Matt Nieto

Sharks hope for Pavelski’s return before Game 7 against Avs

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Captain Joe Pavelski was getting staples put into his bloody head when the San Jose Sharks staged an epic comeback in Game 7 of the opening round against Vegas.

Now that the Sharks have been forced into another ultimate game after missing a chance to eliminate Colorado in an overtime loss on the road, they are hopeful of getting their leader back on the ice for the first time since then.

Perhaps the biggest question heading into Game 7 at the Shark Tank on Wednesday night (9 p.m. EDT, NBCSN) is whether Pavelski will be healthy enough to make a dramatic return against the Avalanche. Coach Peter DeBoer said that will happen as soon as doctors give him the OK.

”I’m not hiding anything,” DeBoer said Tuesday. ”He’s day to day. He’s getting better every day. We’re going to make a decision on game days whether he’ll be available or not.”

The winner of the game advances to play the winner of Tuesday night’s Game 7 between Dallas and St Louis.

Pavelski’s injury happened midway through the third period in Game 7 against Vegas on April 23 with San Jose trailing 3-0. He was cross-checked by Cody Eakin after a faceoff and then bumped by Paul Stastny before falling awkwardly to the ice head first. The impact of Pavelski’s helmet slamming the ice knocked him out briefly and caused him to bleed from his head.

A dazed Pavelski was helped off the ice by his teammates and then had eight staples put in his head to stop the bleeding. While that was going on, his teammates scored four power-play goals during the major penalty to Eakin that even Pavelski acknowledged was not warranted.

San Jose ultimately won the game on Barclay Goodrow‘s overtime goal to advance to the second round. Pavelski was unable even to travel to Colorado for Games 3 and 4 but got back on the ice while his teammates were away last week. He made an emotional appearance at the Shark Tank during the third period of Game 5 to fire up the crowd and traveled to Denver for Game 6 where he took part in the morning skate.

”It still really is day-to-day,” Pavelski said before Game 6. ”Wish I had a set-in-stone answer – go here, do this and be ready. We’re taking everything into play.”

No matter what happens with Pavelski, the Sharks will need better performances from several of their other forwards who have been mostly invisible this series. San Jose was supposed to have the better depth up front but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc have gone five straight games without a point, Evander Kane and Marcus Sorensen haven’t recorded a point for four straight games and the fourth line has generated almost no offense.

Colorado has six forwards with at least two goals this series, including secondary options like J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Colin Wilson and Matt Nieto. The Sharks have just three with Couture’s three goals all coming in a Game 3 win, Tomas Hertl‘s two coming in a Game 5 victory and Timo Meier scoring one of his two into an empty net.

Compher scored twice in regulation in Game 6 and assisted on Jost’s goal as well as the Avalanche managed to get the game into overtime despite its top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen being on the ice for all three San Jose goals in regulation.

”They’ve been unbelievable all playoffs, all season,” Compher said of Colorado’s Big Three. ”The depth guys, we’ve got to step up when we can. Guys were stepping up all over the place and that’s why we’re in the spot we are.”

That spot is one win away from Colorado’s first appearance in the conference finals since 2002. Getting there hasn’t been easy. The Avalanche had to knock off the top seed in the West, Calgary, in the first round and has never led in this series with the Sharks taking all the odd-numbered games and Colorado answering after that.

Even the Game 6 win at home proved treacherous with the Avalanche blowing a one-goal lead three times before finally winning on Landeskog’s overtime goal.

”We knew it wasn’t supposed to be easy, nobody said it was going to be,” Landeskog said. ”For us we try to reload. As frustrating as it was to keep losing those leads we tried to reset and go back at it.”

Facing elimination isn’t a new feeling for the Sharks, who won three win-or-go-home games in the first round against Vegas when they overcame a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history.

This veteran team is playing its third Game 7 at home in the past four years, having beaten Nashville in the second round in 2016 and the Golden Knights two weeks ago.

”Instead of a fear or a nervousness there’s an excitement about them,” DeBoer said. ”We do have guys that have participated in them in the past. Does that count for anything? I don’t know. I’d like to think it does. I do know this. Our guys have a comfort level in big games.”

AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.

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

Couture’s hat trick gives Sharks 2-1 series lead vs. Avs

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After his heroics in Game 7 of Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights, Logan Couture had a bit of a quiet spell to start the San Jose Sharks’ Round 2 series against the Colorado Avalanche.

Had.

