Dylan Gambrell

Blues move to Stanley Cup Final after sinking Sharks

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The last time the St. Louis Blues made it to a Stanley Cup Final, it was all the way back in 1969-1970. They were swept by the Boston Bruins during that long-ago visit, with Bobby Orr’s famous leaping goal putting a bow on things. So, the current-day Blues hope that this … “rematch” goes far better.

To get this far, the Blues had to beat the San Jose Sharks, the team that most recently knocked them out of a Round 3 series back in 2015-16.

An injured Sharks team just didn’t have enough to push through the bruising Blues in Game 6 on Tuesday, as St. Louis won 5-1 to win the series 4-2. With that, the Blues will take on what’s sure to be a well-rested (maybe too rested?) Bruins team in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

An empty-netter inflated the score in Game 6, and Tyler Bozak‘s 4-1 insurance tally happened fairly late in the proceedings, so this one was pretty close at times. That said, the Sharks ultimately only got so close before the Blues pulled far ahead.

Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final takes place in Boston at 8 p.m. ET on Monday. Click here for the full schedule and TV info.

Tough start, and finish, for Sharks

Being without Joe Pavelski, Erik Karlsson, and Tomas Hertl was already a tough way for San Jose to start Game 6, and didn’t really get better from there, as David Perron deflected a puck past Martin Jones to make it 1-0 for St. Louis just 1:32 in. Things looked pretty dire for the Sharks heading into the first intermission, after Vladimir Tarasenko‘s power-play goal made it 2-0.

Credit the Sharks for continuing to fight, but credit the Blues for taking it to the Sharks to give San Jose little hope of actually winning that fight.

Dylan Gambrell ended up being one of the Sharks who drew into action thanks to all of those injuries, so he made for a great story by scoring his first NHL goal in his first playoff game. The Sharks embraced that added life, briefly, as Logan Couture almost scored before Colton Parayko cleared the puck from Jordan Binnington‘s crease. But it remained 2-1, and Gambrell’s goal ended up being a fun footnote instead of a turning point.

Not long after that brief surge, the Blues got their two-goal lead right back. Brayden Schenn‘s been agonizingly close to scoring for a while now, so he was clearly relieved when he scored the 3-1 goal on the power play. Maybe that goal drought explains the creativity of Schenn’s sword-sheathing celebration?

Blues, Binnington shut the door

It wasn’t just Schenn who was struggling to score late in this series. The Sharks, as a team, were just as cold when it came to piercing the Blues’ defense, and during the rare moments when they found space, Binnington was usually up to the task.

The Blues were clearly content to sit on their 3-1 lead during the third period, and Binnington made sure that such a strategy worked out. He made some tremendous saves against Evander Kane and Logan Couture, including stopping Couture on a semi-breakaway, earning a big cheer from an appreciative crowd in St. Louis.

The Blues won Game 4 by a score of 2-1, then handed the Sharks a disastrous 5-0 defeat in Game 5. So, during these last three games, San Jose only managed two goals overall. Heading into the postseason, it seemed like Martin Jones would be the problem if the Sharks fell short. While Jones faced his highs and lows, the Sharks’ seemingly explosive lineup simply ran out of firepower.

***

Now, the Sharks must face an uncertain offseason with Erik Karlsson, Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Gustav Nyquist heading toward unrestricted free agency. As much as this run has been about the likes of Hertl and Timo Meier (a pending RFA) emerging as the future of the Sharks alongside Couture, the Sharks’ path ahead seems a little murky. This was a memorable and exciting run for the Sharks, yet it ends with that all-too-familiar empty feeling.

The Blues, meanwhile, face a straightforward future, but one that likely brings plenty of bumps in the road. Beat the Bruins and win that first-ever Stanley Cup, or repeat decades-old history.

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.

Pavelski joins Karlsson, Hertl as Sharks missing Game 6

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It was already clear that the San Jose Sharks would face the St. Louis Blues without Erik Karlsson and Tomas Hertl. Now it’s confirmed that they’ll try to stave off elimination without their captain.

