Luck finally on Sharks’ side in Stanley Cup pursuit

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There are four key factors that all need to be working in near perfect harmony for a team to win the Stanley Cup.

First and foremost, the team needs to have talent. A lot of talent. Nobody is going to make the playoffs and then successfully get through four best-of-seven series against other playoff teams without impact players at the top of the lineup and plenty of depth to go around them.

Going hand in hand with that is the fact that talent needs to be playing well at the right time of year. It needs to be “the hot team” come playoff time. Even the very best teams are prone to a four-or-five game stretch in a season where things simply do not click for them. If you hit one of those slumps in April or May a strong regular season is going to quickly be forgotten (just ask Tampa Bay, Washington, or Pittsburgh this year).

But those two factors can only take a team so far.

It also needs to be healthy and have its key players in the lineup. There are very few teams that get through an entire postseason while dealing with a significant injury to a core player the entire time. It’s not necessarily just the best team that is still standing at the end of the playoffs, but rather a very good team that is also extremely healthy.

Then there is the fourth factor, which is often times the most difficult to come by and the one that is most out of a team’s control.

Luck.

Plain old fashioned dumb luck.

Some stupid, unpredictable, random moment that is completely out of your control that just so happens to go your way when you need it most.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Luck can be a nasty four-letter word to mention to sports fans when you are referring to their team because it creates the sense you are invalidating their team’s success.

“Luck? My team wasn’t lucky, you coward… it was GREAT!”

Or something along those lines.

Here is the reality: Your championship team may very well have been great, it certainly deserved to win, but it was also undoubtedly lucky at some point during its championship run. It is not a slight. It is not an insult. It is simply a big part of what sports is, especially hockey where you have 10 people chasing a frozen piece of rubber around a sheet of ice at lightning quick speeds. Sometimes weird stuff happens.

Pick any random championship team and look at its postseason and you will probably find something, somewhere along the way, that flipped a game or a series in its favor that wasn’t necessarily due to the result of its play or talent level.

The thing about “luck” in this context is that it can literally be anything. It can be a fortunate bounce off the glass or boards that sets up a tap-in goal. It can be injury luck (either your team being healthy or your opponent being hurt by an injury). It can be a call that goes a certain team’s way, or a replay review, or something that is entirely out of its control. It can be a random player catching fire at the right time and shooting the lights out for a few weeks, scoring

This all brings us to the 2019 San Jose Sharks who are the most dangerous type of Stanley Cup playoff team. They have great talent and they have a lot of it. Now that Joe Pavelski is back in the lineup after a six-game absence in Round 2 they are mostly healthy. And, yes, they have been incredibly lucky to this point.

“Incredibly lucky” may even be underselling it because they have had a key break go their way in every series they have played against every opponent.

In Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights it was the controversial (or, let’s just call it what it was — wrong) call on Cody Eakin that gave them a five-minute power play late in the third period of Game 7 while trailing by three goals. Yes, the Sharks still needed to score three power play goals — something that was far from a given and still statistically unlikely to happen at the beginning of the power play — and yes Vegas still needed to self-destruct, but the reality is that break kept a door open that should have shut, locked and completely secured. That is an element of luck.

In Game 7 of Round 2 against the Colorado Avalanche it was the replay review that negated what would have been a game-tying goal because Gabriel Landeskog took too much time getting off the ice during a line change and was maybe offside. There is a good chance that call was correct, but the fact is that goal wasn’t taken off the board because of anything San Jose did defensively. It was taken off the board because of what was ultimately a meaningless action by a player that had nothing to do with the play itself. That, too, is luck.

Then on Wednesday night in St. Louis they were able to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final thanks to an Erik Karlsson overtime goal that was clearly set up by a hand pass that should have negated it and was ultimately not reviewable by the current NHL rule book. You don’t need me to tell you what that should be considered.

If you are not a Sharks fan you can (and should) hate some of those results, and they will no doubt eventually lead to significant changes to the game in future seasons (or at least the possibility of significant changes).

If you are a Sharks fan you shouldn’t run from the fact there is a strong element of luck at play here. And you shouldn’t care because, again, this is sports.

This is also a new development for the Sharks and it’s an important one in their quest for their first-even championship, especially since it almost seems as if two decades worth of bad postseason luck is all being undone in two months. The Sharks have had a lot of outstanding teams over the years, including top-seeded teams, a Presidents’ Trophy team, and teams that should have been very real threats to win the Stanley Cup only to be undone by something come playoff time. Sometimes it was a goaltending meltdown (pretty much any Evgeni Nabokov series), an injury at the wrong time (Marc-Edouard Vlasic in 2014), or just simply not catching a significant break of their own or getting their best players to all click at the same time.

Right now, everything, including the luck element, is going in their favor.

