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Flames, Sharks meet as battle for Pacific heats up

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Thursday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks offers plenty of intrigue. They are the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and they are also the two highest scoring teams in the Western Conference. And after their most recent meeting on December 31 – an 8-5 Flames win – the scoreboard might not be the only place we see fireworks this evening.

In the final 41 seconds of that game, the two teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, including a match penalty for Sam Bennett after he concussed Sharks defenseman Radim Simek with a questionable hit. There was no supplemental discipline for the play, which the Sharks called “gutless” and “predatory” afterwards, so one wonders whether there will be any retribution sought by the Sharks on Bennett.

Close watch should also be kept on Evander Kane and Matthew Tkachuk, who each picked up 10-minute misconducts in a brawl just prior to the Bennett hit. There are fewer Kanes and Tkachuks in today’s NHL – both in terms of their style on the ice and their unfiltered remarks off the ice – which makes the build up to this game even more interesting. However, neither would fully take the bait when asked about things carrying over from December:

“I know what you’re asking, I know what you’re trying to get me to say. We’ll see,” Kane said via The Mercury News. “It’s something that, hopefully, everybody in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a skill guy, a big guy, a tough guy or a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another. We’ll see.”

Said Tkachuk: “I’m don’t think I’m going to be the guy who’s going to give you what you want on that quote. Those games are fun to play in. I love those games. Our whole team’s thriving in those games this year. We have guys that can play that style, too. (Kane) is a good player. They’re a really good team. It’s going to be a great game.”

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was much more definitive in downplaying the revenge factor, telling reporters yesterday, “We know where everybody is in the standings, so that’s first and foremost. This isn’t about settling scores. This is about trying to close the gap on these guys in the division. There’s going to be a lot of emotion. It’s going to be physical. That stuff takes care of itself.”

He is right about the importance of this game in the standings. Since that New Year’s Eve meeting, the Flames have not lost to a Western Conference opponent, and they now have an opportunity to create a six-point cushion over the Sharks. Considering these teams play only once more during the regular season – and not until March 31 – this may be San Jose’s best opportunity to chip away at that deficit.

It would be an even bigger boost for the Sharks considering they will be without Erik Karlsson (lower body) for a sixth straight game, however he could return on the team’s current road trip. It should be noted that in the middle of this absence, Karlsson did participate in the NHL All-Star Game.

Regardless of the outcome tonight though, it is safe to say these are two of the most complete teams in the conference. Bill Peters is a Jack Adams candidate in his first year behind the bench for the Flames, and fellow former Hurricane Elias Lindholm has joined with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to form one of the most potent lines in hockey. The Sharks are dangerous up and down their lineup, with a pair of Norris Trophy caliber defensemen, as well as five different forwards with 19+ goals – the most such players in the league.

San Jose and Calgary have not faced each other in the playoffs since 2008, but if they keep up their play from the first four months of the season, this could wind up being a high-scoring, hard-hitting, and headline-grabbing second round Stanley Cup playoff matchup.

Capitals end seven-game slide, beat Western Conference-leading Flames

Associated Press

It’s over.

There was a lot of losing along the way — seven games, in fact.

But it’s over.

The Washington Capitals finally won a hockey game — their first since Jan. 10 — after they returned to the ice following the NHL All-Star Weekend and their league-mandated five-day break. The time off seemed to serve them well. Even without the NHL’s top goal-getter in Alex Ovechkin, who served his one-game ban for skipping the all-star game, the Capitals put together their best performance in recent memory with a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.

Prior to their break, the Capitals tried betting on themselves.

Ovechkin had a choice: sit against the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs in the second game of a back to back for the Caps, or serve his one-game suspension against the red hot Calgary Flames.

Smelling blood, Ovechkin and the team made the decision to get right back at it and try to stop the bleeding for the break.

That didn’t happen.

That meant if they were going to stem the wound at seven, they’d have to do so without The Great 8 on Friday night at home to the Flames, who entered Friday winners of four straight

The game was a feisty affair, right down to the final whistle.

Monster hits, including Matt Niskanen destroying Matthew Tkachuk. A sickening goal that will stand as one of the best this season. A line brawl to end the game, including a spirited scrap between Tkachuk and Brooks OrpikTom Wilson got into it, too, with some sort of modified rock bottom on Rasmus Andersson.

And of course, a goal with 57 seconds remaining in the third period by Evgeny Kuznetsov that broke a 3-3 and ensure Washington could re-acquaint itself with all the good feelings winning brings.

The Capitals now have nine games in their next 16 nights, but appear to have, at least on paper, some easier matchups against the Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers on the horizon. First, however, they will take on the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon.


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

Flames’ Backlund makes Capitals look silly on incredible goal

Sportsnet
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The Washington Capitals aren’t having the best time on the ice at the moment.