Joe Pavelski didn’t participate in warm-ups for Game 6 on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream), so it’s clear that he’ll be out, too.

With those three out, three Sharks draw into the lineup: forwards Dylan Gambrell and Marcus Sorensen, along with defenseman Tim Heed.

Here’s how the lines look:

No doubt about it, the Sharks are in an extremely tough spot. Really, they would have been even if they had Karlsson, Hertl, and Pavelski, as they’re hoping to win Game 6 on the road against a sharp Blues team. But these circumstances make matters even worse.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Blues scored a 1-0 goal about 90 seconds into Game 6, so the hits keep coming for San Jose.

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.

Sharks best positioned to withstand big early season injury

Doug Wilson didn’t go looking for Joe Thornton insurance last summer. The general manager of the San Jose Sharks already had it.

The Sharks didn’t panic when they found out their longtime star had another setback with a series of nagging right knee injuries. They knew what they could count on from captain Joe Pavelski and the rest of the supporting cast.

”We’re very fortunate we have a lot of players that can go up and down in the lineup,” Wilson said. ”Our players just look at it as they just move up a role or slip into a different position, and it’s not really that much of an adjustment for them because they’ve done it before.”

All over the NHL, teams are adjusting on the fly to a surprising number of significant injuries early in the season, including a handful of starting goaltenders.

The Kings are calling Jonathan Quick week-to-week with a lower-body injury. The Panthers will be without Roberto Luongo for two to four weeks because of a sprained ligament in his right knee, and the Penguins don’t know when Matt Murray will be back after being diagnosed with yet another concussion.

The Flyers have ruled out high-priced forward James van Riemsdyk for the next five to six weeks, and the Blue Jackets are without top defenseman Seth Jones and center Brandon Dubinsky .

The Sharks in particular seem best prepared to withstand the loss of Thornton because of organizational depth in the form of summer addition Antti Suomela and ready-made NHL forwards like Rourke Chartier, Marcus Sorensen and Dylan Gambrell.

The Sharks hope doctors caught the infection in Thornton’s knee early enough that he won’t be out too long. Still, Wilson expected to use 28 or 29 players this season and credits the versatility of players on the roster and coaching of Peter DeBoer for having San Jose ready for this scenario.

”When you lose a difference-maker, no team can just plug and play to replace a difference-maker. But then you become the sum of all your parts,” Wilson said. ”A lot of our guys are not kids. … When people say they’re new or younger, they’re actually mature players. And most importantly our coaches and our players trust them, and that’s half the battle.”

No GM can go into an offseason making moves on the uncertain scenario that a star will go down. But previous experiences paved the way for Los Angeles, Columbus and Florida to have a plan in place.

Quick missed four months two seasons ago, and Luongo sat out two months with a groin injury last year. Florida has backup James Reimer signed long term as an option already, and Los Angeles traded for former top prospect Jack Campbell and brought back veteran Peter Budaj as depth.

”We’ve experienced it here two years in a row,” Kings GM Rob Blake said. ”We lost Quickie for four or five months and Jeff Carter the same last year. (Coach John Stevens’) message is the same: the next guy up, someone’s going to come in and fill that spot. Will he be at the level of Jonathan Quick? Will he be at the level of Jeff Carter or (Anze) Kopitar? Probably not. But they are adequate players, and the rest around have to be better, too.”

The Penguins for now are counting on young goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry to shoulder the load without Murray. Knowing them from his time in Pittsburgh, Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury said: ”They’re both very talented goalies. … I’m sure they’ll be fine.”

Often, it’s not about one player filling a void. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen doesn’t expect one defenseman to replace Jones or one center to step right into Dubinsky’s role.

”If somebody comes from being the seventh, eighth defenseman to thinking he’s going to play 27 minutes to replace Seth Jones with all his strengths, probably either he shouldn’t be the seventh defenseman or he’s got unrealistic expectations,” Kekalainen said. ”Everybody who’s coming into the lineup from outside of the lineup should have their eyes wide open with the opportunity in front of them, but also realizing what their own strengths are and what their role on the team is and how they can be successful.”

