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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.

Golden Knights seeking answers after flat Game 1 vs. Sharks

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So much for being able to flip the switch come playoff time.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said he wasn’t concerned about his team’s poor finish to the regular season that saw the Golden Knights win just one of their final eight games. But a sloppy 5-2 loss at San Jose in Game 1 in their best-of-seven series on Wednesday night was eerily similar to some of the losses his team took down the stretch.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury gave up at least four goals for the third straight game since returning from a nine-game break for a lower-body injury. Vegas managed just five shots in each of the first two periods while falling behind 4-1, as San Jose took advantage of a 7-1 edge in takeaways during that span, including two in the Golden Knights’ zone that led directly to goals.

Now Vegas — which defeated the Sharks, 4-2, in a second-round series last season en route to the Western Conference championship and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final — will try to gain a split of its trip to San Jose when it takes the ice for Game 2 on Friday night.

Gallant didn’t mince words following his team’s Game 1 loss.

“They outplayed us in every facet of the game,” he said. “They worked harder and they competed harder. We weren’t good enough. They didn’t do anything different than we expected, but they played a lot harder.”

“You’re not going to beat that team with 10 shots on net in two periods,” added Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty. “There were some opportunities, some good saves (by San Jose goalie Martin Jones), a post or two, but still not good enough. We know what this team is capable of, and tonight we didn’t show it. It’s a long series, and hopefully we can show what we’re made of.”

Brent Burns, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each had goal and an assist, Erik Karlsson added two assists and Jones finished with 24 saves to lead San Jose in the series opener. But it was the Sharks’ first goal, by captain Joe Pavelski in the first period, that was the talk afterward.

Pavelski redirected a blast by Burns from the right point with his face, and the puck caromed in over the shoulder of Fleury. Dazed and missing several teeth, he didn’t take part in the goal celebration, instead heading straight to the locker room for stitches and a new face shield while also undergoing concussion protocol. He returned early in the second period and only missed a few shifts in the process.

“I didn’t even see it come off his stick,” Pavelski said of Burns’ shot.

“I’m keeping the dentist in business,” Burns joked, through a smile missing most of its top front teeth. “(Pavelski) goes to the hard areas. That’s why he scores so many goals. The front of the net is not a fun place to be, but he’s one of the best in the world at it.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“He scored a goal,” right winger Timo Meier added. “He goes where it hurts. He’s a tough guy coming back. We know that. That’s playoff hockey.”

Pavelski skipped the team’s workout on Thursday to have some dental work done. The good news? The shot didn’t break his jaw.

San Jose improved to 33-0 this season when holding a team to two goals or less.

“I thought our team defense tonight was tight against a real good team,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “That’s going to be formula for us in the playoffs that we’re going to have to stick to. The goals take care of itself. I’m not worried about the offense. We can score. When we defend like we did tonight, it gives us a chance to win.”

The Knights could add some help at some point in the form of reigning KHL MVP and scoring leader Nikita Gusev, a left winger who has never played in the NHL but is finished with his season in Russia with SKA St. Petersburg.

“I don’t know much about him,” Gallant said of the 26-year-old, whose rights were acquired by Vegas in a trade with Tampa Bay in 2017. “… Hopefully he does join us and gets some practice time in with us, but I have no idea where that’s going.”

–Field Level Media

Sharks vs. Golden Knights: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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The Golden Knights used the 2018-19 NHL season to prove that their inaugural year, where they reached the Stanley Cup Final, wasn’t a fluke. The regular season wasn’t as successful at 2017-18 (a 16-point decrease), but they still finished third in the Pacific Division and strengthened their roster with the additions of Paul Stastny in free agency and Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone in separate trades.

It was a bumpier road to the playoffs this season, however. Vegas had five losing streaks of three games or more and saw an expected step back in offense, especially from William Karlsson, who went from 43 goals to 24. But the Stone acquisition gives the Golden Knights not only a formidable second line, but also a strong two-way presence.

Acquiring Erik Karlsson before the season was Sharks general manager Doug Wilson’s way of finding that “difference-maker” he sought for so long. Unfortunately for San Jose, injuries limited the blue liner to only 52 games, but he returned in the season finale and the hope is he’ll be 100% going forward.

Finishing second in the Pacific Division, the Sharks were led by four 30-goal scorers — Joe Pavelski (38), Tomas Hertl (35), Evander Kane (30) and Timo Meier (30)  — and Brent Burns, who was first in points in the team with 83. Their special teams were strong, as were their possession numbers. But the biggest flaw was the play of Martin Jones, who posted an .896 even strength save percentage and just hasn’t been the same netminder who helped lead them to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s a rematch of Round 2 from 2018 where the Golden Knights advanced in six games. Can the Sharks exact a measure of revenge in 2019?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

SCHEDULE
Wednesday, April 10, 10:30 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports
Friday, April 12, 10:30 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 14, 10 p.m.: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 16, 10:30 p.m.: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 18, TBD: Golden Knights @ Sharks | TBD
*Sunday, April 21, TBD: Sharks @ Golden Knights | TBD
*Tuesday, April 23, TBD: Golden Knights @ Sharks | TBD

FORWARDS

VEGAS: Once again, Vegas’ top line led the way as Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith were top-three on the team in scoring. But what’s made the Golden Knights even stronger was the creation of their second line, which features three players acquired since last season. Pacioretty, Stastny and Stone now gives head coach Gerard Gallant another line to roll out and cause havoc for opponents.

