Athletics

Sharks look to snap skid with sweep of Chicago

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Sharks look to snap skid with sweep of Chicago

March 14, 2011

SHARKS (39-22-8) vs.
CHICAGO (37-24-7)

Coverage begins at 4:30 P.M. on Versus

(AP) -- Antti Niemi has been a big reason why the San Jose Sharks have won all three meetings with the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

Niemi hopes to torment his former team once again Monday night when the Sharks look for a fifth straight road win while the Blackhawks try to avoid their first four-game skid in two seasons.

A hero in leading Chicago (37-24-8) to the Stanley Cup a year ago, Niemi has gone 17-3-3 with a 1.95 goals-against average while starting the Sharks' last 24 games. The GAA is the best of any goalie with at least 16 starts in that span.

Niemi is 3-0-0 with a 1.96 GAA in three starts against the Blackhawks. He made 26 saves in his return to the United Center in a 5-3 victory Dec. 30 in the last meeting between these teams.

RELATED: Antti Niemi career stats

The goalie has dropped shootouts in the last two games for San Jose (39-22-8), which fell 3-2 to the Rangers on Saturday. The Sharks remain ahead of the pack in the tightly bunched Pacific Division as they begin a two-game trip that ends Tuesday in Dallas.

REWIND: Sharks stifled in shootout loss to Rangers

"We're gonna have a couple tough games, Chicago and Dallas," coach Todd McLellan said. "We leave this one behind and let's get going forward."

Eight of the Sharks' last nine games have been decided by one goal. They also lost 5-4 to Vancouver on Thursday.

"We're at the point of the season now where a point isn't good enough," defenseman Dan Boyle said Saturday. "We had our chances, for sure. You never know if that point could cost us in the end. Hopefully it doesn't."

Boyle had two assists against the Rangers as he returned after missing six games with an upper-body injury.

San Jose winger Ben Eager will make his first return to the United Center since he was traded by Chicago to Atlanta in the offseason. Eager, who spent his previous two-plus seasons with the Blackhawks, was acquired by the Sharks on Jan. 18.

His former team is mired in a 0-1-2 stretch after Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss at Washington. The Blackhawks, who last lost four straight during a five-game skid March 13-20, 2009, were outshot 42-30.

REWIND: Knuble's goal lifts Caps over Blackhawks

"We'll take the point," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We weren't very good today. We were very generous in all the goals that we gave them and could've done a better job defending in those situations."

Chicago has won its last four at home, where Jonathan Toews has amassed eight points during a five-game run. Toews scored the tying goal late in regulation Sunday to give him 19 points in his last 12 games.

The Sharks have held Toews without a point in two games this season after the center amassed six in last year's sweep in the Western Conference finals.

Marian Hossa has 13 points in his last 10 games, but just one in two against San Jose this season.

The Blackhawks have outshot the Sharks twice in the first period of their three meetings, finishing even the other time. San Jose has been outshot in the opening period in its last four games.

"It says we have to start better, that's the negative, I guess," McLellan said. "But the will and the drive and the desire is there."

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 6-4 win over the Orioles

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AP

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 6-4 win over the Orioles

BOX SCORE

The A’s showed they can make themselves at home in one of the majors’ most homer-happy ballparks.

A day after Baltimore homered four times, Oakland did the same at Camden Yards to power to a 6-4 victory over the Orioles. Ryon Healy went deep twice and continued his hot streak of late, and Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis also homered. The win ended the day on a good note for the A’s, but they hope they don’t get bad news on starting pitcher Paul Blackburn.

He left the game in the fifth after getting hit on the right wrist by a liner. After the game, manager Bob Melvin said Blackburn has a bruised hand/wrist.

Healy has a 10-game hitting streak, and he’s hitting .375 over his past 14 contests. He entered the night having homered just twice over his last 41 games.

The A’s led 5-2 in the eighth before Baltimore rallied for two runs, helped by a missed check-swing appeal call, on which first base ump Angel Hernandez didn’t ring up Tim Beckham on what appeared to be a sure third strike on replays. That extended the inning and made for a tense ninth inning, but the A’s improved to 2-3 on this six-game road trip that concludes Wednesday afternoon.

EARLY EXIT: Blackburn, after getting knocked around a bit in his previous two starts, was locked in Tuesday and impressed through four scoreless innings. Then Trey Mancini led off the bottom of the fifth by lining a comebacker that appeared to hit Blackburn flush near his right wrist. He walked around the mound in obvious pain as A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta came out to check on him. Blackburn was removed from the game.

EXTENDED DUTY AGAIN: When the Orioles loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs, closer Blake Treinen was summoned from the bullpen in the eighth for the second time in three games. He ended the eighth and stranded three by retiring Adam Jones on a groundout. The bottom of the ninth began with a throwing error from shortstop Chad Pinder, but Treinen closed out the game with help from a 5-4-3 double play and a strikeout of Chris Davis.

