Clowe's return a timely playoff boost for Sharks


Clowe's return a timely playoff boost for Sharks


SAN JOSE (AP) -- There's a different feeling this year heading into the postseason for the Sharks.

The tag of favorite that has been an albatross in the past is in Vancouver instead after the Canucks raced through the regular season and won the Presidents' Trophy.

The questions about early round collapses that haunted San Jose in recent years have been quieted by last season's run to the Western Conference final.

Instead, the second-seeded Sharks are enjoying being out of the spotlight as they prepare for their first-round series against the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Kings that begins Thursday night.

"It's kind of nice," forward Ryane Clowe said. "We feel like we made progress last year. We took a step forward, now it's a chance to make another stride this year. We feel really good about our team."

RATTO: Sharks face familiar first-round foe in Kings

The Sharks began their playoff preparation Monday with some positive news when Clowe took the ice for the first time since being sidelined a week ago with a lower-body injury. Clowe played only briefly April 4 against the Kings and then missed the final three games with an injury whose origin was a mystery even to him.

Clowe said the time off helped him heal and that he was encouraged by how good he felt at practice Monday.

"I'm not trying to be a hero and rush it or anything. I just want to try to keep getting better every day," he said. "I went four or five days without skating. This was the first time I skated in about a week. But the legs felt pretty good."

While Clowe and the team were always confident he'd be able to play when the postseason started, it was a positive sign that he felt so good on the ice three days before the series against the Kings starts.

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With his big body and relentless work ethic, Clowe has been an integral part of the Sharks' success this season. He is a locker room leader who is never afraid to speak up when things aren't going well, earning him a role as alternate captain.

He also helps in more tangible ways as evidenced by his 24 goals, 38 assists and 100 penalty minutes many the result of coming to the defense of his teammates.

"Clowe is the first to hold himself accountable in front of his teammates," coach Todd McLellan said. "He accepts responsibility for his game and then from there it spreads throughout the room. It's very powerful. When he gets on the ice, his size, strength and toughness are very well documented. He has the ability to play in a finesse way too. He's a very good passer and protects the puck very well. In a year like this when scoring is at a premium, he found a way to put up points."

Clowe spent much of the second half of the season on a line with rookie Logan Couture and Dany Heatley, giving the Sharks another high-scoring line to follow the top group of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi.
BRAZIL: Are Sharks better than last year? Absolutely

That scoring depth is always crucial come the playoffs.

"He's a big part of this team, been a big part all year," Marleau said. "He's a nice piece of the puzzle coming back."

The Sharks were knocked out in the second round for three straight seasons before their most memorable postseason failure in 2009, when they lost to Anaheim in the first round after posting the NHL's best record in the regular season.

Those defeats loomed large at the start of last postseason, but the Sharks overcame a few tough breaks to win their first round series against Colorado in six games and then beat longtime nemesis Detroit in five games in the second round.

San Jose was then swept by eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the conference final but the players are hoping to build on last season's success this spring.

"You want to get back there," Thornton said. "We realize we have a good team and we realize how much work it is to get to that point. But it's not the ultimate goal. We know how much you have to go through. We're just that much more experienced and we're even hungrier now to get to that point."

The injury news for the Kings is more of a mixed bag. Leading scorer Anze Kopitar is sidelined with torn ligaments in his severely sprained right ankle. But right wing Justin Williams was cleared to return to practice this week after missing the final nine games of the regular season with a dislocated right shoulder.

The Sharks are expecting Williams to suit up Thursday but know the Kings are a different team without Kopitar, who had 25 goals and 48 assists this season.

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"That's probably like asking us the question how much different are we without Joe Thornton," McLellan said. "He's a dominant player in the National Hockey League. But when you lose a player like that, others tend to pick up the slack."

Notes: The Sharks recalled LW Brandon Mashinter, LW Jamie McGinn, C Andrew Desjardins and G Thomas Greiss. Greiss, the backup last season to Evgeni Nabokov, spent the year in Sweden but was needed as a third goaltender for when starter Antti Niemi does not practice.

