Five Thoughts: Detroit is making life miserable on San Jose

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It’s probably for the best if you’re a San Jose fan that you read with caution as things are getting really awkward for the Sharks. They’ll have to find a way to inspire their inner Vancouver Canucks to prevent from being the fourth NHL team to ever get bounced out of the playoffs in a seven game series after leading the 3-0 at one point.

1. The heart of a champion is a dangerous thing. Vancouver got a taste of it in the first round in dealing with Chicago. Old demons that popped up there were eventually vanquished in overtime of Game 7 after the Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead. Now the Sharks get to try to do the same on Thursday night at home against the Red Wings. If there is a team in these playoffs that you absolutely cannot give life to when they’re down it’s the Detroit Red Wings.

Where other teams get down in the dumps after giving up a goal, these Wings don’t do anything of the sort. They rally, they fight back, they lay the big hit, the find a way to score the big goal. With San Jose’s temperamental nature now a major factor it can’t be stressed enough how badly the Sharks will need to get out to hot start and jump on Jimmy Howard early in Game 7.
Planning it and doing it are two entirely different things, however, and Detroit has been decidedly better than San Jose over the last four periods of play. This series has been very close all along but now Detroit is showing that killer instinct we’ve seen from them in the past.

2. Enough can’t be stated about what a difference Niklas Kronwall has been for the Wings. The last few seasons he’s battled injuries, defensive lapses in favor of making a statement hit, and grief for playing a reckless sort of game. Now he’s taken to playing alongside Swedish countryman Nicklas Lidstrom and he’s playing a smarter brand of hockey. Yes, the hits are still coming (just ask Ryane Clowe) but gone are the days of the defensively liable hit and in this new era for Kronwall he’s adding plenty of offense as well.

It was his big shot that Henrik Zetterberg tipped to get Game 6 tied up and he’s scored other goals in these playoffs. Generally when you’re thinking of offense from the Detroit blue line you’re thinking of Lidstrom. Now Kronwall is a factor that opponents have to account for on both ends of the ice.

3. Now what does San Jose do? They’ve had three shots to end Detroit’s season and now it comes down to a Game 7 where virtually anything can happen. It’s not the position that Todd McLellan wanted to see his team in and he seemed almost despondent during the post game press conference. He knows better than most how the Red Wings operate after being an assistant to Mike Babcock.

Still, all the inside knowledge in the world can’t help you if the players aren’t executing well enough to win and that’s where he’s stuck now. It’s not a comforting place for a head coach to be in as there’s no amount of riot act-reading or coddling possible that can snap a team out of a funk like this. The Sharks have to go back to the active pressure they laid out in the series’ first three games and go from there. Everyone’s got to be all in on it though and therein lies the trick.

4. The disappointing play from a pair of San Jose’s biggest stars while they’ve been slumping has been noticeable. We all have heard plenty about Patrick Marleau thanks to Jeremy Roenick’s most unkind but honest words in taking him down a peg but Dany Heatley’s been off his game as well. Whether he’s got a nagging injury throwing off his style of play or not he looked especially bad last night to the point his frustrations are showing on all shifts.

One particular shift saw Heatley get defended off and had the puck taken away from him. Rather than haul around the net and chase down the defender now skating away with the puck, Heatley flopped out in front of Jimmy Howard in an odd fashion only to get up and glare at the official to seemingly beg for a call. While Heatley should be happy the referee didn’t decide to use him as an example of diving, losing his cool after getting his pocket picked and then trying to make amends by giving up on the play to hit the ice has to make Todd McLellan want to pull his hair out. To say that Heatley and Marleau need to step it up in Game 7 is a no-brainer.

5. Speaking of dumb plays, two games in a row now Justin Abdelkader has taken a bad penalty in the waning minutes of the game. He’s been fortunate that Detroit’s killed off those penalties to prevent giving up a killer tying goal late in the game, but you have to wonder if those kinds of bad mistakes are going to cost him a start in Game 7. You can’t afford to have calls going against you and Abdelkader pushing the envelope two games in a row with selfish penalties could earn him a seat in the press box for the final game of the series. Detroit can always fall back on Kris Draper if need be to take his spot in the lineup. Detroit’s playing with fire late in games needlessly but for now Abdelkader is doing enough of the other things right to keep Babcock’s faith in him.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

He found a little of both.

The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

“I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

“It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

“That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

“We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

“It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

UP NEXT

Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.