Thornton: Experience makes Sharks so calm it’s scary

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The San Jose Sharks held the lead for most of Game 2 against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday. Then Ryan Kesler stepped up in the third period to give the Canucks a 2-1 edge.

With less than a minute left in the contest, it looked like that would be sufficient, but Patrick Marleau found the back of the net with 56 seconds to spare. Raffi Torres scored in overtime to give the sixth seed Sharks a 2-0 series lead.

That kind of clutch performance is in defiance of the Sharks’ history of falling short in the playoffs, but perhaps their past misses are part of what made this comeback possible.

“We’re a bunch of veterans,” Sharks’ captain Joe Thornton told NHL.com. “All of us have played in so many playoff games, the calmness is scary sometimes.”

Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle’s attempted pass near the midway point of the third period led to Kesler’s second goal, but Boyle shrugged that off and helped set up Marleau’s game-tying goal.

“We showed a lot of character and a lot of guts to come back,” Boyle said in a CSN Bay Area report. “A win is a win. It wasn’t pretty, and we were obviously on our heels after we had the one goal lead a little bit too much, but a win is a win.”

San Jose had a 17-2-5 record in the HP Pavilion this season. With the series heading there, Vancouver will have a very tough time turning things around.

Question for Bruins (again): How long can Chara keep going?

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BOSTON (AP) — How much longer can Zdeno Chara keep this up?

The Boston Bruins defenseman – and leader in ice time – will turn 42 this season, and sooner or later the window will close on his opportunity to skate around the ice again with the Stanley Cup. For his teammates, that means focusing on this season as their best and possibly last chance to win with him.

”The older you get, it’s just about winning,” said David Krejci, one of five holdovers from the franchise’s last title, in 2011. ”We know that we’re not going to be playing in the league for 10 more years, but we have maybe three, four, five years left, who knows, but this is it. We worked really, really hard this summer to get the job done this year.”

Chara was already an eight-year veteran and two-time All-Star when he signed with Boston a dozen years ago, and the Bruins built a contender around him that went to the Stanley Cup finals twice in three years. (They lost to Chicago in 2013.)

Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and David Krejci are the only other players remaining from the 2011 champs. Bergeron is 33, Rask and Krejci will turn 32 during the playoffs, and Marchand will turn 31. (Steven Kampfer was traded away in 2012 and rejoined the Bruins this summer; he just turned 30.)

Charlie McAvoy, the 20-year-old defenseman paired with Chara for most of his career, has seen players come and go and values the stability brought by the core.

”As long as we have those veteran guys the culture will always be the same, I really believe that,” he said. ”I really think it could be another special year. You bring back all these guys, the veterans, it could be an awesome year and I’m really excited to get it going.”

Here are some other things to look for from the Bruins this season:

SOPHOMORES

Helping to take some of the pressure off the aging core is a group with about one year of experience, led by McAvoy. Also among the sophomores are Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk, and Sean Kuraly.

”None of us are forecasting a setback, I call tell you that,” McAvoy said. ”Something about the experience of having a full season, playing a few playoff series now, seeing that element. I can use all those things to allow me to come in and play great hockey from the start. That’s my goal.”

Those five combined to score 151 points (48 goals, 103 assists) last season.

MORE NEW BLOOD

Joining the youth movement are players in their first full season like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Ryan Donato and Anders Bjork. Dante Carlo has two years behind him but is still just 21.

”You need those young guys,” Krejci said. ”And our young guys are fast, they’re good, they’re smart, they make plays. They deserved to make the team last year and I’m looking forward to what they’ll bring again this year, one year under their belts.”

IN NET

Rask returns for his 12th season but he has a new backup.

Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year contract to come to Boston from the Islanders, where he started 49 games last season and had a 3.19 goals-against average. He replaces Anton Khudobin, who had been the backup for two years and started last season 7-0-2 filling in while Rask had a concussion.

The fast start led fans to call for him to replace Rask, when he won just three of his first 13 games. But the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner did not lose a game in regulation from Nov. 26 until Feb. 10, finishing with a 34-14-15 record and a GAA of 2.36.

LONG TRIPS

The Bruins played two exhibition games in China against the Calgary Flames, with Cassidy and half the squad heading over to Shenzhen and Beijing for a week while the rest of the team stayed back in Boston. The split squad wasn’t ideal, but the Bruins started the 2010-11 regular season with two games in Prague and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Cassidy said that would be a nice precedent to follow.