See, a player of Couture’s ilk and playoff prowess wasn’t going to be held at bay for long.

On Tuesday night, Couture unleashed goals No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 of this postseason in a Game 3 hat trick where his provided an answer to surge from the Avalanche in the third period and sealed the deal with an empty-netter to complete his hat trick to push the Sharks to a 2-1 series lead with a 4-2 Game 3 win.

Couture’s playoff career can only be described as elite.

He now has more playoff goals than anyone not named Alex Ovechkin (Couture’s 43 is seven behind Ovi’s 50) since 2010, and he’s is sixth in playoff scoring (92 points in 106 games) in that span, too.

Couture’s goal, statistically important to his own legacy, was critical in stopping the bleeding.

The Sharks dominated the first two periods, keeping Colorado to 17 shots through 40 minutes, but Nathan MacKinnon was afforded some time and space in the later stage of the second and, well, the predictable occurred.

The goal sparked the Avs, who came out with a flurry in the third. They hit pay dirt, too, as Matt Nieto tied the game when a point shot ping-ponged off his body, off Martin Jones and into the back of the net to level the score 2-2.

Jones hadn’t seen much rubber up until that point, but it was hard to fault him on either goal against on Tuesday. MacKinnon’s goal was hard to spot even on a slow-motion replay. Nieto’s, meanwhile, took so many bounces you’d think you were in the kid’s area at McDonald’s.

Jones, who was the biggest question mark coming into the series, made 25 saves, stopping 10-of-11 in the third.

Both power plays went 0-for-4. Of course, that hurts the Avs more than the Sharks given the result, and Colorado had some looks but just couldn’t convert, including on a tripping call on Couture with 2:56 left in the game.

Couture’s second of the game came 65 seconds after Nieto’s tying goal and the hat-trick marker came after his time in the sin bin had expired.

Timo Meier‘s name shouldn’t be forgotten in Couture’s shadow.

Meier played a part in Couture’s first two goals and added one of his own in the second period to put San Jose up 2-0.

Game 4 goes Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 


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

PHT Power Rankings: Most surprising scorers in 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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You never know which player is going to emerge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a difference-maker.

It is not always the superstars.

While you certainly need your best players to shine if you are going to be the team lifting the Stanley Cup, it is not always going to about them when it comes to reaching that point. Sometimes they get shut down as the stars on either side cancel each other out in a best-of-seven series. When that happens it is going to come down to which team’s depth players can make an impact and get hot for a few weeks.

Sometimes you need someone else to emerge as a surprising source of offense.

That is the direction we are headed in this week’s PHT Power Rankings as we look at some of the most surprising scorers in this postseason.

Are some of these runs unsustainable and the result of a short-term spike in shooting percentage? You bet they are! And there is nothing wrong with that, because every team that ends up winning a championship has one or two of these players get hot at the right time. Luck? Clutch? Call it whatever you want, but it is a necessary ingredient to win.

Also just want to point this out at the beginning: The only team to not have a player mentioned in this week’s Power Rankings is the Columbus Blue Jackets. That is not meant to be a slight or an omission, it is just that they do not really have anyone at this point that qualifies as a “surprise” point producer. The players driving their offense right now are the exact players you expect to be driving it: Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Zach Werenski. Their stars are playing like stars. So far, they really have not needed a depth player to shine.

With that said, let’s go on to the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. In his first 71 games during the regular season Foegele scored just seven goals for the Hurricanes. That’s it. Seven. In the 15 games that have followed (six regular season games, nine playoff games) he has scored eight goals, including five in the playoffs to lead the team. He also leads all NHL players this postseason with five even-strength goals. He continued his late-season surge on Sunday when he scored the game-tying goal early in the third period of the Hurricanes’ 2-1 come-from-behind win and was a constant source of offense in their Round 1 upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The Hurricanes have been hammered by injuries in these playoffs but just keep finding ways to win, and the emergence of Foegele (even if it is the result of a 33 percent shooting percentage right now) is a big reason why.

2. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Prior to his trade to Boston at the deadline, Coyle was having a really down year for the Minnesota Wild and things didn’t get much better for him after being sent to the Bruins. In his first 21 games with his new team he managed just two goals and was looking to be a bit of a disappointment as a deadline acquisition. Not anymore. Late season additions like Coyle are usually measured by what they do in the postseason, and through the first two games of Round 2 he is leading the team in goals (five) and is second in total points (seven). Some of those goals have been massive ones, including the overtime winner in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets after tying the game late in regulation, and an early goal in Game 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs that set the tone for them to even that series.

3. Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars. When you play the Stars you know you are going to have to shut down their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. And as expected, all three have been great so far in the playoffs. What has made the Stars such a dangerous team now is the emergence of a second scoring line that has helped balance their lineup and take some of the pressure off of their top trio. It is there that we find Hintz, a 22-year-old rookie, that has caught fire over the past five games and enters Game 3 of their series against the St. Louis Blues just one point back of Benn for the team lead in scoring with seven points. He and Mats Zuccarello have been tremendous together and were dominant in the Stars’ Game 2 win in St. Louis.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. They may not be a lot of household names, but the Hurricanes’ defense is one of the best units in the NHL from top to bottom. They are all young, they are all signed long-term, and they are all really good when it comes to limiting shots and chances against their goalies. Slavin is one of the best all-around players out of that group, but his best asset has probably always been his ability to shut teams down. He is still helping to do that in the playoffs, but has also been a surprising point producer having already recorded 10 assists (tops in the NHL this postseason) in his first nine games. Seven of those assists have come during 5-on-5 play, an area where no other player in the NHL has more than five this postseason.

5. Matt Nieto, Colorado Avalanche. Nieto scored just four goals in 64 regular season games for the Avalanche. He already has three goals (to go with two assists) in seven postseason games. What is even more astonishing is that two of those goals this postseason are shorthanded goals. For his career, he had just four shorthanded goals (total) in 402 regular season games. He also scored a huge goal on Sunday night to help the Avalanche even their series with the San Jose Sharks.

6. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. A sixth-round pick by the Sharks in 2014, Labanc has shown steady improvement all three years he has been in the NHL and has really made an impact in the playoffs. He had four points as part of their insane Game 7 rally against the Vegas Golden Knights, and then scored an absolute beauty of a goal in Game 1 against the Avalanche to help the Sharks jump out to an early season lead.

7. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has been a really good player in St. Louis for a few years now, and you can usually pencil him in for 25 goals and 50 points at the start of every season and he won’t let you down. This season was the exception, mainly due to the fact he was hammered by a 6 percent shooting percentage that was significantly below his career average. That is how he makes the cut as a “surprising” scorer this postseason. Eventually, though, regression to the mean kicks in and some of those bounces he wasn’t getting during the regular season will start going his way. That has happened in the playoffs where he has already scored five goals for the Blues (after scoring just 11 in 69 regular season games). That includes a stretch where he scored four consecutive Blues goals to finish off the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, scoring a late-game-winning goal in Game 5, and then scoring all three goals in their series-clinching Game 6 win.

8. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. The only reason he is eighth is because, well, he has traditionally been a really good top-six winger. He is not some young player that came out of nowhere with a hot streak, or a role player that just happened to go on a goal-scoring run at the right time. But like Schwartz in St. Louis, he did have a bit of a down regular season for the Islanders so that makes his resurgence here in the postseason at least a little bit of a surprise. So far he has at least one point in five of the Islanders’ first six games, and scored at least one goal in each of their four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with all of those goals being game-changers.

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.

Barrie the difference as Avalanche take Game 2, even series with Sharks

Tyson Barrie is sometimes the forgotten member of the Colorado Avalanche core.

While forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog get most of the attention — and deservedly so — for their All-Star level production and consistent offensive dominance, Barrie has quietly been one of the league’s most productive defenders and a huge part of their team for several years now.

He was the difference in Game 2 of their Round 2 series against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Barrie scored a goal and recorded two assists — his second three-point game of the postseason — to help lead the Avalanche to a 4-3 win that tied the series at one game apiece.

He recorded an assist in the second period when Landeskog deflected his shot behind Martin Jones to tie the game, and then gave the Avalanche the lead just eight minutes later with his first goal of the playoffs.

He also picked up an assist on Matt Nieto‘s third period goal that extended their lead.

Barrie’s goal came with a little bit of controversy. After the Avalanche dumped the puck into the Sharks’ zone from behind the center red line, it appeared the Sharks had won the race to the face-off dot which should have resulted in an icing call and a face-off at the other end of the ice. Play, however, was allowed continue and after the Avalanche won possession of the puck were able to capitalize with Barrie’s goal.

Nathan MacKinnon added an empty-net goal in the final minute that would prove to be the game-winner after San Jose’s Brent Burns scored a pair of late goals, including one with 10 seconds to play to cut the deficit to one.

