Rolling Sharks look to snap skid in Jersey

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Rolling Sharks look to snap skid in Jersey

Feb. 11, 2011

SHARKS (30-19-6) vs.
NEW JERSEY (21-30-4)
Coverage begins at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California

(AP) -- A winning stretch nearly a month long has helped the San Jose Sharks move into position to lead the Pacific Division.Even with its own month-long run of success, the New Jersey Devils have plenty of ground to make up in order to get back in the playoff race.Two of the NHL's hottest teams square off Friday night when the Sharks visit the Devils at the Prudential Center.
KURZ: Sharks Notebook -- Much-improved Devils on deck
It was not long ago that San Jose (30-19-6) was 10 points behind Dallas in the Pacific. However, the Sharks have followed a six-game skid with a 9-0-1 stretch that has them sharing the lead with the Stars.San Jose, which has not allowed more three goals in 10 straight contests, will try to win six in a row for the first time since an eight-game run from Dec. 17, 2009-Jan. 2, 2010.Patrick Marleau scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period as the Sharks overcame a two-goal deficit to win 3-2 at Columbus on Wednesday in the fourth stop on a seven-game trip.
REWIND: Sharks rally to keep roadie rolling, beat Columbus
"Beggars can't be choosers and we'll take it," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "(There are) some areas that we are not happy with, but we will see what we can do and move on."Though Wednesday's slow start might be a concern, McLellan should be thrilled by the recent play of Antti Niemi.WATCH: Todd McLellan SJSCBJ postgame
The second-year netminder has won four in a row and owns a 1.86 goals-against average during his 8-0-1 stretch. He's allowed two goals on 95 shots over the last three games.Niemi made 32 saves in a 2-1 shootout win on April 2 in his only appearance versus New Jersey while with Chicago.RELATED: Antti Niemi stats
Marleau, who snapped a three-game stretch without a point Wednesday, had a goal with three assists in a 5-2 home victory over the Devils on Oct. 27. Linemate Joe Thornton recorded his fourth career hat trick and matched a career high with five points in that contest.Though San Jose got the best of the Devils (21-30-4) earlier this season, it's 0-3-1 at New Jersey since November 2000.The Sharks also will try to cool down a New Jersey club that's 11-1-2 after winning just 10 games through the first three months of the season. Still, the Devils are 13th in the Eastern Conference and 13 points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot with 27 games remaining."I know we can play better than we are right now," said coach Jacques Lemaire, who became the eighth coach in NHL history to reach 600 wins after Thursday's 2-1 overtime victory at Toronto.Ilya Kovalchuk scored the winner after Dainius Zubrus netted his 11th for the Devils, who won their third in a row overall and 10th straight when allowing fewer than three goals.RELATED: New Jersey Devils roster
Kovalchuk has four goals and three assists his last six games. He was held without a point against the Sharks in October.Martin Brodeur stopped 34 shots for the Devils in that contest and has a 1.92 GAA while winning eight of 10 overall, but is day-to-day with a sprained right knee. The future Hall of Famer has a 1.63 GAA during a three-game home winning streak against San Jose.Backup Johan Hedberg is 0-3-0 with a 6.20 GAA in four career games versus the Sharks.

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point over the next four days, Madison Bumgarner will pick up a baseball, stand a few feet across from a member of the training staff, and simply play catch. It'll be a huge step in Bumgarner's rehab, and should it go well, a boost to the psyche of a struggling team.

In the meantime, another lefty is making sure the Giants don't suffer too much without their ace, as improbable as that first seemed.

Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth Saturday night and in true Bumgarner fashion, he added a pair of hits and an RBI. The Giants beat the Braves 6-3. They've won Blach's past three starts, and even with a 10-run outing in Cincinnati mixed in, he has a 3.71 ERA since taking the spot left open by a dirt bike accident.

"Because of what happened he's in the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said, "And he's taking full advantage."

Blach has shown that long term, he might be a big part of this rotation. It's been years since the Giants locked a young, cost-controlled starter in, and Blach has backed up his big cameo last year. It's possible -- likely even -- that at some point the Giants will need to trade a veteran, perhaps Johnny Cueto, for young bats. Blach provides needed insurance. 

Short term, he's providing a huge boost to a team that doesn't have much going right. Blach has thrown at least seven innings in his past four starts. He has allowed just eight earned runs in four starts since the one in Cincinnati, throwing 28 2/3 innings. 

"I feel good," Blach said. "I've always been a starter, so it's been a pretty easy transition to make. I feel comfortable."

The Giants are comfortable behind him, as evidenced by a half-dozen strong defensive plays Saturday. 

"He's been consistent and he works quickly," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's just a great guy to play behind."

Blach even joined in at the plate. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat -- his first big league hit off Not Clayton Kershaw -- and later roped another single. Blach even showed off his wheels, busting it from first to third on Denard Span's ball to the corner before Phil Nevin held him up. 

"I worked into some good counts and I was able to get fastballs," Blach said of his night at the plate. "It's definitely a big confidence booster when your spot comes up and you're able to drive in runs."

The night was straight out of Bumgarner's playbook, and it was needed. The Giants had dropped five of six, but Blach was backed by homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt. It got a little hairy late, but the bullpen held on, clinching Blach's third win of the season. He looks poised for many more, and Bochy is happy to keep running him out there.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," the manager said.

 

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — This spot in the rotation is the one reserved for the stopper, the pitcher who takes a game by the throat when his team really needs it. 

Ty Blach took the mound Saturday for a team that had lost five of six, and just as Madison Bumgarner often has, Blach ended the skid. The young lefty was dominant into the eighth and the bats finally provided enough support. The Giants won 6-3, tying this weekend series with the Braves.

Here are five things to know from a night we were reminded that Emilio Bonifacio is in the big leagues … 

--- Blach pitched 7 2/3 innings. He has thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and five of seven starts overall. Jeff Samardzija (6) is the only Giants starter who has gone that deep more often. Blach is tied with Johnny Cueto for second-most seven-inning starts on staff, and Cueto has made three additional starts. 

--- Blach’s RBI single in the fourth was -- at the time -- the fourth hit of his career, and the first against a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. The ball had an exit velocity of 101 mph. Blach tried to score from first on Denard Span’s double, but Phil Nevin held him. Still, the way he was moving, it makes you wonder if Samardzija really is Bruce Bochy’s best pitcher-pinch-running option. In the seventh, Blach picked up a second single. 

--- Blach’s only bad start has been the one he made in Cincinnati, where the Giants played like a Double-A team. If you take that one out, Blach has a 2.21 ERA since taking over Bumgarner’s rotation spot. 

--- Even though he gave up just two earned in 7 2/3, Blach’s home ERA actually went up. It’s 1.75, which ranks seventh in the National League. The sellout crowd gave Blach a standing ovation when he was pulled in the eighth. 

--- Blach had a season-high five strikeouts. When he got Nick Markakis to end the first, Blach ended a streak of 37 left-handers faced without a strikeout. He later struck out another lefty, Matt Adams. The new Braves first baseman came up as the tying run in the eighth but Derek Law got him to ground out to first. 

--- Bonus sixth “thing to know” ... on Blach of course: His first name is Tyson, not Tyler. It’s Tyson Michael Blach.