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The Playoff Buzzer: Blues rally back against Jets; Sharks extend series vs. Golden Knights

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Although none of Thursday’s games were especially high-scoring affairs, they all started off with early goals. San Jose’s Tomas Hertl scored 1:16 minutes into his contest, Carolina’s Warren Foegele netted his goal 17 seconds in, and Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry was the quickest at just 12 seconds.

So far the road team has won every game of the St. Louis-Winnipeg series. It took a comeback win from the Blues in Winnipeg in Game 5 to keep that run going.

After getting off to a 2-0 series lead, the Washington Capitals have dropped two straight to Carolina. The Capitals aren’t truly in trouble yet, but it’s possible that we’ll see both Wild Card teams advance in the Eastern Conference.

Facing elimination, the Sharks were strong in Game 5. From the moment Hertl found the back of the net at 1:16, San Jose led for the rest of the game en route to a 5-2 victory.

Hurricanes 2, Capitals 1 (Series tied at 2-2)

The Carolina Hurricanes made a statement with their 5-0 win in Game 3, but that contest was the exception rather than the rule in what has been a series of tight games. As noted above, Carolina jumped to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Foegele, but Alex Ovechkin tied the contest on the power play at 10:35 of the second period. Teuvo Teravainen scored his first goal of the series in the final minute of the second to re-establish the lead. Despite the Capitals playing from behind in the third period, they only narrowly edged the Hurricanes in shots 8-7 in the final frame.

Blues 3, Jets 2 (St. Louis leads series 3-2)

Winnipeg had a 2-0 lead after one thanks to goals by Lowry and Kevin Hayes, but that first period could have gone much worse for the Blues. St. Louis forward Robert Thomas took a double minor for high-sticking at 9:31, but the Blues successfully killed it off. The Blues’ comeback took place entirely in the third period. Ryan O'Reilly capitalized on a power-play opportunity at 1:29 of the final period. Brayden Schenn tied it on a goal that needed to be reviewed due to the net coming off at the same time. Jaden Schwartz completed the comeback by scoring the winner with just 15 seconds left in the game.

Sharks 5, Golden Knights 2 (Vegas leads series 3-2)

After dropping three straight, this was a literal must-win game for San Jose and the Sharks answered the call. Hertl and Logan Couture established a 2-0 lead for the Sharks by 11:00 and San Jose also enjoyed 3-1 and 4-2 leads. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, who had been horrendous over the last three games, held his own in this one, stopping 30 of 32 shots.

Suspension Coming?

Washington’s T.J. Oshie was injured on a hit by Foegele late in the third period and is expected to miss some time. Foegele only got a boarding minor, which angered Ovechkin.

UPDATE: No.

Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek

Mrazek stopped 30 of 31 shots with his lone blemish being Ovechkin’s power-play goal. He’s now allowed just one goal over his last two starts after surrendering seven goals in the first two games.

2. Jordan Binnington

Binnington continues to be the driving force of the St. Louis Blues. He shook off an early goal in Thursday’s contest to help the Blues pull off their comeback win. Binnington turned aside 29 of 31 shots in Game 5.

3. Tomas Hertl

Hertl was the only player to have a multi-goal game on Thursday. He accounted for the Sharks’ opening goal at 1:16 and gave them some breathing room with his power-play marker at 14:45 of the third period.

Highlight of the Night

Let’s take another look at this close call that changed the course of the Jets-Blues game.

Factoids

Schwartz’s game-winning goal was the second latest scored in regulation time in St. Louis’ postseason history. The record holder is Gino Cavallini, who netted his goal at 19:51 of the third period in 1990. (NHL PR)

Mrazek has surrendered five goals on 83 shots since allowing three goals on his first eight shots of the 2019 playoffs. (Stephen Whyno)

With the two opening goals scored in the first minute of Thursday’s games, we’re up to five in Round 1. That puts us in a four-way tie for the most in an opening round with the other years being 1981, 2012, and 2016. (NHL PR)

Friday’s Games
Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (Series tied at 2-2) (7:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream)
Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames (Avalanche lead 3-1) (10:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream)

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Sharks stay alive, Jones rebounds vs. Golden Knights

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The San Jose Sharks will live to fight another day, and play another game.

San Jose swam into Game 5 on Thursday with their season on the line, and the Sharks responded with a 5-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights will have another chance to end this Round 1 series in Game 6 on Sunday, but the Sharks survived this first attempt.

Continuing the theme of Thursday, the first goal of the game quickly, as Tomas Hertl made it 1-0 just 1:16 into the contest. Logan Couture then made it 2-0, and it looked like the Sharks would run away with this … but then Martin Jones allowed a tough goal.

You could almost feel the collective groan from San Jose after Reilly Smith‘s fluke 2-1 goal, but luckily, Jones was able to bounce back. Sometimes in a big way.