”Well if it’s a repeat of ’11, yes,” he said. ”I’d love that to happen, trust me.”

AP freelancer Matt Kalman contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

WATCH LIVE: 2018 Kraft Hockeyville USA features Blue Jackets, Sabres

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NBCSN’s coverage of the the 2018 Kraft Hockeyville USA game in Clinton, N.Y. between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres begins at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here. 

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SABRES
Jeff SkinnerJack EichelSam Reinhart
Alex NylanderPatrik Berglund – Andrew Oglevie
C.J. Smith – Casey MittelstadtKyle Okposo
Justin BaileyEvan Rodrigues – Danny O’Regan

Jake McCabeZach Bogosian
Rasmus DahlinCasey Nelson
Brendan Guhle – William Borgen

Goalies: Scott Wedgewood, Jonas Johansson

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. – NBCSN]

BLUE JACKETS
Anthony DuclairAlexander Wennberg – Kevin Stenlund
Artemi Panarin – Liam Foudy – Jonathan Davidsson
Boone JennerBrandon DubinskyJosh Anderson
Lukas Sedlak – Sam Vigneault – Eric Robinson

Michael PrapavessisSeth Jones
Gabriel CarlssonAdam Clendening
Dean KukanDavid Savard

Goalies: Joonas Korpisalo, J.F. Berube

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

 

Stars ready for fun offense under coach fresh out of college

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DALLAS (AP) — This is the third season in a row the Dallas Stars have a different coach and a different style. They’re ready to have some fun with the guy fresh out of college.

After the differing approaches of grizzled veterans Lindy Ruff and then Ken Hitchcock in a one-season return of their Stanley Cup-winning coach from two decades ago, there is more of an emphasis on relentless offense with new coach Jim Montgomery in his transition from the college ranks to first-time NHL head coach.

”It’s going to be a lot of fun,” captain Jamie Benn said. ”We’re going to work hard and it’ll be a high-flying Stars team with a lot of pressure on the ice.”

The 49-year-old Montgomery said he’s sure the team has the speed and depth to play his style.

Montgomery spent the past five years at the University of Denver, where he had a 125-57-26 record and won a national title two seasons ago. He won two championships as a head coach and general manager in the United States Hockey League before that. He was part of a college national championship as a player at Maine in 1993, and did play 122 NHL games – his last was with Dallas in December 2002.

”We’ve had some great coaches in here,” Tyler Seguin said. ”But at the end of the day, we haven’t had this kind of coach, a younger guy, a player’s coach if you want to call it that, someone that’s won pretty much everywhere he’s gone and is going to change things up. I think everyone’s excited for that and looking forward to a fresh new year.”

SEGUIN AND THE TOP LINE

Seguin, the 26-year-old five-time All-Star with a career-high 40 goals last season, could have become an unrestricted free agent after this season. But he signed a nearly $80 million, eight-year contract extension through 2026-27 just before training camp. Seguin is on the front line with 29-year-old two-time All-Star Benn and Alexander Radulov, who had 27 goals and 45 assists last season. Only Benn had more total points than Seguin’s 78, with Benn at 79 (36 goals, 43 assists) after eight goals and two assists in the last five games.

ON THE DEFENSE

John Klingberg led NHL defensemen with 59 assists last season, when Marc Methot was limited to 36 games in his Stars debut because of knee issues. A healthy Methot should be a boost to the Stars defense.

”If you look at the lineup, we know we have star power. We have everything on paper. It looks good,” Klingberg said. ”We’re just going to have to find those pieces blending into each other.”

MISSED TIME

Dallas missed the playoffs for the eighth time in the past 10 seasons after an eight-game losing streak last March. They finished 42-32-8 for 92 points, which was a 13-point increase from 2016-17 but three points out of the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot.

”I think we’ve got to stop, I guess, wasting the good talent that we have here and take advantage of it,” Benn said. ”Ten years later, goes by fast. You’ve got to take advantage of the good teams that you have. We have a good team here. So we’ve got to make a good run here.”

TOP 10 BACK IN BIG D

Right wing Valeri Nichushkin played 166 games in three seasons for the Stars by time he was 21 before returning home to Russia and playing the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 10th overall pick by the Stars in the 2013 draft is back after signing a $5.9 million, two-year contract with Dallas at the start of free agency over the summer.

