Max Pacioretty

Golden Knights ready to turn page, look toward next season

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights’ second postseason didn’t last nearly as long as their first but general manager George McPhee said ”there will be no pity parties” after the way it ended, and the team is already looking forward to next year.

”We’re going to take the rearview mirror out and move forward and put a real good team on the ice next year and go compete again,” McPhee said Thursday during his season-ending news conference. ”This is a good team; it’s built for the long run.”

After losing in the Stanley Cup Final last postseason, the Golden Knights were eliminated from this year’s playoffs in the first round when the San Jose Sharks came back from a 3-1 series deficit and then erased Vegas’ 3-0 lead in Game 7. The Sharks got a boost when Vegas forward Cody Eakin was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for a cross-check to San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, who was knocked out after crashing to the ice. The Sharks scored four power-play goals and then won the game 5-4 in overtime.

”You always get better from losing like that,” coach Gerard Gallant said. ”It’s tough to swallow for the last couple of days. But today, I’m moving on. We move on, we’re not going to make excuses. We’re disappointed, definitely, because we had a real good hockey team, but I’m not disappointed in the way our hockey team played and competed all year and the playoffs.”

Vegas endured plenty of adversity during the regular season, overcoming a 20-game suspension for defenseman Nate Schmidt and a bevy of injuries, including to Alex Tuch, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and a season-ending lower-body injury to Erik Haula.

”We talk about last year a lot being the perfect season, with no ups and downs; this year we had some,” Gallant said. ”This year we had to battle and compete and find a way to make the playoffs. As we know we got spoiled here pretty good two years in a row in the playoffs and going to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s not easy to make the playoffs.”

But with the acquisitions McPhee has orchestrated, the Golden Knights figure to be a major player in the Pacific Division next year.

The Golden Knights have potent scorers Stastny, Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith and Tuch locked up for several years, along with three-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Other things to know as the Knights head into the offseason:

MARCHING ON: Marchessault was outspoken after the Game 7 loss about how the league needs to institute video replay for major penalties during the playoffs and had an expletive-laced tirade about the referees.

He offered no apologies Thursday for his outburst and said he was ready to move on.

”We’re at the point where it’s over with, it’s in the past, whatever happened is just going to make us stronger,” Marchessault said. ”We’ll be right up there again, like this year.”

KARLSSON FUTURE: The most crucial offseason decision will be whether forward William Karlsson signs long-term with the team. After scoring a career-high 43 goals and 78 points during the 2017-18 season, Karlsson and the team agreed to a one-year, $5.25 million contract. Now, after a significantly less productive season – 24 goals, 56 points – both camps will be pressed to determine his worth.

”We’ll get to work on it shortly and hopefully get it wrapped up,” McPhee said. ”He had a real good season, he’s a good player. We’d like him to sign long-term with us and we’ll get to work on it.”

Karlsson said he would prefer to sign long-term.

But with the additions of Pacioretty and Stastny prior to the season, and Stone at the trade deadline, the Golden Knights went from having plenty of room under the salary cap to having very little wiggle room.

EAKIN SPEAKS: Eakin spoke for the first time since the last game and was at times borderline emotional when discussing the Game 7 penalty.

”Everyone saw the play and knows what happened and we can’t think about it anymore, really,” he said. ”I think mistakes were made, but it’s a fast game, that kind of stuff happens and that’s all you can say about it.”

HAULA’S RETURN: Haula figured to be an integral part of Vegas’ forward depth until a lower-body injury ended his season just 15 games in. Haula had been seen wearing a knee brace at the practice facility, but McPhee said Thursday it wasn’t Haula’s ACL.

”It’s not something I wish on anybody, things can always be worse,” Haula said. ”You kind of reinvent the wheel when you’re out for that long. It’s kind of an interesting process. I never thought when it happened that I could even be on the ice. I was close to joining the team at practice and that was great.”

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Sharks eliminate Golden Knights in unforgettable Game 7

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If someone ever snickered at you for claiming that anything can happen in the hockey playoffs, merely direct them to Game 7 of the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks.