Barracuda power play leads the way in Game 2 win over Grand Rapids


Barracuda power play leads the way in Game 2 win over Grand Rapids

SAN JOSE – The Barracuda struck for three power play goals, including the game-winner in the second period by Joakim Ryan, in overcoming the Grand Rapids Griffins at SAP Center on Sunday night, 4-2.

San Jose’s victory evens the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series at one game apiece.

Grand Rapids erased a 2-0 hole to tie the game in the middle frame, but less than a minute after Matt Ford knotted the score at 2-2 with a rocket from the circle on a Griffins power play, Ryan’s blast from just inside the blue line at 15:28 staked the Barracuda a lead they would keep for the rest of the night. 

The Barracuda finished 3-for-5 on the power play, after going 0-for-6 in a Game 1 loss on Saturday.

“The power play was a lot better tonight,” Ryan said. “We got set up more. We were able to get shots through from the point.”

One of those shots came early, when defenseman Julius Berman beat goalie Jared Coreau from long range just 3:35 into the game with San Jose on a man advantage. Later in the first, on another power play, Ryan Carpenter found open ice in the slot and redirected a Tim Heed pass at 10:44 for his team-leading eighth of the playoffs.

“Coming out, we wanted to get the first goal tonight,” Carpenter said. “For Bergman to get that first goal was huge for us.”

Ryan and Carpenter both attributed the power play success to winning faceoffs, which is something coach Roy Sommer wanted the club to focus on after it dropped the series opener, 3-1.

Winning faceoffs often is an indication of a team’s compete level, and that, too, was lacking for the Barracuda in an opener in which Sommer said his team played “dumb and slow.” 

Sunday was a much better performance.

“Whenever we’ve had a bad start, or a bad game, the next day these guys have responded,” said Sommer, whose club is the top seed in the Western Conference. “They’ve done it all year.”

The series now shifts to Grand Rapids for the next three games, with Game 3 going Wednesday. The primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, the Griffins posted a 25-11-2 record in their own building in the regular season.

The Barracuda, though, should be a confident group on the road. Against San Diego in the second round, San Jose won all three games in Southern California after splitting the first two at home.

“It’s going to be a hell of a series,” Sommer said. “It’s probably going to go the duration, I imagine. Both teams are kind of feeling each other out and kind of have a pretty good idea of what the other guys are doing now.”

Ryan said: “Honestly, I think they are the team in the league that plays the most like us. I felt like last night they did a better job of taking the game to us. I thought we came out better tonight, and we battled harder, competed more, won more pucks. They’re a really good team, it’s going to be a battle the rest of the series, for sure. They’re not going to lay down.”

Barclay Goodrow’s empty netter with 1:06 left in regulation was the only goal in the third period.

The Barracuda outshot the Griffins, 40-35, including a 20-11 advantage in the first period.

No sweep here: Without Isaiah Thomas, Celtics stun Cavs in Game 3

No sweep here: Without Isaiah Thomas, Celtics stun Cavs in Game 3


CLEVELAND — Avery Bradley's 3-pointer dropped in with less than a second left and the Boston Celtics, blown out in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals and playing without star Isaiah Thomas, stunned the Cleveland Cavaliers 111-108 on Sunday night in Game 3 to end the champions' 13-game postseason winning streak.

Bradley's shot from the left wing bounced on the rim four times before going down. It capped a furious comeback by the Celtics, who trailed by 21 in the third quarter before rallying to tighten up a series that appeared to be over.

Marcus Smart scored 27 points, and Bradley had 20 for the Celtics. They were given little chance after losing by 44 in Game 2 and then losing Thomas for the rest of the postseason because of a hip injury.

Kyrie Irving scored 29 points, and Kevin Love 28 for Cleveland. The Cavaliers dropped to 10-1 in the postseason with their first loss since Game 4 of last year's Finals.