But let’s get back to Barrie for a second, because he was tremendous on Sunday.

Along with the offensive production, the Avalanche just seemed to control the pace of the game when he was on the ice. During 5-on-5 play the Avalanche out-chanced the Sharks 15-5 (including 8-1 in “high-danger” chances) with Barrie on the ice (via Natural Stat Trick) and outscored them 3-1.

The Avalanche defense isn’t made up of household names, but it is a rapidly improving group thanks to the emergence of youngsters Sam Girard and Cale Makar to go with the steady production of Barrie. Since becoming a full-time player on the Avalanche blue line at the start of the 2013-14 season, Barrie has scored at least 10 goals in five of the past six seasons, is 10th among all defenders in goals scored, and eighth in total points. It is really difficult to be much better than that. He was at his all-around best on Sunday, and it is probably the biggest reason this series is shifting back to Denver all tied.

Game 3 of Avalanche-Sharks is on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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.

Sharks vs. Avalanche: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

The San Jose Sharks entered the season as one of the serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, but they are a team with a major concern and it nearly resulted in them losing to Vegas in Round 1. That concern is goaltender Martin Jones.

Certainly Round 1 wasn’t all bad for Jones. He was solid in Game 1 and stopped an incredible 58 of 59 shots in Game 6. In between that though, he was a disaster. Vegas chased Jones out of Games 2 and 4 and beat him six times in Game 3. One of the things that stretch also demonstrated is Sharks coach Peter DeBoer’s lack of faith in backup Aaron Dell, who struggled this season. If Dell was ever going to start in a playoff game this year, it would have been after those three ugly starts by Jones. For better or worse, the Sharks will stick with Jones.

Regardless, the Sharks deserve credit for rallying. They overcame a 3-1 series deficit against Vegas and had a Game 7 that will be discussed for years to come. With San Jose down 3-0 midway through the third period, Cody Eakin crosschecked Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, resulting in a scary injury and a five-minute major to Eakin. The Sharks scored four times during that power-play en route to a 5-4 overtime victory.

Colorado’s series against Calgary was far less dramatic. Although the Flames were regarded as the heavy favorites, the Avalanche surged to get into the playoffs and weren’t slowed down by Calgary. Colorado eliminated the Flames in five games thanks to hot goaltending and two very effective scoring lines.

Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon were everything the Avalanche could have hoped for in Round 1 while on the Flames side, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan combined to score just a single goal. Colorado has emerged as a great Cinderella story, but this is a year where there have been plenty of Cinderella stories to chose from.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Schedule

Surging Players

Sharks: Erik Karlsson was unavailable for most of the last third of the season due to a groin injury, but he has excelled in the playoffs. He’s tied with Jaccob Slavin for the league lead in assists with nine and has averaged 27:15 minutes per game in the postseason. Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture were also major factors in Round 1. Each forward finished with six goals and eight points and both are entering Round 2 on a three-game goal scoring streak.

Avalanche: As mentioned above, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon did everything possible for Colorado in Round 1. With the exception of Game 1 where the Avalanche were shutout, the Flames simply couldn’t contain them. Rantanen had five goals and nine points in the five-game series while MacKinnon finished with three goals and eight points. In Rantanen’s case, he’s also on a four-game multi-point streak.

Struggling Players

Sharks: Gustav Nyquist was fine in the regular season after being acquired by the Sharks, but he was quiet in Round 1. He had no goals and three assists in the seven-game series and was held off the scoresheet in Games 6 and 7. They could certainly use more from him going forward, especially if Pavelski’s injury ends up sidelining him for a significant amount of time.

Avalanche: Colorado was led by its star forwards in Round 1, but in Round 2 the Avalanche will likely need more from their supporting cast. Carl Soderberg and Alexander Kerfoot each had just one assist against Calgary. There were only nine forwards in Round 1 that averaged at least 17 minutes and finished with no goals. Of them, only four are playing on teams that advanced to Round 2 and Colorado has two of those four forwards in Soderberg and Kerfoot.

Goaltending

Sharks: Martin Jones has been the Sharks’ main weakness this season, but it wasn’t always that way. He was a solid netminder for San Jose from 2015-16 through 2017-18, but he was horribly inconsistent in 2018-19 and finished with a 2.94 GAA and .896 save percentage in 62 starts. Among goaltenders who started in at least 40 games, only Jonathan Quick on the Western Conference-worst Los Angeles Kings finished with a lower save percentage.