At the tailend of a thrilling overtime period (did these two teams really just play a double-OT Game 6?), Barclay Goodrow became the unlikely series-clincher in one of the least likely Game 7 comebacks you’ll ever see. The Sharks advance to Round 2 and a matchup against the Colorado Avalanche after beating the Golden Knights 5-4 in OT. San Jose wins the series 4-3.

But they had to do that after falling behind 3-1 in the series, and carving their way out of a 3-0 deficit in Game 7. It’s the sort of game hockey lovers will pour over for ages, and fans of both teams are unlikely to forget.

All things considered, that unlikely Goodrow goal seems fitting.

How we got to overtime, against all odds

On the strength of great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, a Cody Eakin goal that required a review for a high-stick, and a groaner of a 3-0 goal for Max Pacioretty, it sure looked like the Golden Knights were going to skate away with Game 7. Then Eakin became a much bigger story than the fellow who scored what seemed, at the time, like a big goal.

In a scary moment, Eakin hit Joe Pavelski, who hit the ice in an extremely scary way. Fair or not, the officials ejected Eakin from Game 7, whistling him for a game-changing major penalty.

The Sharks went on to score an absurd four goals on the power play, flipping a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 Sharks lead. With less than seven minutes remaining in the third period, the Golden Knights had to come to grips with the first lead change of this series.

The Golden Knights failed to score on a power-play opportunity of their own, but Jonathan Marchessault delivered after Vegas showed serious resiliency in trying to come back, and a stunning Game 7 went to overtime.

And the rest is … well, NHL history, and the Sharks will turn to a Round 2 series against the Avalanche. Credit the Golden Knights for forcing this contest to OT, but they couldn’t win it, and now their fans get a taste of something other hockey fans – particularly those of the Sharks – know all too well: the feeling of shock, and also, feeling like they were on the wrong end of the refs’ whistles.

What a game, what a comeback, and what a 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.

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 Playoff Buzzer: Pacioretty continues Vegas dominance; Connor on point again for Jets

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  • All-time upset in Columbus as they grab the brooms and sweep Tampa out of the playoffs
  • The Islanders, too, snag some brooms and usher Sidney Crosby and the Penguins to the offseason
  • Connor the hero for Winnipeg after scoring overtime winner to even series vs. Blues 2-2 
  • Pacioretty continues second-line dominance for Vegas vs. Sharks

New York Islanders 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (NYI wins series 4-0)

The Islanders just don’t quit, and it proved to be too much for the inconsistent Penguins, who simply couldn’t answer New York’s relentless pace and persistence. Jordan Eberle had a great game. Robin Lehner was solid in net once again, and the Islanders continued their stingy defensive style that Barry Trotz has implemented to near perfection so far. The Isles deserve to move on, plain and simple.

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Tampa Bay Lightning 3 (CBJ wins series 4-0)

The first signs of life from the Lightning since the first period in Game 1 were seen in Game 4 on Tuesday, but it didn’t matter one iota. The Blue Jackets were simply too good outside of the first period in Game 1. Forechecking at its finest. Goal scoring from everywhere. Tampa couldn’t breathe and was forced to tap out in just four games after winning a record-tying 62 in the regular season. It’s an all-time upset in NHL history.

Winnipeg Jets 2, St. Louis Blues 1 (Series tied 2-2)

A clean slate heading back to Winnipeg? The Jets could have only dreamed of that after dropping the first two games in their own barn. But they made a statement in Game 3 and may have done some psychological damage with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 4 on Tuesday. The Jets were not deterred after Vladimir Tarasenko gave the Blues a 1-0 lead early in the third. Mark Scheifele‘s tying goal was a product of hard work and the overtime goal by Kyle Connor was much of the same. Game 5 should be a dandy in this tightly contested affair.

Vegas Golden Knights , San Jose Sharks (VGK leads series 3-1)

Hard not to think that San Jose is done in this series. Vegas put the Sharks on the brink of elimination with an easy 5-0 win. They chased Martin Jones for the second time in the series. Their second line is unstoppable at the moment and now the Sharks can’t score. You can point to some issues they cannot control. Injuries, specifically. But when your goalie is playing at a worse caliber than he did during the regular season, there’s simply no chance.

