Sharks take 2-1 series lead thanks to one of the biggest comebacks in playoff history

Pretty much since Joe Thornton joined the San Jose Sharks, they’ve been called chokers. It’s going to be awfully tough for anyone to advance that argument again after they pulled off one the most stunning comebacks in playoff history.

That’s not hyperbole, either; the Sharks become only the fourth team in playoff history to come back from at least a 4-0 deficit and win. Here are the three other games, with scores and dates thanks to Versus.

* – Minnesota 5, Chicago 4 (OT) on April 28, 1985.
* – Los Angeles 6, Edmonton 5 (OT) on April 10, 1982.
* – Montreal 7, Boston 5 on April 8, 1971.

San Jose 6, Los Angeles 5 (OT); Sharks lead the series 2-1

No doubt about it, this is a devastating loss of the Kings. In the framework of this series, Los Angeles has some serious “What ifs” to fight through. After losing Game 1 after making their own comeback, the Kings lost on Devin Setoguchi’s beauty in OT in Game 3. In other words, they could be up 3-0 rather than down 2-1.

From a historic perspective, it’s even more unusual. In case you’re not aware, the Kings were on the winning end of an enormous and improbable comeback in 1982. Almost 30 years ago, the Kings managed to beat the Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers in OT after falling behind 5-0.

As thrilling as tonight’s win was for the Sharks, they might need to worry a bit about Antti Niemi’s psyche. He allowed the Kings to take another early lead as Willie Mitchell scored an awful goal on him and Kyle Clifford made it 2-0 just 13 seconds later. Michal Handzus gave them a 3-0 late in the first period, which seemed like a tremendous lead since the Sharks only scored three goals combined in the last two games.

An unforgettable, seven-goal second period.

After building that 3-0 lead through the first, Brad Richardson chased Niemi from the net just 44 seconds into the middle frame.

Despite showing obvious rust after only appearing in four Sharks games since New Year’s, Antero Niittymaki did just enough to survive, stopping 11 out of 12 shots in relief of Niemi.

The goaltending change and slowly gathering momentum helped the Sharks put together one of the most ridiculous 20 minutes of hockey in recent memory. Patrick Marleau batted in a great pass from Dan Boyle for the Sharks’ first goal, Ryan Clowe scored on the power play three minutes later and they made things beyond interesting when Logan Couture scored.

Yet 15 seconds later, Ryan Smyth scored on a great Jarret Stoll pass thanks to a defensive lapse by the Sharks.

Perhaps the “choking” edition of the Sharks would have used this opportunity to fold, but this new edition has enough depth to spread out the responsibility during this improbable comeback. These Sharks just kept coming in that second period, as Clowe scored his second goal of the game with a minute and a half remaining and Joe Pavelski tied it up with about 30 seconds left.

Keep in mind all seven of those goals came in the second period, after a 3-0 first period for the Kings.

A rugged third period and a quick overtime.

Surely both coaches gave their teams a tongue-lashing in the second intermission, as the two teams played the kind of tight, contentious hockey that was expected from this series. The third period went scoreless.

That gave way to a high-pressure overtime that didn’t last long, as Setoguchi made no mistake about delivering on a perfect Marleau pass. After all that activity, the Sharks won 6-5 in overtime and left the Kings stunned in the process.

Big questions for both teams.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Sharks react to this situation. Will they stick with Niemi – a goalie they clearly believe is their franchise guy – even though he’s allowed eight goals on 33 shots in the last two contests?

Of course, the biggest question is how the Kings will respond to this brutal loss. If Terry Murray can keep them from getting too down, they can still win this series. They didn’t really roll over in this game, as evidenced by that rugged third period and Smyth’s 5-3 goal. If nothing else, they know they can score on this team without Anze Kopitar and skate with a great team. It’s small solace now, but they can tie it up on Thursday.

As bad as this game was for Niemi, Jonathan Quick must also bounce back from this game, even if he had no chance on most of those goals. One has to wonder if the Kings’ underrated, steady young goalie can shake this one off.

We learned a lot about the Sharks tonight, but we’ll find out a lot about Los Angeles in Game 4.

Ovechkin mocks Hamilton, Hurricanes with chicken gesture

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Did Dougie Hamilton “bail out” on a would-be Alex Ovechkin check, thus letting Ovechkin retrieve the puck for a dagger 3-0 goal in Game 5? Was it a mental mistake by Hamilton, which would still be a gaffe, but not bring into questions of “toughness?”

Whatever the true answer might be, that moment reverberated through the Capitals – Hurricanes Round 1 series, and was referenced early in Game 6 on Monday (currently airing on NBCSN; Stream here). After Ovechkin missed a check on Hamilton, Ovechkin did a “chicken flapping its wings” motion at Hamilton and/or the Hurricanes bench.

You can watch the mocking gesture in the video above this post’s headline, and judge for yourself on that 3-0 goal from the Capitals’ eventual 6-0 win in Game 5 in this clip. Jeremy Roenick provided his take, too.

(Personally, I think Hamilton was confused, not frightened, but perhaps we’ll never truly know.)

Ovechkin’s not shy about trash talk, including in the playoffs – you may remember him jawing at Henrik Lundqvist in 2015 – and the Hurricanes must respond on the scoreboard. Alex Ovechkin let his play do some talking along with that taunting, as he scored a 2-1 goal for a Capitals lead moments after Petr Mrazek was bumped hard in an accidental collision by his own teammate, Justin Williams.

