Sharks look to continue dominance over Phoenix

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Sharks look to continue dominance over Phoenix

April 8, 2011

SHARKS (47-24-9) vs.
PHOENIX (42-25-13)

Coverage begins at 6:30 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

GLENDALE (AP) -- The Phoenix Coyotes need just one point to clinch a second consecutive playoff berth for the first time in 11 years.

The result could be a first-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks, whom they've had little success against recently.

San Jose seeks its ninth straight win over the host Coyotes on Friday night as the teams begin a home-and-home series to close the regular season.

The Coyotes (42-25-13) are tied for fifth place in the Western Conference with Nashville, two points ahead of Anaheim and Chicago. One more point - or a Dallas loss - would ensure that Phoenix makes a second straight playoff appearance for the first time since qualifying five consecutive times from 1996 through 2000.

The Coyotes have been involved in three straight shootouts - losing the last two - but they inched closer to the postseason with Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Los Angeles.

"It's a big point. But when you come all the way out here, you want to find a way to get both of them," captain Shane Doan said. "We've been close, we've been around it, but we just haven't found ways to win games."

Phoenix, the NHL's only team without a 20-goal scorer, returned three players from injury Wednesday.

Taylor Pyatt had a goal and an assist after missing one game with a lower-body injury, while Lauri Korpikoski and Ed Jovanovski also returned to the lineup. Jovanovski had not played since fracturing his left orbital bone Feb. 17.

"This is when it's fun - when the games are really important and everything's on the line," said Lee Stempniak, who scored his 19th goal to tie Doan for the team lead. "That's when you want to be out there and playing your best. I think it's good to get into that mindset."

The Coyotes may need a top-notch performance to end their 0-5-3 skid against the Sharks, a potential first-round playoff opponent if Phoenix slips in the standings.

San Jose (47-24-9) has outscored Phoenix 17-7 in winning four meetings this season, scoring at least four goals in each one. Patrick Marleau has four goals and two assists in those games, while Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski have three goals and four assists each.

The Sharks struggled Wednesday in a 6-2 loss at Anaheim, but they remained one point ahead of Detroit for second place in the West. San Jose fell in regulation for the first time since March 14 and is still 26-5-4 since Jan. 15.

REWIND: Sharks suffer letdown to Ducks in Anaheim, 6-2

"I thought our guys gave themselves permission, after a long, really good stretch, to take the night off. We're all disappointed about that," coach Todd McLellan said. "I expect it to be a one-time event."

Antero Niittymaki made 28 saves in place of Antti Niemi, who had started the previous 34 games. Niemi is 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average against the Coyotes this season and 4-0-1 with a 1.97 GAA in his career.

The Sharks also may get a boost from the potential returns of Ryane Clowe and Scott Nichol. Clowe missed Wednesday's game after suffering a lower-body injury Monday in a win over the Kings, while Nichol has missed 20 straight games with an upper-body injury.

San Jose has won four straight in Phoenix, last losing there Dec. 12, 2009.

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.