Brodie Brazil's 'Bay Area pressure rankings'

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Brodie Brazil's 'Bay Area pressure rankings'

1. San Francisco 49ers
In all reality, Jim Harbaugh's squad was two untimely turnovers away from a trip to the Super Bowl last year. Thirteen regular season wins, and one in the 2011 playoffs against New Orleans did not happen by accident. Their three losses came by a grand total of 15 points.

Thus, you can see why the bar has been significantly raised for a franchise which doubled its win total in the span of one offseason. The fan-base expects a lot from an established Alex Smith, an improved stable of receivers, a steady running threat, and one of the best defensive corps in the league.

2. San Francisco Giants
In the last several years, Giants fans have almost become acclimated to expect no-hitters, World Series wins, perfect games, and now, yes, even double rainbows. Whether it's reasonable or not, San Francisco's 2010 "Band of Misfits" team has kept the fan-base thinking that anything can happen, in any given year. Although the majority of faces have changed since then, most of the key players (Posey, Cain, Sandoval) are still in position. For as long as they are, expectations will be very high of the Giants.

3. San Jose Sharks
Some are under the impression that one by-product of the Sharks roster is a "window of opportunity", which is soon to be closing due to the age of key players. However no such thing exists for the franchise, as long as it continues to foster from below (but that's another story). Nonetheless, the time is indeed now in San Jose, where a franchise has been knocking on Stanley's door for eight years now, has reached the conference finals twice in three years, and has a lineup on paper which could reasonably be etched on the side of the Stanley Cup.

4. Golden State Warriors
A new ownership group, an outstanding draft class, and a planned move to San Francisco have a lot of Warriors fans revitalized. Maybe the revolving door of players and coaches is going to be shut. Consider it still the honeymoon period for the "new" Golden State franchise, a potentially much different club than the one which hasn't qualified for the postseason in 17 of the last 18 years. Ranked fourth here, the pressure will rise significantly on the 'Dubs' once they consistently have a proven winning product on the floor, as Bay Area basketball fans traditionally carry high expectations for their lone NBA franchise. Even though it's been practically dormant since the early '90's, this area is a sleeping giant for its quality basketball.

5. Oakland Raiders
If these rankings were created last year at this time, the Raiders would have been placed much higher. A lot was expected as they continued building on a single plan. But after new ownership, a new general manager, a new head coach, and coordinators, Oakland has seemed to buy itself some time in terms of success. What can the fanbase reasonably and realistically expect from a team which was 8-8 in a fragile division last year? It's not to say the Raiders can not be good this season, only that the true fan should understand they're remodeling the house, and that might take a certain period of time to get right.

6. Oakland Athletics
General Manager Billy Beane decisively hit the "reset" button on his franchise this past winter, in trading away some of his best proven commodities for younger prospects who would see playing time this season. This left a lot of predictions looming that the A's could lose upwards of 90 to 100 games in 2012. And even after the Athletics have remained a playoff contender for much of July and all of August, it is still considered extreme "overachieving" if they do qualify for the postseason. Also consider the A's and Giants have maintained nearly identical records for the better part of a month now, but expectations on how they finish are still worlds apart. The earliest the A's could feel pressure is next season, and that would require them to make the playoffs this year. Until that chance, expect Oakland to take advantage of flying well below the pressure radar.

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

SAN JOSE – For at least one night, the Sharks’ depth players – most of which have been missing in action for weeks – found the scoresheet against the Rangers in a 5-4 overtime win on Tuesday.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. 

The Sharks were playing their first of what will surely be at least a few games without center Logan Couture, and are still in the hunt for a Pacific Division title with four of their six remaining games against Edmonton and Calgary – teams they are trying to fend off to earn home ice in the first round. And, of course, they ended a wretched six-game losing streak in which they never had a lead in any of the defeats.

Coach Pete DeBoer mentioned earlier in the week that the coaching staff had challenged the depth players to do more, especially now that their second line center is out indefinitely. The response on Tuesday included two goals from Chris Tierney (including a late game-tying score), one goal and one assist from Jannik Hansen, a shorthanded goal by Melker Karlsson, two assists from Mikkel Boedker, and an assist from Tomas Hertl.

Consider the challenge met.

“We want to score. All the depth guys know, and talked about stepping up,” Tierney said. “It's good that we broke through tonight, especially with Logan out of the lineup. We're going to have to keep doing it throughout the playoffs."

DeBoer said the internal challenge “didn’t involve much more than just ‘Hey, we need some contributions from you.’ We can’t always look to the big guys to get the job done. We got that tonight. Those guys got on the board. It’s never a lack of effort with that group, but we’re the sum of our parts. We need those guys to get on the board for us on a regular basis and they did that tonight.”

It was also surely welcomed that one of their big guys – perhaps their biggest – got the overtime winner. Brent Burns had been mired in a 16-game drought without a goal, but his slap shot got through Henrik Lundqvist half-a-minute into an overtime power play.

While the depth guys will need to continue to produce, the Sharks are going to need more from Burns, too, as the postseason approaches. The defenseman had been kept off of the scoresheet in nine of 10 games from March 5 – 21, but now has one point in each of his last three games. That’s a good sign.