The Golden Knights were pesky on Thursday, also reducing a 3-1 lead to 3-2, so Jones needed to be alert. He was more often than not, with this late save on Smith being absolutely crucial:

Jones ended Game 5 with 30 saves, and while many will continue to look at him as a liability, this victory very well might have restored Jones’ confidence in himself, and maybe the Sharks’ confidence in their starting goalie.

Of course, this is merely the first of three big steps if the Sharks hope to actually advance to Round 2, which would mean making a 3-1 series deficit dissolve.

If that happens, you can bet that Gerard Gallant would be very angry. That’s a scary thought, because witness Gallant’s frightening reaction after Tomas Hertl’s power-play goal. Gallant wasn’t happy that a high-sticking penalty was called, which dude, Logan Couture lost teeth, and Hertl quickly removed any real doubt about Game 5 with a 4-2 goal. Gallant then did a sarcastic smile + thumbs up combination that may haunt your very soul.

(GIF gold though, really.)

Anyway, the Sharks get that first must-win, while hockey fans get the win of this fascinating, sometimes-violent series going at least another game.

The Sharks hope to stay alive, and the Golden Knights hope to advance in Game 6 on Sunday. (livestream)

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.

Golden Knights even series with Sharks on night of wild swings

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This was a game of wild momentum swings and certainly had controversy, but when all was said-and-done, Vegas earned a 5-3 victory over San Jose to even the series at 1-1.

Early on, it didn’t look like this contest would be nearly as dramatic. Cody Eakin, Colin Miller, and Max Pacioretty each scored within the first 6:11 minutes of the game to chase Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.

Jones held his own in Game 1, but the 2018-19 campaign was a rough one for him and it raised questions about if the Sharks are truly a serious Stanley Cup contender with him between the pipes. Certainly this game did nothing to silence his critics, but San Jose’s night was far from over. With Aaron Dell now in net, the Sharks stormed back.

Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Joe Thornton scored within the span of just 2:09 minutes late in the first period and suddenly the game was actually tied going into the first intermission.

Things seemed to continue to go San Jose’s way when Brent Burns‘ shot beat Marc-Andre Fleury early in the second period. However, the goal was called back because Logan Couture’s elbow swung into Fleury’s head. The fact that the goal was waived off is something that most probably agree with, but it seems safe to say that Sharks fans and the Sharks themselves take issue with the goaltender inference penalty. To make matters worse for San Jose, that penalty proved to be critical as Mark Stone scored the game-winner on the subsequent power play.

Still, it would be wrong to suggest that San Jose was simply robbed Friday night, even if you do disagree with that call. The Sharks had eight power-play opportunities to Vegas’ three. Not only did San Jose only score on one of those power-play chances, but they surrendered two shorthanded goals, including one to William Karlsson at 7:35 of the third period to give the Golden Knights some breathing room.

Between Jones’ sloppy start and San Jose’s less than stellar showing when it came to special teams, it’s not hard to see how Vegas won this one.

Sharks-Golden Knights Game 3 from T-Mobile Arena will be Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Sharks seek to reverse late-season slide before playoffs

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Sharks were sailing along just two weeks ago, making a strong push for the top spot in the Western Conference to begin what they hoped would be a long playoff run.

Now with just more than a week left in the regular season, they’re struggling just to find a win and to hold on to home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Sharks head into a showdown weekend against the other top two teams in the Pacific Division having lost seven games in a row for the first time in more than six years and running out of time to fix their problems.

”I feel like we’re concerned,” forward Logan Couture said. ”We realize where we’re at this year, and how important this push is going to be coming up. How important it should have been the last seven games. You can’t go backward. You can’t change what’s already happened.”

The Sharks were in prime position after beating Minnesota and Winnipeg on back-to-back nights on the road March 11-12, taking over the top spot in the West following a six-game winning streak.

But they haven’t won since and haven’t even held a lead in the last three losses. They allowed three goals in the opening 11 minutes of a 5-4 loss to Chicago on Thursday night.

”Every game recently we’re just losing and hunting down,” forward Tomas Hertl said. ”We have to figure out a way to start early and start with the lead because it’s better to play with the lead than hunting it down every game.”

The skid has coincided with some key injuries to major players. Star defenseman Erik Karlsson went down with a groin injury on Feb. 26 in Boston and hasn’t played since. The Sharks did just fine without him, winning the next six games.

But then defenseman Radim Simek went down with a torn ACL in the win at Winnipeg and captain Joe Pavelski has missed five straight games with a lower-body injury.

Pavelski is expected back this weekend and the Sharks are hopeful that Karlsson will be able to return before the end of the regular season.

”I think we have time,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”We have two pretty good players sitting in the stands. Those guys will help. You can’t play behind in this game every night. I think that’s the one thing. If we can get that fixed I think the rest of the stuff will kind of roll into place.”

The major problem for the Sharks has been on the defensive end, where too many turnovers and breakdowns are leading to odd-man rushes and goalies Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have been unable to come up with key saves at big moments.

San Jose has allowed 31 goals during the skid, including at least four in six of the seven games. That was the problem against the Blackhawks, when two early penalties led to a 5-on-3 goal that started the three-goal barrage early. A fluky deflection proved to be the game-winner after the Sharks climbed back to tie the game at 4 in the second period.