STARTING AT HOME

The Stars open the season Oct. 4 against Arizona, the first of four consecutive home games in 10 days before their first road game.

”I don’t think I could have picked a better schedule to start the season in my first year because everything’s new,” Montgomery said. ”Being at home, having those three days of practice in between home games, is going to be instrumental in us getting off to a good start.”

The Stars have now been in Dallas for 25 years.

AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Can Coyotes avoid another awful start with Galchenyuk injured?

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Last season, the Arizona Coyotes came into the year with great expectations. Then they only won one game in all of October.

Their 1-12-1 start (including a loss to begin November) derailed Arizona’s 2017-18 campaign before it could really start, serving as a cautionary tale for any Coyotes fans getting too excited about this season’s possibilities. Sure, the team showed promise late last season, yet such finishes can drum up false hope.

Adding Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta revved up excitement for the Coyotes last time around; this year, the possible growth of young players and the (perceived?) upgrade from Max Domi to Alex Galchenyuk is inspiring plenty of optimism. Coyotes fans even had a reason to gloat during the preseason, as Galchenyuk made a strong first impression in an exhibition at almost the same time that Domi was suspended for punching Aaron Ekblad.

So, the Coyotes are riding high into 2018-19, right? Well, we might need to pump the brakes on that, as Galchenyuk is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

To rain a bit more on the parade, the team warned that he might not be available for Arizona’s season opener (an Oct. 4 road game against the Dallas Stars).

It’s a shame that the Coyotes didn’t get to show off their shiny new toy against the Stars. Let’s consider a few of the other factors, and who might be affected by this in the short term.

Schedule

While the Coyotes noted that Galchenyuk might miss that first game on Oct. 4, it’s important to realize that week-to-week is a vague description. For all we know, Galchenyuk may only miss a handful of games, or he might even play on opening night. Then again, it could also mean Galchenyuk may be sidelined for multiple weeks of the regular season.

The former Canadiens forward figures to be a top-six forward for a Coyotes team that’s still expected to be a little light on scoring, so a lengthy loss would sting. That said, it’s not necessarily a lethal blow. When you wonder if another lousy October is looming, the actual context of the schedule may factor in:

Thu, Oct 4 @ Dallas
Sat, Oct 6 vs Anaheim
Wed, Oct 10 @ Anaheim
Sat, Oct 13 vs Buffalo
Tue, Oct 16 @ Minnesota
Thu, Oct 18 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 20 @ Winnipeg
Tue, Oct 23 @ Columbus
Thu, Oct 25 vs Vancouver
Sat, Oct 27 vs Tampa Bay
Tue, Oct 30 vs Ottawa

That four-game road trip (and five of six games on the road from Oct. 10-23) seems challenging, yet note that the Coyotes don’t face a back-to-back set during the first month. For all we know, that could provide a nice opportunity for Galchenyuk to limit games missed, or strategically heal up. Maybe he’d only need until Oct. 10, thus missing just two contests?

(Such a schedule also opens the door for further coaching sessions – possibly fruitful for a team ripe with young talent – and possibly allows Raanta to soak up a lot of starts.)

Overall, the Coyotes’ early schedule seems manageable enough. Their 2017-18 October wasn’t abnormally difficult, either, so that’s clearly not the only determining factor here.

A window for Strome?

One player’s injury is another player’s chance to earn a spot. Just ask Kurt Warner and Tom Brady how random luck can help you establish a sports career.

With Galchenyuk out, the Coyotes may let Dylan Strome get some extra reps as a center, or maybe a more prominent position on the power play. Even if it’s just for a couple games or merely just extra practice time, Strome badly needs to earn Rick Tocchet’s trust.

Perhaps someone else would run with the opportunity if Galchenyuk misses significant time, but Strome comes to mind as a player who’s really at a fork in the road.

***

We don’t know how much time Galchenyuk might miss. Actually, the Coyotes may not know, either.

It’s not the greatest way for Galchenyuk to begin his Coyotes career, especially since he was probably feeling quite liberated to be out of Montreal. Injury limitations could make it difficult for him to make a good first impression.

Still, this might only be a minor hiccup, and heightened opportunities for Strome (or a peer) could serve as a blessing in disguise.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.