That’s the case in Philadelphia, where Jordan Weal gets the first crack at filling in for van Riemsdyk after being a healthy scratch the first two games of the season. Like the Sharks, the Flyers believe they have flexibility among their forwards.

”We have a lot of players that are versatile in terms of being able to play the middle or play the wing,” coach Dave Hakstol said. ”In the short term, that’ll challenge us and challenge our depth and challenge somebody else to step in and do a good job.”

VEGAS ADVERSITY

After losing just two of their first 10 games last season as an expansion team, the Golden Knights have already lost twice in their first three games. For a Vegas team that didn’t face much adversity in a charmed inaugural season that included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s a chance for coach Gerard Gallant to emphasize some fundamentals with a tough road schedule early.

”I thought we played loose and were not concentrating enough and were making mental mistakes,” Gallant said. ”So, it’s just about getting focused and getting ready to play every game.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals host a 2019 favorite in the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

LEADERS (THROUGH MONDAY)

Goals: Auston Matthews (Toronto), 5; Assists: Brad Marchand (Boston), 7; Points: Matthews (8); Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 28:44; Wins: John Gibson (Anaheim), 3; Goals-against average: Ben Bishop (Dallas), 0.50; Save percentage: Bishop, .984.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

It’s San Jose Sharks day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the San Jose Sharks. 

2017-18
45-27-10, 100 pts. (3rd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights, second round

IN
Antti Suomela

OUT
Joel Ward
Mike Hoffman
Mikkel Boedker
Jannik Hansen
Eric Fehr
Paul Martin

RE-SIGNED
Evander Kane
Joe Thornton
Logan Couture
Tomas Hertl
Chris Tierney
Dylan DeMelo

– – –

The San Jose Sharks proved that life will go on without Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.

The two had been mainstays in the Sharks lineup for years — and a big factor in their success and cohesiveness as a team — but Marleau departed for Toronto prior to last season and Thornton spent roughly half of the season nursing injury.

And still, the show went on.

The Sharks battled to a third-place finish in the Pacific Division with 100 points, securing a date with the Anaheim Ducks in the first round where they swept their California rivals in four games.

It was in the second round where the Sharks hit a road bump, namely Marc-Andre Fleury. They simply couldn’t beat the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender, suffering the same fate as the Los Angeles Kings before them and the Winnipeg Jets after.

But given what they were able to do (mostly) without two of the pillars of the team (at least up until Marleau left), it’s both impressive and assuring for Sharks fans that the talent they’ve developed is able to carry the torch into the future.

The big news of the season came on trade deadline day when the general manager Doug Wilson trade for Evander Kane, injecting the team with a former 30-goal scorer. Kane put up nine goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Sharks after the trade — including a four-goal game — and five more points in nine playoff games, the first time he had played in the postseason.

[Under Pressure: Kane | Breakthrough: Meier | 3 Questions]

The relationship blossomed and the Sharks handed Kane a seven-year, $49 million contract in May. That’s a lot of money for a forward who is now being paid like a franchise player and has yet to record a 60-point season in the NHL.

But there’s optimism.

For one, Kane feels accepted.

“The one thing about this team, this group and this organization is they allow you to be yourself,” Kane told TSN.ca. “They embrace you for who you are and it’s a very unselfish group that makes it super-easy to come into and mesh well with.”

And Kane now has a litany of talent that the Sharks have that can feed him the puck.

Speaking of that talent, the Sharks have made just one addition this summer, signing free agent center Antti Suomela to a one-year contract after he led the Finnish Liiga in scoring with 60 points in 59 games. The Sharks have chosen to focus re-signing their core pieces that are going to propel them for years to come.

Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, Dylan Demelo and Jumbo Joe, who is back for another season at 39 years of age, have all re-upped with the club.

Suomela will compete for a fourth line spot with prospect Dylan Gambrell.

The Sharks still have $4.3 million in cap space, so another late-summer move isn’t out of the question.