”Scoring goals really hasn’t been an issue with our team this year,” Couture said. ”We’ve scored I think the top three or top five most goals in the league. It’s giving up goals, giving up easy goals, goals at the wrong times. Taking away our momentum. We score, we tie it up at 4, and then give one up a couple shifts later. It’s goals like that that we want to avoid.”

The skid has left the Sharks six points behind first-place Calgary with five games to go heading into Friday night. While catching the Flames will be a long shot, San Jose also must worry about holding off Vegas, which is only five points behind in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round.

Things could get more precarious if the Sharks don’t fix their problems this weekend when they host the Golden Knights and Calgary in back-to-back games.

”We worked awful hard for six, seven months to put ourselves in a spot where we have a chance over the next week to have home ice in the first round,” DeBoer said. ”We’ve got to work to get that done.”

Nyquist heating up for red-hot Sharks

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To plenty of people in the hockey world, the San Jose Sharks were one of the stealth winners of the trade deadline after landing Gustav Nyquist in a night owl trade with the Detroit Red Wings.

[More on the trade, including the cost for the Sharks.]

The winger had been quiet early on, only managing an empty-net goal through his first four games with the Sharks. Tuesday presented a possible breakthrough, as Nyquist scored two goals in San Jose’s 5-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets, giving him points (2G, 1A) during the Sharks’ back-to-back set.

Overall, Nyquist has three goals and four assists in seven games. Most importantly, the Sharks are red-hot, with six straight wins. They’ve only lost one time since landing Nyquist.

So, how is he integrating into the lineup, and how do the Sharks look with him? Some of this stuff will sneak under the radar, but it’s promising overall.

Nyquist’s first seven games with San Jose

So far, much of Nyquist’s points can be attributed to the great work of Tomas Hertl.

Nyquist’s first of four points in teal came on an empty-netter (albeit a fairly long-range one), but his other three can largely be credited to Hertl.

  • On Monday, Nyquist received a secondary assist on a Hertl goal. His part in that play seemed to have started before the goal highlight even began.
  • On Tuesday, Nyquist enjoyed that two-goal game. The first happened after Hertl made some dazzling dangles, opening things up for “The Goose” to bury the puck with a backhander.
  • Hertl didn’t get credited with an assist on Nyquist’s second goal, but he set the events in motion by creating space and sending the puck toward the Jets’ net. It was technically unsuccessful in that a Jets skater batted it away, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic was able to send it back, and the puck apparently deflected off of Nyquist.

So, while Nyquist has three goals and one assist for four points during his first seven games with the Sharks, he doesn’t really have a “signature” moment yet. But that doesn’t mean he’s playing poorly.

Take that two-goal Tuesday, for example. Sure, Hertl was the driving force on those two goals, but Nyquist generated six shots on goal, his most in any single game with the Sharks so far.

He’s been a nice addition in subtler ways, carrying over his strong possession numbers from Detroit to San Jose, as he’s been a boost to shot share relative to his teammates on both teams. Perhaps Nyquist will also make a more obvious impact as he gains Peter DeBoer’s trust? So far, the winger’s averaging 16 minutes of ice time per game with San Jose, down from his 18:07 TOI average with Detroit in 2018-19. It’s plausible that Nyquist won’t ever flirt with 18 minutes per night with San Jose, as the Sharks are pretty loaded (particularly compared to the rebuilding Red Wings), but even another shift or two per night could help him generate more offense.

The combination of Hertl and Nyquist could really give opposing teams headaches, especially since they’d likely draw easier matchups while Logan Couture and others would likely face top pairings and better skaters.

Maybe Nyquist won’t wow the Sharks enough to stay around (he’s a pending UFA), but it seems like he’s been a nice addition, one who could provide crucial depth during the battles of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Sharks are on a roll

Much like the Golden Knights rattling off wins even though Mark Stone was slow to score at first, the Sharks have been red-hot since acquiring Nyquist, whether you attribute that to the addition or count it as a coincidence.

After falling 4-1 to the Bruins during Nyquist’s first game with the Sharks on Feb. 26, San Jose’s now on a six-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 25-13 during that run.

They’ve actually been a bit less dominant at five-on-five during the past seven games versus their full-season stats (according to Natural Stat Trick), but that’s a small sample size … and possession monster Erik Karlsson has been sidelined since Feb. 26. All things considered, the Sharks sure seem formidable.

***

The ideal situation for San Jose would be that Nyquist will be fully acclimated to his new teammates by the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs (and Erik Karlsson can be healthy and rust-free by that same point). While some dreamed of Nyquist forming a rather overqualified third line with Joe Thornton, recent returns indicate that the Sharks might be onto something by pairing him with Hertl.

Nyquist hasn’t been lighting up scoreboards for the Sharks – yet? – but he’s been mixing in quite well, and the Sharks look like they’ll be difficult to deal with in a best-of-seven series.

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.