Healthy Vlasic making huge impact for Sharks

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The Vegas Golden Knights haven’t found getting shots on Martin Jones to be a particularly difficult task over the last two games. The problem is that Good Martin Jones returned in time for the San Jose Sharks to help force a Game 7 Tuesday night at SAP Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

In Game 5 the Golden Knights fired 32 shots towards Jones, only beating him twice during a 5-2 defeat. During Sunday’s double overtime loss, Vegas outshot San Jose 59-29 and couldn’t put the puck past Jones more than once. They’ve dominated possession in the last two games (60-39 Corsi percentage advantage at 5-on-5) but goaltending, which was the Sharks’ Achilles heel earlier in the series, has rebounded and brought us to this Game 7 scenario.

The other problem for their Golden Knights? Their dynamic second line has been held in check.

Mark Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty were extraordinary during the first four games of the series. The trio combined for 12 goals and 28 points, 10 of which came on the power play. They were unstoppable. Then Marc-Edouard Vlasic got healthy.

The Sharks defenseman, who was injured early in Game 2, returned for Game 5, the start of the San Jose comeback. Vlasic has spent a lot of time against that Golden Knights’ second line, and done a good job of limiting their chances. The trio is pointless in the last two games, managing a combined seven shots at even strength, per Natural Stat Trick.

“Shutting down the top line. That’s my job,” Vlasic said. “You look at the last two games, if I keep them off the scoresheet I did my job.”

Game 5 was a good example of what Vlasic can do when fully healthy. He broke up a 3-on-1 chance for the Golden Knights in the second period with the score tied 1-1 and later sent a one-touch pass to Tomas Hertl out of the Sharks’ zone in double OT, which resulted in the winning goal.

“He’s just always in the right place at the right time,” Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, who’s been a consistent partner of Vlasic’s, told Pro Hockey Talk earlier this season. “He’s got one of the best sticks in the league knocking down passes, breaking up plays. He’s got the ability to jump up into the play and finish. It’s what you want in a partner. He’s never outside of his game, pushing the pace too much. He makes every guy around him better.”

Vlasic has been an underrated defenseman for most of his career. He’s averaged 32 points a season through 965 NHL games and been a consistent positive possession player. Despite strong numbers at both ends of the ice, he’s never been a finalist for the Norris Trophy having finished 12th, 20th, 21st, and 11th in the voting in four of the past five seasons.

While 2018-19 was a tale of two halves for Vlasic, he’s returned to good form of late, which is something the Sharks have needed from their blue line.

Vlasic doesn’t stand out like a Brent Burns or an Erik Karlsson, he just does his job steadily, and Braun gets a close-up view of  those little impactful things that can easily missed.

“Just how many plays he breaks up,” said Braun. “Two-on-one, in the corner, shutting guys down. You’re talking about the best players in the world that can’t get away from him. He’s keeping them off the scoresheet every night. That’s the biggest thing. You don’t really see who’s breaking up the passes every time, but he’s right there. Good gap, making guys dump it in, you don’t notice that on TV.”

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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.

The Wraparound: Round 2 picture gets clearer with pair of Game 7s

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Round 1 is reaching its conclusion as we get to enjoy three Game 7s over the next two days. The fun begins tonight as the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Boston Bruins (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) and then the Vegas Golden Knights visit the San Jose Sharks (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream). We finish this dizzying opening round on Wednesday when the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals try to defend home ice against the Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

The Maple Leafs and Bruins meet yet again in a Game 7 in Round 1. The Bruins prevailed last season as well as that memorable final game in 2013. They currently own a five-game playoff series winning streak over Toronto, who have not won a round since 2004.

Per the NHL, the Bruins and Maple Leafs are the seventh set of franchises in league history to require a Game 7 in consecutive years, joining the Canadiens-Red Wings (1954 SCF, 1955 SCF), Blackhawks-Red Wings (1964 SF, 1965 SF), Avalanche-Stars (1999 CF, 2000 CF), Avalanche-Kings (2001 CSF, 2002 CQF), Capitals-Rangers (2012 CSF, 2013 CQF) and Kings-Sharks (2013 CSF, 2014 R1).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Another fun stat: When Zdeno Chara hits the ice, he’ll play in his 13th career Game 7, tying Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens for most all-time.

When the puck drops at SAP Center, the Golden Knights will be playing in their first ever Game 7. The Sharks, meanwhile, are veterans in this do-or-die scenarios, entering Tuesday with a 6-4 record in such playoff games.

Martin Jones, whose 58-save performance in Game 6 is a big reason why we’re here, is one of six different San Jose goaltenders to have won a Game 7. A victory tonight would make him the first netminder in franchise history with multiple wins in a Game 7. His opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury, has three career Game 7 wins, all coming on the road.

Henrik Lundqvist, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur hold the NHL record with six Game 7 victories.