Prospect Pool

Ryan Merkley, D, 18, Guelph Storm (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Merkley was drafted 21st over this past June and slides right into the top prospect ranking for the Sharks. Merkley is fast. Very fast. And he gets up and down the ice and side to side as quick as anyone. Merkley excels as an offensive defenseman. He had 13 goals and 67 points in 63 games in the Ontario Hockey League this season. He was on a lot of teams’ do-not draft lists but could become one of the best defensemen to come out of the draft.

• Dylan Gambrell, C, 21, University of Denver (NCAA) – 2016 second-round pick

Gambrell has a legitimate shot to make the Sharks as their fourth-line center this season, a spot that will be up for grabs come training camp. The three-year veteran at Denver signed an entry-level contract this past spring and played three games with the Sharks. If he doesn’t make the club, he’ll play with the Barracuda. But Wilson believes Gambrell has the IQ for the NHL.

“We believe his speed, combined with his high-end hockey IQ, make him ready to be an NHL player,” Wilson said when they signed Gambrell. “We are confident that, with his skill-set, he will make an impact with our team.”

• Antti Suomela, C, 24, Jyvaskyla (Liiga) – Free agent signing

Suomela comes into the fold on a one-year, entry-level contract with the Sharks after pacing the Finnish Elite League in points this past season. He helped lead Jyvaskyla to a Champions Hockey League championship and was named to the league’s all-star team. As mentioned with Gambrell, the Sharks have a need on the fourth line and both he and Suomela will be tasked with filling it.

MORE: PHT Time Machine: 1991 dispersal draft and birth of the Sharks

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks flip Hoffman to Panthers; Clearing space for Kovalchuk, Tavares?

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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Mike Hoffman has been traded.

Hours after going from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Hoffman found himself on the move, again, as the Sharks flipped him to the Florida Panthers along with a seventh-round pick in 2018. In return, the Panthers gave up second-rounder in 2019, a fourth and fifth-round pick in 2018.

“Mike is a skilled, consistent and hard-working player who has proven himself to be a talented goal scorer in the NHL,” said Panthers general manager Tallon. “His speed, experience and offensive abilities will bolster our top-six group.”

Obviously, we know what the Panthers are getting in Hoffman. He’s scored at least 22 goals in each of his last four seasons, but he comes with some baggage. Hoffman’s fiancee, Monika Caryk, had an order of protection filed against her by Erik Karlsson‘s wife, Melinda, last month.The Hoffmans have since denied those allegations, but it made for a messy situation in Ottawa.

The Sens were motivated to unload Hoffman as soon as possible, but they obviously took an inferior deal to make sure he didn’t stay in the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately for the Senators, the Sharks seemed to have pulled a fast one on them.

You’re probably wondering why San Jose would acquire the 28-year-old from Ottawa just to ship him away hours later. Well, they managed to dump underachieving forward Mikkel Boedker‘s $4 million salary to Ottawa in the first trade and now they’ve sent Hoffman’s $5.187 million salary to Florida for draft picks.

“This series of trades has allowed us to accomplish several organizational goals,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “We have witnessed some tremendous growth in our younger forwards over the past season and we feel that we have another group of players that are ready to challenge for additional ice time, including Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen, Dylan Gambrell, Max Letunov, Rudolphs Balcers, Antti Suomela, Vincent Praplan and Lukas Radil. These transactions have also allowed us to add to our pool of draft selections, as well as free up a substantial amount of cap space for internal and external player options in the coming months.”

The Sharks have been linked to both John Tavares and Ilya Kovalchuk, so you’d have to imagine that this extra cap space they’ve created will go towards trying to sign one or both of those players.

The salary cap is expected to jump to anywhere between $78 million and $82 million. If we split the difference and project ahead to a cap of $80 million, that would leave the Sharks with $16.5 million. They still have to re-sign RFAs Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney, so it’s more realistic to assume that they would only be able to afford one of Kovalchuk or Tavares. But if today’s trades have taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible when it comes to hockey transactions.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.