .1 percent chance to make the postseason while the Sharks have a 2.6 percent chance. You get the impression that mathematical elimination will just be a formality at some point.

Matt Duchene told the Denver Post that the Avalanche just want to make every game count, a sentiment that’s likely echoed by the Sharks.

“We’re both still fighting, and it’s not over until it’s over,” Duchene said. “We’re not done until we’re mathematically eliminated. If we go 6-0 in the last six games, we’re going to give ourselves a shot. We have to make these games count — all six of them.”

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Despite their current predicaments, the two teams boast some talent that could entertain on NBCSN tonight.

The Sharks employ a group of forwards that are talented enough that it’s tough to believe they’ll almost certainly be watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us. For all the controversy surrounding Joe Thornton, he’s had a great season feeding Joe Pavelski while Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture also rank as big offensive threats. Don’t forget dragon-loving hybrid defenseman Brent Burns, either.

Colorado isn’t far behind.

It’s been a disappointing season for the likes of Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, yet the Avalanche are enjoying production from veterans (Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay) and guys deep in their primes (Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly).

Expect to see two desperate hockey teams on NBCSN tonight, then.

Video: Pens edge Sharks, reclaim second in Metropolitan

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David Perron and Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout as the Pittsburgh Penguins edged the San Jose Sharks 3-2.

With the win, the Penguins reclaim the second seed in the Metropolitan Division as they hold the tiebreaker on the New York Islanders.

Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, but the Sharks, who are trying to remain in the playoff hunt battled back to tie it 2-2.

Ben Smith and Logan Couture scored second period goals to even things up.

San Jose was unable to solve Marc-Andre Fleury in the shootout.

Fleury made 30 saves to improve to 33-17-8 on the season.

Alex Stalock stopped 31 shots in the loss.

San Jose is six points back of the Calgary Flames for the third seed in the Pacific Division and seven back of the Winnipeg Jets in the wild card race.

With his assist on Kunitz’s goal, Crosby now has a league leading 79 points.

How many starts does the Hamburglar have left?

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Andrew Hammond’s run as Ottawa’s No. 1 could soon be coming to a close.

While this sounds a tad reactionary in the wake of Hammond’s first — and only — regulation loss of the season, consider the following:

• Hammond looked shaky in Thursday’s 5-1 defeat to the Rangers, most notably on this Chris Kreider tally late in the first period. But rather than chalk it up to a stinker performance — the ‘burglar was due for one, after all — the party line afterward was that Hammond’s playing hurt, reportedly still feeling the effects of a collision with San Jose’s Logan Couture from Monday night.

Hammond suggested he’s not 100 percent, with Sens head coach Dave Cameron adding he’s “beat up a little bit.” Today, Hammond didn’t take part in Ottawa’s optional skate and was seen limping out of the rink. This could be a legit injury, or it could be general wear and tear; it’s important to remember that, for all his heroics, Hammond has never played more than 48 games in a single season and the weight of his recent workload — 17 games in 38 days — has been heightened by the pressure of Ottawa’s playoff push.

• Craig Anderson (hand) is pretty much ready to go. On Thursday, Cameron told the Ottawa Sun that if Anderson was able to take shots off his blocker, “that’s a good sign. There was talk that he might be able to [back up] if he took some shots off the blocker.”

And guess what Anderson did on Friday?

There was some thought that Anderson could be eased back into the lineup by serving as Hammond’s No. 2 for Saturday’s game in Toronto. Now, though, it seems as though Andy could be the No. 1 this weekend, with the Hamburglar backing up.

• From there, things would get interesting. After the Leafs tilt, Ottawa has eight games remaining; Anderson would obviously need a lot of work to get back into game shape, given he’s only made two appearances over the last two months. It’s important to remember that, before the Hamburglar took off, Anderson was enjoying a pretty successful season himself, going 14-12-7 with a 2.44 GAA, .925 save percentage and three shutouts.

Anderson also has a decided advantage over Hammond with regards to playoff experience — 23 games to zero — and in his last postseason appearance (2013), Anderson allowed just nine goals on 180 shots, good for a .950 save percentage, in an opening-round victory over Montreal.

• Finally, it’s worth noting that Dave Cameron has gone with Anderson in big spots before. Two weeks ago he said it was Anderson, not Hammond, that gave Ottawa the best chance to win for a crucial tilt against Boston.

Video: Sharks sounding resigned to missing the playoffs

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That was Logan Couture after last night’s loss in Ottawa, sounding a lot like a guy on a team with a 0.9 percent chance of making the playoffs.

“We’re not good enough right now to compete against good teams in the NHL,” Couture said, per CSN Bay Area. “It’s disappointing. We’re a better team, I think, than what we’ve shown in the last couple months.

“Every night we go out there, we just haven’t been good enough on a consistent basis. It’s so disappointing because we believe in this room that we’ve got a good enough group of guys to make a push and to compete past the regular season. Consistently, we just don’t get the job done.”

Now eight points back of the Calgary Flames for third place in the Pacific Division, the Sharks could feasibly go 9-0-0 in their final nine games and still miss the playoffs.

And let’s face it, the way this team is playing, it’s not going 9-0-0.

At this point, it appears the only thing the Sharks may have to look forward to is a game against the Kings on the final day of the regular season, with possibly a chance to keep their California rivals — the ones who embarrassed them so badly last April — from playing in the postseason as well.

Did Sharks’ vets convince Wilson to keep Niemi?

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In three games since the trade deadline, Antti Niemi has helped San Jose gain four of a possible six points by posting a .941 save percentage, allowing just six goals on 102 shots.

Why the marked improvement in play?

In today’s Mercury-News, Niemi hinted it’s easier to relax and focus on the game now that the deadline’s passed and he’s no longer the center of rumors; curiously, this development came after an alleged meeting between some of San Jose’s older players and GM Doug Wilson.

More, from the Merc:

One reason Niemi may still be with the Sharks, according to a report by San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy, is a meeting 24 hours before the trade deadline when a group of the team’s leaders met with Wilson and expressed their preference to have Niemi be part of the push to make the playoffs.

Niemi welcomed that support.

“Yeah, if that’s the case, for sure,” he said. “It makes me feel appreciated here, and it makes me appreciate them even more.”

Logan Couture wasn’t a part of the Wilson meeting, but shared the sentiment anyway.

“Everyone in this dressing room supports [Niemi], and has his back,” Couture said. “We all want to play hard for him because we know how hard he works for us.

“I figured we weren’t going to move him because you lose a goalie like that, you’re just hunting yourself.”

At this point, it’s safe to assume the Sharks — who head into Tuesday’s play three points back of Calgary for third in the Pacific Division — will ride Niemi down the stretch, firmly planting Alex Stalock to the bench. It’ll be interesting to see how the veteran Finnish netminder reacts; the Sharks will soon embark on one of their toughest trips of the season, a seven-game Eastern roadie that sees them play in Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the span of 13 nights.