So two strong lines is worrisome enough for the Sharks, but the bottom six can also provide a challenge for San Jose. Cody Eakin (22 goals) and Alex Tuch (20 goals) lead a strong set of depth forwards that have the experience of last year’s Cup Final run and ability to chip in a timely goal when needed. Throw in Ryan Reaves, who scored two big goals for Vegas last postseason, after a career year offensively with nine goals and 20 points, and Peter DeBoer and his staff will have their work cut out for them.

SAN JOSE: The Sharks were tied for the second-highest scoring team in the NHL with 289 goals. Four players hit the 30-goal mark, four others reached at least 16. The addition of Gustav Nyquist (six goals in 19 games) at the trade deadline bolsters an already dangerous arsenal and strengthens a very good power play.

Like Vegas, San Jose can roll a dangerous top two lines and a third line featuring a now healthy Joe Thornton is still a creative genius on the ice. Beyond their biggest names, the Sharks have also been buyoed by the likes of Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, who don’t get a lot of headlines, but have make impactful contributions this season. Joonas Donskoi, who hasn’t scored since Jan. 10 and finished with 14 this season, could really use a goal if he’s in the lineup.

ADVANTAGE: San Jose, but it’s pretty close. When clicking, the Sharks can attack you in waves and keep the pressure on. Vegas upped their goals per game average after acquiring Stone, jumping from 3.0 goals/game to 3.32 goals/game.

DEFENSE

VEGAS: Unlike the Sharks, where Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns ate a ton of minutes, Gallant spread out the ice time among his defense pretty evenly. Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt were the only two to finish with at least 20 minutes a night, while Deryk Engelland, Colin Miller, Brayden McNabb, and Nick Holden played between 18-19 minutes per game. Jon Merrill was right there with 17:53 per game.

Theodore emerged this season as a viable top-pairing defenseman, finishing with 12 goals and 37 points along with a fantastic 56.28% Corsi rating.

SAN JOSE: A healthy Erik Karlsson will pose plenty of problems for the Golden Knights. But if he’s well less than 100%, plus Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s inconsistent play lingers in the postseason, that will put plenty of pressure on goaltender Martin Jones. The Sharks were the second-best shot suppression team in the NHL (28.3 shots allowed per game) but allowed 3.16 goals per game.

ADVANTAGE Even*. The asterisk here is if Karlsson plays at 100% he could give the Sharks a slight edge. But there’s no doubting the defensive unit Vegas offers, and how they work well together and there really is no standout name on their blue line. San Jose offers threats in perennial Norris Trophy contenders in Karlsson and Burns, but Vegas’ pairings have shown their up to the task at limiting opponents’ chances, and they’ll be busy doing so going up against a Sharks team that averaged 33 shots on goal per night.

GOALTENDING

VEGAS: Marc-Andre Fleury returned to the net last week, a great sign for the Golden Knights after his strong performance last spring. He finished the season with a .917 ESSV% and was second in the NHL with eight shutouts. Vegas was also a strong shot-suppression team, allowed 28 per night at even strength, and as we’ve seen throughout his career Fleury’s acrobatics can quickly turn a strong scoring opportunity for an opponent into a highlight-reel save.

SAN JOSE: Martin Jones will hope for reset once Game 1 arrives. He had a forgettable regular season with an .896 ESSV% and a .788 high-danger save percentage, which was 24th out of 25 goaltenders with at least 2,000 minutes played, per Natural Stat Trick. His partner, Aaron Dell, wasn’t much better with an .899 ESSV% and a .793 HDSV%. There are plenty of strengths to this Sharks team, but their goaltender might the weakness that holds them back.

ADVANTAGE: Vegas. A healthy Fleury means good things for Vegas. Jones has shown no signs that a rebound is coming this season, and Dell doesn’t offer any help behind him if things get ugly.

ONE BIG QUESTION FOR EACH TEAM

Can Vegas’ power play wake up?

The Golden Knights scored 39 power play goals this season and finished with a success rate of 16.8%, good enough for seventh-worst in the NHL. With extra man situations becoming tougher to draw in the postseason, Vegas needs to take advantage of their extra man opportunities as they could be the difference in any game at this point.

Which Martin Jones will show up?

There’s no fallback option here for the Sharks. Dell has struggled as well, and when playoff hockey gives us those tight, low-scoring games, it’ll be up to Jones to come up with a big save and even steal a game or two if San Jose is to have a shot. Can a reset heading into Game 1 work wonders for Jones? We’ll see.

PREDICTION

VEGAS IN 6. Unless Jones reverts back to his old form, it’ll be tough to see the Sharks really making a challenge at getting revenge for last year’s playoff exit. The Golden Knights are well-balanced up front, have played strong defensively in front of Fleury and Malcolm Subban, and have the clear better goaltending heading into this matchup. 

MORE PREVIEWS:
• Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
• Islanders vs. Penguins
Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Blues
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Predators vs. Stars
Capitals vs Hurricanes

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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.