UNDERRATED PLAY OF THE GAME: Treinen got the ground ball he needed with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. But it came down to Matt Olson making a great scoop at first base when Pinder short-hopped his throw across the diamond.

ENCORE FROM JED: Jed Lowrie homered for the second day in a row, and the A’s went deep four times total. Along with Healy’s two blasts, Khris Davis connected for his 34th of the season in the top of the ninth to make it a 6-4 game and provide some breathing room.

CONTINUING TO IMPRESS: It was an eventful day for Boog Powell even before he took the field. He enjoyed some barbecue with former Orioles slugger Boog Powell, the man who inspired his own nickname. Then those two held a Face Time chat with a third “Boog” Powell, — a youngster from Tennessee who played in the Little League World Series.

Then Powell, hitting leadoff for the second time in three games, singled in his first two at-bats and scored a run. He’s continued to find ways to provide the A’s a spark since being called up from Triple-A Nashville.

As balance of power shifts slightly in East, should Warriors be worried?

As balance of power shifts slightly in East, should Warriors be worried?

The pursuit of the Warriors got considerably noisier Tuesday, when the Cleveland Cavaliers granted Kyrie Irving’s wish to be traded by sending the All-Star point guard to the Boston Celtics.

Boston is slightly improved, Cleveland is roughly the same and the two teams are set to meet in the juiciest Eastern Conference Finals since James left Miami three summers ago.

As for the Warriors, they’re still holding the Larry O’Brien trophy and smoking fine cigars and waiting for rings to be presented in two months.

While not exactly yawning, they’re not sweating any more than they did last week or last month. The Warriors have good reason to remain confident in their status as the most dangerous team in the NBA.

Granted, only one team had the assets and established contender status to acquire Irving and immediately get within seeing distance of the Warriors. That team is the Celtics, who suddenly are built to challenge the champs in ways the Cavaliers no longer could.

Even with their loss to Cleveland in the 2016 Finals, the Warriors over the past three seasons fairly owned the Cavs, going 4-2 in the regular season and posting an 11-7 record against them over the past three Finals. The Warriors dominated the 2017 Finals, winning in five games.

Furthermore, the Warriors over the last six regular-season meetings have outscored Cleveland by an average of 13.5 points. Though the average margin shrinks to about 7 over 18 games in The Finals, it’s still relatively decisive.

Despite the magnified glorification of the Warriors-Cavs trilogy, the Warriors generally were superior.

Cleveland will be a factor in the East, if only because LeBron James will ensure it and Isaiah Thomas -- acquired in the Irving deal -- will provide capable assistance. But the blockbuster deal sending Irving to Boston blows a massive hole through what was left of the three-year-old rivalry between the Warriors and Cavs.

In its place are intriguing matchups between the Warriors and the Celtics, who over the past three years have played the Warriors tougher than any other team. Though the Warriors also are 4-2 against Boston over the last three regular seasons, the overall scoring difference is only 2.2 points in favor of the Warriors. Each team has a double-digit win, with the other four games decided by five or fewer points.

And that was before All-Star forward Gordon Hayward signed with the Celtics last month, before forward Marcus Morris was acquired and before Irving was brought into the parquet posse.

Hayward at small forward is a huge offensive upgrade over Crowder, who will take his solid defensive game to Cleveland. While the Warriors could sag off Crowder, Hayward will have to be guarded. Gone are the days of Boston’s offense occasionally lapsing into Thomas and four guys in spectator mode.

Irving is a better offensive player that Thomas only in that he is six inches taller. Both are among the top five players capable of breaking down defenses. Both have tremendous shooting range, though Irving is slightly more accurate. Both are 90-percent free throw shooters. Irving has a modestly better assist-to-turnover ratio. Both thrive in the clutch.

So why is Boston better with Irving than with Thomas? Defense. Irving’s poor defense is an upgrade over Thomas’ atrocious defense.

Why aren’t the Warriors more worried about a Boston team that has found ways to exploit them? It’s because the loss of Avery Bradley, a truly great backcourt defender, is going to sting the Celtics. Any defense devised by coach Brad Stevens is going to be compromised if Hayward and Irving are on the floor. That’s where Crowder and Bradley will be missed.

And that’s where the Warriors will go to eat.

This trade signals that the Celtics are serious about chasing Eastern Conference superiority and the Cavs officially are operating on a one-year plan.

The balance of power in the East shifts ever so slightly. About as slightly as the balance of power in the West when the Thunder acquired Paul George.

The Warriors, however, remain well in front of the pack. Yes, there are more and more footsteps behind them, but all of them are in the distance.