Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip


Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip

Kevin Kurz

BOSTON As the top two teams in the NHL in shots on goal, and with both offenses firing on all cylinders lately, the Sharks-Bruins Saturday afternoon matchup at TD Garden was primed to be an end-to-end affair with scoring chances aplenty.Or, maybe not.San Jose managed just 18 shots, a season low, and Logan Couture scored the only non-empty net goal of the game in a 2-0 Sharks victory. It extends their streak to 7-0-1 in the last eight games, and they have won the first two games on their seven-game road trip. The win also moved the Sharks into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference with 62 points, just three behind Dallas for the Pacific Division lead, pending Saturday night's action.
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While Couture coming through with a big goal is nothing new, the circumstances of his solid play were. The rookie was thrown onto a newly christened line with players that werent even wearing teal a month ago, as forwards Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager skated on either side of Couture in what was San Joses most energetic and effective line of the afternoon.That may not be saying a whole lot considering the other forward lines were pretty ineffective, but its a good sign nonetheless, and Couture was pleased with their chemistry.Wellwood really can make plays with his patience and his vision. He found me a couple times where I could have scored, he said. Eager is a big body down low and he can control the play, and hes good on the forecheck.We had some good movement, and carried the play in their end a few times, Wellwood agreed. We got some pucks at the net, and against a team like Boston on the road, thats hard to do.Coutures goal didnt come with his new linemates, though it came on the power play, an area in which the Sharks have been thriving during their recent run of success.He took a pass from Ryane Clowe and patiently waited for daylight before backhanding the puck past Tim Thomas at 7:22. The Sharks power play is an impressive 9-for-28 in the last nine games (32.1 percent).That was all of the scoring in the game until Devin Setoguchis goal with 2.1 seconds left with Thomas pulled for an extra attacker.While the Sharks were struggling to put the rubber on net, the Bruins werent doing much better. Boston was playing for the first time since a six-goal explosion in Thursday's emotional win over Dallas, which featured three fights in the first four seconds of the game.
REWIND: Bruins outslug Stars for 6-3 victory
Perhaps suffering from an emotional hangover, the Bruins lacked energy and cohesion from the start. The few scoring chances they did get, Antti Niemi was there to turn them aside in recording his third shutout of the season.Todd McLellan used one word when asked about Niemi, who was making his eighth straight start.Solid, said the coach. He saw the puck, made the first save, and was there when we he had to take care of the second. He made the team in front of him feel very comfortable.Dan Boyle, who played a game high 24:25, thinks the teams defense as a whole is trending upward.Were trying to become a better defensive team than we have in the first half, and its a combination of guys blocking shots, and defensemen doing a better job in front of the goalie, he said. Tonight our offensive game was not very good, but defensively we were pretty strong.With San Jose riding its hot streak, McLellan decided to leave his top two lines alone despite Coutures return, meaning that Clowe skated with Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski while Joe Thornton was with regulars Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.While Couture was busy generating scoring chances, Eager, in particular, found himself the center of attention a few times in the game. The big winger dropped the gloves with Bostons Adam McQuaid early in the second (and picked up an extra roughing minor in the process), but it was his contact with the Bruins goaltender later in the period that led to the most controversial call of the afternoon.With the Sharks applying pressure in the Boston zone, Eager tried to establish position in front of the goal crease. He bumped shoulders with Thomas right before a shot by Douglas Murray from the faceoff circle found the far top corner of the net. Referee Dennis LaRue immediately waived off the goal at 7:37 due to incidental contact.The explanation that Dennis gave me was exactly how I saw it in the video, said McLellan. Its a decision he has to make instantly, he went with it, and we have to live with it.Fortunately for the Sharks it didnt end up being a factor in the outcome, and a win in a tough building against a division leader is in the books.The Sharks resume their road trip on Tuesday night in Washington against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.Were in fourth place now, so its not a bad position to be in, said Thornton. Were chugging along pretty well.

Report: Harbaugh, Michigan to spend final week of spring practice in Italy

Report: Harbaugh, Michigan to spend final week of spring practice in Italy

Undeterred by recent NCAA legislation, Jim Harbaugh is reportedly going international.

As noted by the Detroit Free Press, a post on Rivals affiliate reports that Michigan is planning to spend the final week of football spring practice in Rome, Italy. The team would not only practice several times on Italian soil, but would allow the team to visit the sights in the area and even leave players in Europe to study abroad for a semester.

The move would no doubt ruffle even more feathers in the football and NCAA communities after Harbaugh famously took the Wolverines to the IMG Academy down in Florida for spring practice last March. That prompted recent legislation that was passed at the NCAA convention in Nashville this week — a Harbaugh Rule if you will — that prohibited off-campus practice during a vacation period outside of a playing season.

While it would seem that would rule out trips away from Ann Arbor for spring football practices, it appears the Michigan athletic department is going to push forward by exploiting a slight loophole in the language of the rule. While vacation periods may be off limits like spring break, it appears the Wolverines would be looking to leave town at the end of April, which would be after the semester ends  and does not fall into any scheduled vacation time.


LeBron considering return to Team USA under 'great mastermind' Popovich

LeBron considering return to Team USA under 'great mastermind' Popovich

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- LeBron James might make another run at Olympic gold with Gregg Popovich.

James, who already has two gold medals, said that Popovich taking over as coach of the U.S. team will influence his decision on whether to play in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

"It factors a lot," James said Saturday as the Cavaliers prepared to host Popovich's San Antonio Spurs. "I've said that before. He's just a great mastermind of the game of basketball."

James skipped last summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to get rest after leading Cleveland to an NBA championship. But he's still connected with Team USA and Popovich replacing outgoing coach Mike Krzyzewski could be enough to draw James back to the Olympics.

James will be 36 in 2020, but his game is showing no signs of decay and the three-time NBA champ has relished his previous Olympic appearances. He was a key member of the American teams that captured gold in Beijing (2008) and (2012), performances that helped him and the U.S. squad erase some of the disappointment from taking bronze in Athens (2004).

Krzyzewski, the Duke coach who led the U.S. team to three consecutive gold medals, had a hand in naming Popovich as his successor.

For James, the pick was perfect.

"Team USA is in good hands with him," James told The Associated Press in 2015. "It was in good hands with Coach K. It's almost like 'The Godfather.' We hand it off to Michael Corleone now."

Earlier this week, James said he considers Popovich, who has led the Spurs to five NBA titles, "the greatest coach of all time. I've said that over and over and over. You have to be sharp, mentally and physically, when you go against his ballclub. If you were an NFL player, it's probably the same as going against a (Bill) Belichick team.

"What they're going to do, they're going to do and you have to try to figure it out."

James has lost twice to teams coached by Popovich in the NBA Finals - in 2007 with Cleveland and in 2014 with Miami. He admires the way the 67-year-old coach has adjusted and adapted over the years.

"A guy that's been able to do what he's done in an era of basketball where it's changed so much and he's been able to have a growth mindset and be able to change with the game," James said. "Obviously Tim Duncan was a huge part of that because Timmy was allowed to change with the game as well, but he's just continued to build around Timmy and Manu (Ginobili) and Tony (Parker) and bring pieces in and out throughout his whole tenure."

On Saturday, the Spurs will play their first game without center Pau Gasol, sidelined indefinitely with a broken left hand.

James said that won't change San Antonio much - because of Popovich.

"It doesn't matter who is in the lineup for the Spurs," James said. "They'll play Spurs basketball and Pop will have them ready. I mean, what's their record, 33-9, I believe? And if you asked me how things would change without Timmy D., they still pushing forward, man. It's just nothing out of the ordinary."