Three stars

1. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

Two goals and two assists from Pacioretty meant another feast for the Golden Knights’ second line. After combining for 12 points in Game 3, the line returned for Game 4 and combined for another seven. Pacioretty got his moment after Paul Stastny and Mark Stone each had five-point outings in the previous game. Vegas looks unstoppable when San Jose can’t stop that line. Also, shoutout to Marc-Andre Fleury who turned aside 28 shots for the shutout.

2. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

Connor fed Mark Scheifele with a slick cross-ice feed to tie the game up 1-1 in the third period. From there, he was in front of the net when a loose puck found its way in front of him and quickly into the back of the net to give the Jets a 2-1 win in overtime. Connor had two goals in Game 3 and is producing in the clutch for Winnipeg at the moment.

3. Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets

He entered the game with no playoff goals and left with two. Texier, 19, was impressive in a game where the Blue Jackets swept up the Tampa Bay Lightning, building off a Game 3 where he picked up an assist. In six total NHL games, Texier has three goals and an assist now. He’s an exciting young player.

Highlight of the night

This is extremely filthy.

Awkward moment of the night

Panarin just doesn’t care:

Factoids of the night

  • Fleury moved into the seventh spot on the all-time postseason wins list on Tuesday. (NHL PR)
  • More Vegas history: they became the first NHL team to score in the opening 90 seconds in three straight playoff games. (NHL PR)
  • A very good omen for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who became the fourth team in NHL history to sweep the NHL’s No. 1 team in the regular season. Guess what the three others who did the same thing ended up doing later that spring? (NHL PR)

Wednesday’s games

Game 4: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs (TOR leads 2-1), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 4: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars (NSH leads 2-1), 9 p.m. ET, USA (Live Stream)
Game 4: Calgary Flames at Colorado Avalanche (COL leads 2-1), 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN (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

Evander Kane loses cool as Sharks’ meltdown continues

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The San Jose Sharks are unraveling.

Not only has their biggest and most obvious flaw — goaltending — once again been exposed in their in Round 1 series against the Vegas Golden Knights, but the team has started to melt down in all phases and now has been pushed to the brink of elimination following an ugly 5-0 loss on Tuesday night.

The Golden Knights are now in complete control of the series with a 3-1 lead and seem to be just toying with the Sharks.

If the results weren’t bad enough, the Sharks completely lost their composure in the third period of Game 4, a development that was highlighted by an Evander Kane tantrum that resulted in him earning 14 penalty minutes and an early exit to the locker room.

After aggressively cross-checking Paul Stastny in the neutral zone, Kane delivered a sucker-punch to the face Colin Miller in the scrum that ensued.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Kane has made headlines in this series for his Game 3 fight with Golden Knights enforcer Ryan Reaves and then some trash talk through the media on Tuesday where he said, among other things, that he thought he was “fighting the muffin man” when he dropped the gloves with Reaves.

As Kane was being escorted to the locker room on Tuesday, the Vegas in-game entertainment crew played “The Muffin Man.”

Here is the entire sequence involving Kane on Tuesday.

Whether or not that punch is enough to earn a suspension remains to be seen, but it will almost certainly be looked at by the NHL Department of Player Safety.

The Sharks were already playing Tuesday without Joe Thornton after he was suspended for a hit to the head late in the Sharks’ Game 3 loss.

But the meltdown did not stop there.

With the Sharks already shorthanded late in the third period, Timo Meier earned a two-minute minor unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for yelling at the officials from the bench.

As for the actual hockey, things were not much better.

Starting goalie Martin Jones gave up two early goals — including another in the first two minutes — on only seven shots and was benched after the first period. Backup Aaron Dell did not play any better, while the Sharks’ defense that is led by Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns just looked bad at times. The former still does not look to be anywhere near 100 percent healthy.

Max Pacioretty had four points, including two goals, in the win for Vegas while Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch and Jonathan Marchessault also found the back of the net for a Golden Knights team that is having no problems feasting on the Sharks’ horrendous goaltending.

The series shifts back to San Jose on Thursday for Game 5 at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN where the Golden Knights will have a chance to move on.

More Sharks-Golden Knights:
Sharks lose Thornton for Game 4
Trash talk between Kane, Reaves almost as good as their fight

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.