Tune into Game 6 on NBCSN and/or stream it here to see the taunting, heavy-hitting, and tense action.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Hurricanes, Predators attempt to force Game 7s

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Game 6: Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET (Capitals lead 3-2)
NBCSN
Call: Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
Series preview

Stream here

Game 6: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET (Stars lead 3-2)
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Call: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti, AJ Mleczko
Series preview
Stream here

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Predators vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

Holtby has been ultimate closer for Capitals

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With a win on Monday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live streamthe Washington Capitals will advance to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

It is a pretty impressive streak when you remember just how often they were a postseason punchline before finally winning the Stanley Cup last season. Especially since no other team in the league has an active streak of more than three years (if the Nashville Predators come back to beat the Dallas Stars, it will be their fourth consecutive year advancing to Round 2, but they still need to win two games in a row to make that happen).

It is not easy to get out of Round 1 that regularly.

One of the biggest reasons they have been able to do so pretty much every year has been the consistently great postseason play of starting goalie Braden Holtby.

He is also a big reason why you have to like their chances of winning just one more game against the Carolina Hurricanes in this series.

Especially since these are the games he tends to really excel in.

Monday’s Game 6 against the Hurricanes will be the 19th time in Holtby’s career he will play a game where the Capitals have a chance to eliminate an opponent.

In the previous 18 games, he has a .932 save percentage in potential knockout games (slightly higher than his career postseason mark of .929 — which is significantly higher than his career regular season mark of .918), and has won seven of hits past 10 including each of his past five.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That includes a perfect 4-for-4 mark in the playoffs a year ago on the Capitals’ run to the Cup when he only allowed one goal in a Game 6 series-clinching win on the road in Pittsburgh in Round 2, and then shut out the Tampa Bay Lightning in a decisive Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final (after also shutting them out in Game 6).

Of the three games he lost during that stretch, he didn’t allow more than two goals in any of them, and has allowed more than two goals in just five of the 18 games where he has had a chance to knock out an opponent out of the playoffs.

In other words: Even when the Capitals lose and fail to move on in the playoffs, it has rarely — if ever — been due to the play of their goalie.

For his career he has been one of the best postseason goalies in NHL history, and when he has a chance to finish the job in a series, he almost always plays well enough to do it.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Zuccarello is perfect complement for Stars’ top line

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The Dallas Stars had a problem for much of the 2018-19 season, and it was always a very easy one to identify.

Even when the team was at its lowest point, their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn was doing what it had always done in carrying the team’s offense.

When Seguin and Benn came under irrational fire from their own CEO in the middle of the season, they were far from the biggest issue on the team. In fact, they weren’t even an issue at all and just five seconds of objective research should have made that clear. When they were on the ice the Stars were carrying the play, dominating the opposition, and performing exactly as you would want your franchise players to perform. Maybe the individual numbers weren’t what we have come to expect from them, but they were consistently outplaying and outscoring their opponents.

The problem was that they didn’t have any other forwards that could do the same thing. Their forward depth was so thin that only one other forward outside of the Seguin-Benn-Radulov trio topped topped the 30-point mark this season (Radek Faksa had exactly 30 points in 81 games). That is not anywhere near good enough. It wasn’t a “star” problem; it was a problem with players around the stars.

But because the top trio was so good, and because they received Vezina-worthy goaltending from Ben Bishop (and don’t forget about the play of backup Anton Khudobin, either) they were able to stay in playoff contention in a watered down Western Conference and continue playing their way toward the postseason. If they were going to do anything once they got there they were going to need somebody outside of their top line to provide some kind of a threat offensively.

This is where Mats Zuccarello comes in.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He has only played seven games with the team entering Game 6 of their Round 1 series against the Nashville Predators on Monday night (8 p.m. ET; CNBC; Live stream), but his impact has already been noticeable.

The Stars acquired Zuccarello from the New York Rangers just before the NHL trade deadline and in his first game with the team made an immediate impact with a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win. It was exactly what the Stars needed for the stretch run. But because he was also injured in that game and missed several weeks they never really had an opportunity to see exactly what he could provide. They are seeing it in the playoffs where he has already tallied three goals (second only to Radulov) and has given them an additional threat offensively.

It’s even more impressive when you remember he is still finding his way with a new team and still probably isn’t all the way back to 100 percent.

In other words, he probably has room to get better.

When you look at his individual shot and scoring chance numbers he hasn’t created a ton of them, and so far is riding a short-term spike in shooting percentage to carry his postseason production. It would be fair to point to that as somewhat of a red flag for what it might mean in the future.

You have to keep in mind, though, that the injury not only took him off the ice, it also robbed him of an opportunity to develop chemistry with a new set of linemates. Getting thrown into what is still a new lineup, when you may not be totally healthy, and right in the middle of the madness that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not an easy thing to do. There is still probably a bit of an adjustment period taking place here.

What is important for the Stars, though, is that he is another high-level player that has the ability to capitalize on the chances he does get, and that is an element the team had been lacking all season.

He is a threat with a proven track record of production.

Zuccarello has been a criminally underrated player for quite some time now and has always been a lock to finish with 50-60 points over a full season. That may not seem great or anything that instantly jumps off the page at you, but it is top-line production, and top-line players are not always easy to acquire.

Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the year Zuccarello became a full-time player in the NHL, his 0.72 point-per-game average puts him 67th out of more than 570 players that have appeared in at least 200 games during that stretch.

Outside of Seguin, Benn, and Radulov there is not another forward currently on the Stars’ roster that sits in the top-100 out of that group.

Jason Spezza is the only other one in the top-200.

You have to go all the way down to Faksa at No. 296 to find the next one.

There just wasn’t enough impact talent elsewhere on the roster to help support the Stars’ top players.

Zuccarello gives them one, and his presence, along with the emergence of Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz in this series, is a big reason they have been able to put themselves in a position to advance.

MORE: Hintz becoming important part of Stars’ lineup

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.