Whether all of it is enough to continue carrying them through to the Stanley Cup Final and give them their first championship is still to be determined, but there is no denying it is a key part of their story so far and a big part of why they are still playing and are just two wins away from advancing again.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

The Buzzer: Pastrnak nets four; Blackhawks hand Oilers first loss

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Three Stars

1. David Pastrnak, Bruins: Pasta scored four goals and recorded his fifth career hat trick as Boston doubled up the Ducks 4-2. His linemate, Patrice Bergeron, was the last Bruins player to tally four in a game when he achieved the feat on Jan. 6, 2018 against the Hurricanes. According to the NHL, Pastrnak is now the third player in Bruins franchise history, along with Barry Pederson and Cam Neely, to net five regular-season hat tricks before turning 24.

2. Victor Olofsson, Sabres: While Carter Hutton denied the Stars all afternoon during a 25-save shutout in a 4-0 win, it was the rookie winger making history. The 24-year-old Olofsson recorded his fifth power play goal of the season and set an NHL record by becoming the first player to score his first seven career goals with the extra man. Via the AP, the Sabres’ 5-0-1 start has earned them a point in their first six games for the first time since a 6-0-2 start in 2008-09. Their 4-0-0 record at KeyBank Center is their best start at home since 2006-07.

3. Alex Stalock, Wild: Stalock’s 26 saves helped the Wild to their first win of the season with a 2-0 blanking of the Senators. The shutout was Stalock’s sixth of his career and first since Dec. 14, 2017. Minnesota’s shorthanded units get a shoutout here after killing off five Ottawa power plays. (The Senators’ power play, by the way, is now 0-for-17 on the season.)

Other notable performances
• Behind two goals from Brett Connolly, the Panthers erased a 4-1 deficit to top the Devils 6-4. New Jersey is now 0-4-2, their worst start to a season since they started the 2013-14 campaign 0-4-3.

Matt Barzal‘s goal with 27 seconds left forced overtime and Devon Toews completed the Islanders’ comeback with the winner as the Blues surrendered a 2-0 lead with less than six minutes to play.

Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen each had a goal and two assists as the Avalanche downed the Capitals 6-3 to improve to 5-0-0.

James Neal scored his NHL-best eighth goal of the season in a loss to the Blackhawks that ended Edmonton’s undefeated season after five games.

Highlights of the Night

Jonathan Huberdeau needed only 16 seconds to open the scoring vs. the Devils:

• Agile Brad Marchand:

• Former Capitals Andre Burakovsky made his first visit back to D.C. as a member of the Avalanche:

• Nice sequence here by the Avs, which was finished off by Nikita Zadorov:

Factoids of the Night
• The Stars’ 1-5-1 start is the team’s worst since the franchise opened with an identical record in 1990-91 when they were the Minnesota North Stars.

• The line of Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Marchand have combined for 24 points through five games.

• Via AP, the worst start in Devils franchise history was 0-8-1 in 1974-75 when they were the Kansas City Scouts.

Scores
Bruins 4, Ducks 2
Wild 2, Senators 0
Panthers 6, Devils 4
Islanders 3, Blues 2 (OT)
Sabres 4, Stars 0
Avalanche 6, Capitals 3
Blackhawks 3, Oilers 1

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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.

Sabres’ Olofsson sets NHL record with another power play goal

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The Buffalo Sabres continued their early season surge on Monday with a convincing and thorough 4-0 dismantling of the highly disappointing Dallas Stars.

During the Sabres rookie forward Victor Olofsson (also known as Victor Goal-ofsson) scored yet another goal to open the scoring early in the second period.

It was Olofsson’s fifth goal of the season and the seventh of his young career dating back to his debut during the 2018-19 season. Why is this goal noteworthy? Because all seven of Olofsson’s goals in the NHL have been scored on the power play. That makes him the first player in NHL history to open their career with seven consecutive power play goals (since power play goals became an official stat during the 1933-34 seaosn).

The Sabres’ power play has been dominant through the first six games of the season and is one of the biggest reasons they are off to such a strong start at 5-0-1. Obviously they can not rely on their power play unit to keep scoring at a 42 percent rate (as they are through Monday’s game), but it is not like that is the only source of offense. They also have 14 goals during 5-on-5 play through the first six games. No matter the situation, they are finding ways to score goals.

This start is no doubt creating a lot of excitement in Buffalo, but there is probably an equal amount of skepticism after the way the 2018-19 season unfolded. Even so, the Sabres and their fans have to be thrilled with the current record and place in the standings. Now they just need to do something they have not done in almost a decade and find a way to keep building on it.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Pastrnak scores 4 goals for Bruins; Marchand ducks retaliation

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The thing that makes the Boston Bruins so scary for the rest of the Eastern Conference is that even when they are not at their best they are still capable of making teams look powerless against them because of their goaltending and the strength of their top players.

That was on display on Monday afternoon when they defeated the Anaheim Ducks, 4-2, to improve to 5-1-0 on the season.