The Sharks continued to lean on Jones though because Aaron Dell was even worse. Dell, who had been a solid backup in his previous two seasons, finished 2018-19 with a 3.17 GAA and .886 save percentage in 25 contests.

As mentioned in the intro, those goaltending woes extended into Round 1 and are something the Avalanche will need to exploit in Round 2.

Avalanche A hot goaltender can take you far in the playoffs and right now Philipp Grubauer is very hot indeed. He’s certainly had rough patches this season, but he’s also a big part of the reason the Avalanche were even able to make the playoffs. From Feb. 23 onward, he posted a 9-2-2 record, 1.44 GAA, and .956 save percentage in 14 contests.

Grubauer proved to be a big problem for Calgary in Round 1 too. The best the Flames did against him was in Game 1 when he allowed three goals on 31 shots. After that, Grubauer surrendered just seven goals over the final four contests, giving him a 1.90 GAA and .939 save percentage in five postseason starts this year.

He also had a chance to lead the Capitals at the start of the 2018 playoffs, but struggled out of the gate, resulting in Braden Holtby taking over in Game 2 and leading Washington the rest of the way. Grubauer has taken advantage of this second chance to show that he can be a strong playoff goaltender.

Special Teams

Sharks: San Jose had eight power-play goals in Round 1, but four of them came on that major penalty to Eakin. While it was a dramatic way to end the series, it has also skewed their power-play numbers. That said, the Sharks ranked sixth in the regular season with a 23.6% power-play success rate and they’re certainly capable of continuing to be very effect with the man advantage going forward. Their ability to kill penalties is a far bigger question mark. The Sharks were a mid-tier team in that regard in the regular season with an 80.8% success rate and their PK was heavily exploited by Vegas in Round 1. Of the teams that advanced, San Jose has the worst playoff penalty kill percentage at 72.4%.

Avalanche: Colorado was 5-for-25 on the power play in Round 1. Unsurprisingly, it was MacKinnon and Rantanen leading the charge there too. The duo combined for four of the five markers and MacKinnon got a point on all five power-play goals. In the regular season, the Avalanche ranked seventh on the power play with a 22% success rate. The Avalanche killed only 78.7% of their penalties in the regular season though, making them one of the worst teams in that regard. Colorado wasn’t any better in Round 1, killing 77.3% of their penalties. It’s looking like this is going to be a series where both squads will be able to frequently take advantage of their power-play opportunities.

X-Factor For Sharks

Not to be a broken record about it, but their goaltending. There’s just so much else to love about this team. They have both star power and depth up front. They have two Norris Trophy winners on defense. They have veterans loaded with playoff experience and plenty of reason to be hungry. The one element that’s potentially missing here is goaltending.

Jones doesn’t need to be great, he might not even need to be good. It’s hard to see the Sharks getting through without him being at least passable though. San Jose managed to just barely recover from Jones’ meltdown from Games 2-4. The Sharks might not be able to survive if he endures a similar slump going forward.

X-Factor For Avalanche

Everything beyond the Avalanche’s big three. Rantanen and MacKinnon couldn’t have been asked to do more in Round 1 and while Gabriel Landeskog wasn’t as effective as that duo, he certainly contributed too with a goal and four points in five games. The larger question is if the Avalanche have the offensive depth to go deeper into the playoffs. If the Sharks manage to shutdown the Avalanche’s stars, can the supporting cast step up?

The Avalanche don’t have a lot of offensive weapons beyond their big three, which made Soderberg and Kerfoot’s quiet first round all the more alarming. They ranked fourth and fifth respectively in Colorado’s forwards scoring race in the regular season. They’re also the only two forwards on the Avalanche that recorded at least 40 points outside of the big three.

The silver lining is that the Avalanche did get some secondary scoring from other sources in Round 1. Matt Nieto, who had 23 points in the regular season, scored two goals and four points in five playoff contests. After finishing 2018-19 with 27 points, Colin Wilson came up big in Game 5 with two goals and an assist.

Prediction

Sharks in 6. I think I’ve made it clear at this point that Jones gives me pause and there’s also the question of Pavelski’s status, which at the time of writing is still unknown. Even with that though, San Jose is far closer to the complete package than Colorado. I can certainly envision scenarios where the Avalanche win this series — especially in what is becoming the year of the upsets — but if you’re asking for what I believe is the most probable outcome, it would have to be San Jose advancing.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars

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.