Here are three trends via the NHL to keep an eye on over the next two days:

Of the 172 all-time Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs…
• The team that scores first is 128-44 (.744)
• Home teams own a 100-72 record (.581)
• Forty-one have required overtime (23.8%). Home teams have a 21-20 edge.

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

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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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Game 7s ahead after Jones, Marchand star for Sharks, Bruins

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  • Brad Marchand had three points to help the Boston Bruins force a Game 7 on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Martin Jones made 58 saves and Tomas Hertl scored shorthanded in double overtime to also set a Game 7 date Tuesday between the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. 

Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 2 (Series tied 3-3)

The Maple Leafs had a chance to rid themselves of their demons when it comes to the Bruins. Instead, they’ll have to face them head on in Game 7 for the third time in six years on Tuesday. Brad Marchand had a three-point game, including two goals, as the Bruins ensured TD Garden will see at least one more game this season. The Maple Leafs have two Game 7s to the Bruins since 2013. It will either be a hat trick for Boston or redemption for Toronto on Tuesday night.

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 [2OT] (Series tied 3-3)

An all-time heroic performance by a goalie that spurned a tired team to victory. These aren’t stories that are commonly written in the annals of hockey history, but Martin Jones produced something special and Tomas Hertl obliged his goalie, scoring a shorty in double overtime in one of the craziest games in this playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three stars

1. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Something about 58 saves over four-and-a-half periods of hockey. Jones should be shrouded with love and gifts by his teammates after giving them every reason to forge ahead and find a winner when the Sharks looked dead tired.

Jones set a franchise record with those 58 saves in one of the greatest goaltending performances in years. Jones made 88 saves over Game 5 and Game 6 to help pull San Jose back from being 3-1 down in the series to now have a chance to close it out in Game 7 on Tuesday. It’s remarkable, given Jones was yanked in two of the first four games and gave up six in another.

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Three points for hockey’s favorite pest/superstar. Marchand scored off a faceoff in the first period to tie the game 1-1 and then drove the final dagger to force Game 7 on an empty netter with less than two minutes to go.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

Someone needed to be a hero at the other end of the ice while Jones was playing the role in San Jose’s zone. Who knew it would come on shorthanded?

Whatever it was, Hertl found the energy to will a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury with the Sharks down a man after a slashing call on Barclay Goodrow around the midway point of the second overtime period.

Highlight of the night

How could it be anything other than a Game 6 double-overtime, shorthanded game-winning goal?

Factoids of the night

Monday’s games

Game 6: Capitals at Hurricanes (WSH leads 3-2), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 6: Predators at Stars (DAL leads 3-2), 8:30 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)


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

Jones stops 58, Hertl scores shorthanded in double OT as Sharks force Game 7

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Martin Jones wouldn’t face the media following a Game 4 benching following a disastrous first period.

The official story from the San Jose Sharks’ public relations team was that the couldn’t find the embattled goaltender. This was hardly surprising after Jones had been chased twice in the first four games of the series, including Game 4 after two goals on seven shots led to his benching.

However long Jones was lost for, he emerged as the starter for Game 5 and began what would become a mini redemption tour, one that will make a stop in Game 7 on Tuesday after the Sharks battle back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Vegas Golden Knights, winning Game 6 on Sunday night 2-1 in double overtime at T-Mobile Arena.

And what theatrics he had to make getting there, stopping 58 shots total to set a new franchise record in any game in their history, and a shorthanded snipe by Tomas Hertl just when it looks like Vegas might finally breach Jones’ defenses.

Part of sticking with Jones came down to not having a better alternative. Aaron Dell, San Jose’s backup, fared no better between the pipes as Mark Stone et al crushed the Sharks.

Vegas, of course, knows a thing or two about incredible goaltending — it carried them to the Stanley Cup Final last season. On Sunday, it obstructed them from taking another step toward hockey’s holy grail.

The Sharks really had no business being in a tie game when the clock read zeroes after three periods. Jones made it possible.

Jones has worn a couple hats in this series. He’s a big reason why the Sharks found themselves trailing 3-1 in the series. He allowed a whopping 11 goals on 54 shots between Game 2 and Game 4, a save percentage that is almost unfathomable.

Somewhere between his disappearance after Game 4 and being located in time for Game 5, Jones had some sort of epiphany. Horrible regular-season save percentage be damned, he was going to show everyone.

And he has.

Jones made 30 saves while facing elimination in Game 5 a couple of days ago to pull a game back for the Sharks. On Sunday, Jones had to be sharp again, stopping 17 shots in each of the second and third periods as the Sharks were wildly outplayed.

Somehow Hertl found the oomph needed to work Shea Theodore, sniping a wrister from the top of the left circle.

As crazy as this series has been, it gets more nutzo knowing that there’s yet to be a lead change through six games. The Sharks are also 35-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer. Vegas set a new record for shots on goal in a game with 59. They had 119 shot attempts, which is all sorts of madness.

And it all sets up for a brilliant Tuesday night where the Sharks and Golden Knights will join the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for a Game 7 extravaganza.

The hockey world can hardly wait.


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

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.