This was not the Bruins’ most complete game of the season, but it was good enough.

David Pastrnak is a goal scoring machine 

The Bruins’ big three at forward are as good as you will find anywhere in the NHL.

Everyone already knows about Patrice Bergeron and his two-way play that allows him to control the game in every situation.

Brad Marchand may not be Bergeron’s equal defensively, but he has blown by him offensively and has been a top-10 scoring forward for about four years now.

Then there is David Pastrnak, who might actually be the best pure goal-scorer out of the three and the one that gets talked about the least. That may soon start to change. He was my sleeper pick for the Rocket Richard award at the start of the year, and he dominated on Monday afternoon with his first career four-goal game, proving all of the offense for the Bruins in their win. It was just the second four-goal game by a Bruins forward over the past 20 years (Bergeron did it during the 2017-18 season, before that you have to go back to Dave Andreychuck in 1999).

He has three consecutive 34-goal seasons, including 38 a year ago in only 66 games. After his performance on Monday the only players with more goals than him since the start of the 2016-17 season are Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, and Auston Matthews.

This is already the third four-goal game in the NHL this season, joining Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal and Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha.

There were only four four-goal games in the NHL during the entire 2018-19 season.

Marchand’s troll game is already in midseason form

This is Brad Marchand at his agitating best.

He manages to get an extra shot in at Anaheim’s Max Comtois along the boards, and when Comtois tries to respond and get a shot in of his own Marchand still finds a way to get the best of him.

Marchand does a lot of things that are dangerous and make people justifiably mad, but this right here is kind of funny.

Goaltending masks a lot of flaws

Sometimes even the best teams will need to rely on their goalie to get them two points, and fortunately for the Bruins they have two goalies in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak that are capable of doing that on any given day.

The duo entered Monday with matching .957 save percentages on the season as they continue to split the early season workload. On Monday it was Halak doing the work in net turning aside 30 of the 32 shots he faced.

This is a great setup for the Bruins because it gives them a No. 1 option in goal every single night, and by splitting the playing time it it allows Rask — still their best and most important goalie — to not get worn down over the course of a long season and be fresh when they need him most (during the Stanley Cup Playoffs).

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Devils crumble again, blow another 3-goal lead to remain winless

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When Pavel Zacha scored his first goal of the season just one minute into the second period it gave the New Jersey Devils a three-goal lead over the Florida Panthers and seemed to send them on a path that might finally give them their first win of the season.

They not only failed to win their first game of the season, they ended up allowing five consecutive goals on their way to a 6-4 loss, dropping their record to 0-4-2 and sending them off the ice to a chorus of boos from their home fans.

Free agent acquisition Brett Connolly scored two goals for the Panthers to start the rally (including one with eight seconds to play in the second period), while MacKenzie Weegar, Noel Acciari, and Evgeni Dadonov added third period goals to complete the rally and give the Panthers a much-needed win.

Three quick takeaways on the latest Devils’ meltdown to open the season.

1. This is the second time they have lost a three-goal lead

This is almost hard to believe, but Monday’s loss was already the second time this season the Devils have lost a game in which they have at one point held a three-goal lead. They have only played six games! Doing that twice in a full season is bad enough, but to have it happen within the first six games is just an awful look for everyone involved.

Along with Monday’s meltdown, the Devils also lost a 4-0 lead in their season-opening shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

2. Jack Hughes can’t buy a break … or a point

For one split second on Monday it looked as if the No. 1 overall pick in the draft was going to finally collect his first point. He had the puck on his stick, Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was down and out, only for Hughes to ring his shot off the post and stay out of the net. He slammed his stick in frustration and remained pointless through the first six games of his career.

This is the longest a No. 1 overall pick has gone without recording their first point since Steven Stamkos went seven games for the Tampa Bay Lightning at the start of the 2008-09 season.

The good news for Hughes is that Stamkos went on to have a solid rookie season with a strong second half and starting the next year was one of the league’s best players. So it is obviously not time to worry about him or his development. The bad news for Hughes is he doesn’t have the same excuse Stamkos had for his slow start — a coach that didn’t want to play him right away.

3. Is it make-or-break time for John Hynes?

Not to put too much on one game, but the next time the Devils take the ice will be  at home against the New York Rangers, their biggest rival and the other big spending NHL team this summer.

These two teams and their rebuilds were always going to be measured against one other given their rivalry and the parallels that existed with their offseasons (the top two picks in the draft, big-name acquisitions all over each roster), and if the Devils lose that game to fall to 0-5-2 — well, Hynes’ already hot seat will no doubt increase a few degrees.

This is all part of a six-game home stand and if the Devils can not find a way to scratch out a couple of wins it is not a stretch to think that some major changes could be on the horizon for what has been one of the league’s most disappointing and underwhelming teams.

They are not just losing, they are getting crushed in every possible area.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.