Erik Karlsson injury scares should send Sharks message about rest

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People love to celebrate the toughness of hockey players, but sometimes, there comes a point where it’s better to be smart.

There’s an “easier said than done” element when it comes to considering “best practices.” For instance, if your team is barely holding onto a playoff spot, it might be tough to rest that crucial starting goalie.

The San Jose Sharks aren’t really in that position, though. While they’d like to catch the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific, a round of home-ice advantage looks pretty safe for them as of Tuesday, so they have the luxury to make wise decisions.

And here’s the wise decision, if you ask me (among others, including PHT’s Adam Gretz): the Sharks need to rest Erik Karlsson.

So far this season, Karlsson’s missed 10 games thanks to a nagging groin injury. Via The Sports Forecaster’s helpful listings, nine of those missed games came from mid-January to mid-February, and then the issues cropped up again right before the trade deadline.

After missing one more game, Karlsson returned for Tuesday’s contest against the Boston Bruins, and seemed to tweak that injury once again.

Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if Karlsson gritted his teeth to return to that game against the Bruins, or miss minimal time. But this issue sure seems like it’s lingering for the 28-year-old star.

If the Sharks were desperately fighting for every point, resting Karlsson would be a tougher sell. Instead, San Jose’s pretty comfortably placed in second place in the Pacific, while leaping to first would be a challenge:

Standings heading into Tuesday’s action

Three points is a tougher hurdle to clear than you might think, at least this late in the season, particularly since the Flames also hold a game in hand on the Sharks. Vegas is much more likely to fall out of the Pacific’s top three than catch San Jose.

So why not rest Karlsson, a player who’s clearly struggling with groin issues?

Really, the Sharks should be especially interested in the advantages of rest that we’ve seen embraced in other leagues, such as with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich deployed such methods during their most competitive days, and that seemed to pay off.

The Sharks have a lot going for them, but aside from a few exceptions like rising 22-year-old winger Timo Meier, this isn’t a young team. Brent Burns is older than casual fans might think at 33. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 31, and Karlsson is 28, and both of those defensemen have accrued a ton of mileage for their age. Joe Pavelski is somehow 34. Even Gustav Nyquist isn’t a spring chicken – at least in a league that demands speed like the NHL does these days – at 29.

(In other words, 39-year-old Joe Thornton isn’t the only guy battling Father Time in San Jose.)

At minimum, it just makes overwhelming sense for the Sharks to play it safe with a player who’s clearly not at 100-percent in Karlsson. Would you rather risk burnout to marginally improve odds of winning your division, or would you rather give your talented – but aging – roster as good a chance as possible at being fully healthy during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when you’re in for grueling battles every other night?

Plenty of other teams should be thinking about resting their big-minute guys (looking at you, Lightning), but the signs are basically neon flashing lights for the Sharks with Karlsson.

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.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: PHT predicts Round 2

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So after a Round 1 that was full of unexpected endings, what can even expect from Round 2? How many more brackets might get busted over the next two weeks — if they weren’t already busted after what we just witnessed?

Here are some fun facts about Round 1:

• 14 of the 16 top point producers from the regular season are not in the Second Round

• 5 of 8 winning teams overcame a series deficit

• 7 of the top 10 regular-season teams eliminated

• 3 Game 7s – most in the opening round since 2014 (3 Game 7s in entire playoffs last year)

• Ten games required overtime, matching the total from the entire 2018 postseason.

• For the first time in NHL history, the top team from each conference and all division winners were eliminated in the opening round. Washington’s defeat guarantees that there will be a new Stanley Cup champion for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons.

• Only three other rounds in NHL history have featured two Game 7s that required overtime, with each occurring on either the same day or on consecutive days: the 1997 Conference Quarterfinals (2 on April 29), 2011 Conference Quarterfinals (April 26-27) and 2012 Conference Quarterfinals (April 25-26). No postseason in NHL history has ever featured more than two Game 7s that have required overtime.

• Overall, 10 of 46 games required overtime in the First Round (21.7%), matching the total from the entire 2018 postseason (10 of 84 GP; 11.9%).

Now let’s move on to Round 2. Here’s who we think will advance to the conference finals. Who do you have moving on?

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

WATCH LIVE: Blue Jackets-Bruins, Stars-Blues kicks off Round 2

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Game 1: Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
Series preview

Stream here

Game 1: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues, 9:30 p.m. ET
NBCSN
Call: Brendan Burke, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire
Series preview

Stream here

Pre-game coverage begins tonight on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and Connected TVs – will live stream all games airing on NBC, NBCSN, USA Network, and CNBC, via “TV Everywhere” throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

Golden Knights’ owner says NHL executive apologized for Game 7 penalty

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — The owner of the Vegas Golden Knights said Thursday a senior NHL executive phoned him to apologize for a penalty called during Game 7 of his team’s loss to the San Jose Sharks.

Owner Bill Foley said the call came the morning after Vegas lost 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night to end the first-round series. Foley said at a news conference the call came from an executive who is ”about as senior as you can get,” but he did not want to identify him.

The play in question was a major penalty on Cody Eakin of the Golden Knights that Foley described as ”infuriating.”

The owner said the executive admitted it was a ”bad call” and the league did ”acknowledge” it. Foley added that the apology made him ”feel a little better after that.”

Foley said he was sitting with injured forward Erik Haula in a suite at SAP Center when Eakin cross-checked Sharks captain Joe Pavelski in the chest with 10:47 to play. Paul Stastny bumped Pavelski as he fell to the ice, where he was knocked out and bleeding on the ice.

The officials conferred on the unreviewable play while a dazed Pavelski was helped to the locker room with a towel pressed to his head. Eakin was assessed a 5-minute penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct. The Sharks scored four goals on the ensuing power play.

Series supervisor Don VanMassenhoven said the major penalty was given because the cross-check caused a significant injury.

”The game was ours, it was over, 3-zip,” Foley said. ”We were looking, saying ‘all we gotta do is play some defense, play defense and stay out of the box.’ Within 30 seconds, 5-minute major. It wasn’t a penalty. Painful.”

San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said Pavelski is listed as day to day but is not expected to be cleared for Game 1 of the second-round series against the Avalanche on Friday night.

DeBoer downplayed the league’s call to Foley.

”I haven’t gotten many of their calls where they made a mistake,” DeBoer said. ”There were a couple earlier in that series where I would have appreciated a call. We’re past that. We’re on to the next opponent now.”

AP sports writer Josh Dubow in San Jose, California, contributed to this report.

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

Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman needs surgery for torn knee ligament

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TORONTO (AP) Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman has a torn knee ligament and is expected to miss a minimum of six months.

The team said Thursday he injured his anterior cruciate ligament during a playoff loss to Boston and will have surgery Monday.

The 26-year-old Hyman set career highs in goals (21) and points (41) this season. He had one goal during the seven-game playoff loss to the Bruins.

He has 115 points in 251 career NHL games.