Getting a goal was particularly nice, as was ending the losing skid.

“Yeah on both accounts,” Burns said. “That was a big win, especially coming back, staying resilient, getting that big goal there at the end.”

Still, with all that went right, the game was far from perfect. The Sharks allowed a 3-1 second period lead to turn into a 4-3 deficit in just a span of five minutes and seven seconds, indicating they’re still a bit fragile. Derek Stepan made it 3-2 late in the second with a power play goal, Jesper Fast scored on a deflection early in the third, and J.T. Miller gave New York its first lead of the night less than five minutes into the final frame.

“There’s still room for improvement, definitely,” Joe Pavelski said.

Still, the Sharks fought back for Tierney’s late game-tying goal with less than two minutes in regulation, setting up Burns’ overtime heroics. 

The captain sensed some displeasure from the home fans due to the blown lead, something he surely understood, but indicated that the energy level on the Sharks’ bench was still high.

“Whether you think, like, ‘Here we go again’ or not – I’m sure someone in this building thought that tonight,” Pavelski said. “Guys just kind of stuck with it, and we believed we would tie it up tonight.”

Getting that extra point in overtime brought a sense of relief.

“When you lose six straight, it's obviously a relief when you win one,” Martin Jones said. “But win or lose, we played a lot better tonight.”

 

Instant Replay: Sharks rally late, stun Rangers in OT to end skid

Instant Replay: Sharks rally late, stun Rangers in OT to end skid

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – Despite blowing a two-goal lead, the Sharks found a way to tie their game with the Rangers late and win it in overtime, 5-4, to end their losing streak at six games.

After New York had turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead, Chris Tierney knotted the score with just 2:15 left in regulation. Mikkel Boedker’s shot from high in the zone rattled around the slot, and Tierney was there to flip it home for this second of the night.

Brent Burns ended a 16-game goal drought with a power play goal at 3:10 in overtime, overpowering Henrik Lundqvist with a slap shot.

After Tierney had given San Jose a 3-1 lead earlier in the second period the Sharks kept up the pressure, recording seven of the next eight shots. But Patrick Marleau’s interference penalty on Jimmy Vesey gave New York a late power play and turned the game in their favor.

Derek Stepan – who was stopped on a partial breakaway midway through the first period – brought the Rangers back to within 3-2. Mats Zuccarello hummed a seam pass through Justin Braun to Stepan, who had an open net to deposit his 16th of the season in the final minutes of the second period.

In the third, Jesper Fast redirected a Brady Skjei floater at 1:24, tying the game at 3-3. A Burns tripping minor during four-on-four play offered a power play to the Rangers, and they capitalized on a J.T. Miller one-timer at 4:44, his second of the night.

The Sharks remain two points back of Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and are tied with Edmonton for second.

For the first time in eight games the Sharks struck first. A newly configured third line of Tomas Hertl, Boedker and Jannik Hansen scored on its first shift together, as Hansen chopped in a loose puck at 1:44. Boedker and Hertl both got assists, ending pointless streaks of 10 games and 12 games, respectively.

Hansen’s first goal as a Shark also gave the team its first lead in more than two weeks, as it never led throughout its six-game regulation losing streak.

The Rangers tied it at 13:30 of the first on a goal by Miller, who took the puck from Paul Martin along the wall and lifted a perfectly placed wrist shot over Martin Jones’ near shoulder.

Melker Karlsson, returning from an eight-game absence, put the Sharks ahead 2-1 late in the first period with a shorthanded score. He whizzed a wrist shot past countryman Lundqvist at 18:01 while on a two-on-one with Tierney.

Tierney increased the lead to 3-1 in the middle frame, taking a shot from the slot and following up his own rebound at 11:38. It was just his second goal in the last 22 games, and eighth of the year.

The Rangers won the only other game of the season series back on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, 7-4. The Sharks finished the season with a 21-7-4 mark against Eastern Conference clubs.

The Sharks were without Logan Couture, who is out indefinitely with a facial injury.

Special teams:
Two of New York’s goals came on the power play, on three opportunities. The Sharks are 11-for-15 on the PK in the last six games.

San Jose had just one power play before overtime, failing to score. Karlsson’s marker was his second shorthanded score of the season, and the Sharks’ seventh as a team.

In goal:
After allowing a career high seven goals-against on Saturday in Nashville, Jones made 24 saves on 28 shots.

Lundqvist suffered the loss with 30 saves on 35 shots.

Lineup:
Micheal Haley served a one-game suspension for punching Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok on Saturday.

Tierney (upper body) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (flu) both returned after missing Saturday’s game with the Predators. Marcus Sorensen came out of the lineup for Kevin Labanc, who was recalled on Tuesday morning and skated on the top line.

New York’s Skjei had three assists.

Up next:
The Sharks have six games remaining in the regular season – two each against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

A three-game road trip against each of those division rivals begins on Thursday with the Oilers, as the clubs battle for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and continues on Friday against the Flames and Sunday versus the Canucks.