Losers of six straight heading into Friday’s action, Mikael Backlund decided to rub it in a little.

And man, did he make the Capitals looks silly on this one.

Tom Wilson, Brooks Orpik and Chandler Stephenson could do little but run into each other as Backlund lifted the puck over their heads and scooted around them to retrieve his own nifty pass.

Jonas Siegenthaler was then left to try and end the madness, but his attempt at slashing his way out of the problem Backlund created was just another failure in the latter’s path of destruction.

Backlund, of course, still needed to beat Braden Holtby. No problem, just channel Peter Forsberg, right?

Right.

Backlund finished off his magnificent play, well, magnificently for one of the prettiest sequences in the NHL this season.


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

Johnny Gaudreau shares ‘special’ All-Star experience with dad

SAN JOSE — All-Star Weekend is a time for NHL players to relax, have some fun and enjoy the festivities with their families. Johnny Gaudreau’s three days in San Jose was extra special because standing behind him on the Pacific Division’s bench Saturday night was his dad Guy.

After Friday’s All-Star Skills, which saw the Calgary Flames forward win his second straight Puck Control event, a fun idea was hatched during a conversation between Guy Gaudreau and Bill Peters, who coached the Pacific Division: What if Johnny Hockey’s dad served as one of Peters’ assistants for the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament?

After getting league approval, the move was official and Guy Gaudreau was behind the bench watching his son play in his fifth NHL All-Star Game.

“I thought he was joking,” Guy said. “He wasn’t joking. So here I am.”

“It was awesome,” said Johnny Gaudreau. “He’s done so much for me growing up with hockey, coaching me [for a decade] when I was younger, to have him out there with me was pretty special.”

The Pacific didn’t fare so well, losing their game 10-4 to the Central Division, but Guy got to see his son score as he became more involved in the action with his coaching duties.

“He might’ve given Bill a few pointers,” joked Johnny Gaudreau. “He was quiet at first for a little bit, but I think he hates losing more than me, so he started giving guys little pushes on the back saying ‘let’s go, let’s go.’ He had a lot of fun with it.”

Getting the chance to coach his son again meant a lot to Guy. It was a tough year for the Gaudreau family as back in March Guy suffered a cardiac event while running a half marathon, forcing Johnny to leave Calgary for his family’s home in New Jersey and miss two Flames games.

“We were nervous there 10 months ago. We weren’t sure he was going to make it or not. He pulled through,” Johnny Gaudreau said. “It’s been a great 10 months since then. He’s come to a lot of my games and this was just a great memory for me and him. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Guy Gaudreau worked with Peters to come up with line combinations and figure out the Pacific Division’s starting lineup, which didn’t include his son since there were three San Jose Sharks in the game. Coaching has been his life and he currently serves as Director of Ice Hockey Operations at Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, N.J, which also happens to be where Johnny Gaudreau learned the skate, thanks to a little help from some Skittles.

The result wasn’t what they wanted, but the memories the Gaudreaus will take away from this weekend will last forever.

“I think it was just neat for him to be able to be out there with Johnny,” said Peters. “That’s what it’s all about.”

MORE:
NHL All-Star Skills 2019: Winners, funny moments, Gritty
NHL All-Star Game 2019: Metro wins final, Crosby lands MVP
All-Star MVP adds to Crosby’s ‘great memories’ of San Jose
Sharks soak in the love from fans during NHL All-Star Weekend

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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.

Karlsson to miss Sharks next two games, All-Star Game status in doubt

After he was a late scratch for Saturday’s game, the San Jose Sharks have announced that defenseman Erik Karlsson will be shut down until the All-Star break, missing the team’s next two games on Monday and Tuesday due to an undisclosed lower-body injury.

While he will miss the upcoming games against the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals, coach Pete DeBoer said on Monday that it is still possible that Karlsson could play in this weekend’s All-Star game which will be held in San Jose.

“I just want to get him healthy, so if he’s healthy enough, I would hope he’ll play,” DeBoer said via NHL.com. “And I know he would play. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that he’s healthy enough to play.”

If he can’t play you would have to think that it would open up a spot for Calgary Flames defender Mark Giordano to get a much-deserved call to the game as he one of the many defenders in the Pacific Division (including Karlsson, and fellow Sharks All-Star Brent Burns) that are playing at a Norris Trophy level this season.

Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larson would also be a possibility, but Giordano would almost certainly be the favorite given how great he has been this season.

After a slow start on the scoresheet this season Karlsson has really come on over the past couple of months and is back to playing at the high level we’re used to seeing him at. He has 43 points in 47 games this season, and has recorded at least one point in 16 of his past 18 games, a stretch that has seen him total 27 points. He is also near the top of the league for the season when it comes to shot attempt and scoring chance differentials when he is on the ice.

Burns and Joe Pavelski are the Sharks’ other two representatives at this year’s All-Star Game.

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

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.