Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

ST. LOUIS For the first time in his coaching career, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan is preparing his team for Round 1, Game 1 away from HP Pavilion. The seventh-seeded Sharks open up in St. Louis tonight against the Blues.

Will playing at the Scottrade Center be a benefit or an inconvenience? McLellan doesnt know. But, he does feel different than in years past.

Opening up on the road is new to us, and I think its something we need to take advantage of. That may sound strange, but the pressures that go with being a one or a two team are different than the pressures of being a seven or an eight team, McLellan said. We can spin that any way we want. We can say its coaches playing mind games and all that kinds of stuff, but its real. As a coach, I feel that playoff intensity, but I feel different now than I have in some of the other series.

That might be a really good thing for our team, and it might be a bad thing. Thats why we have to play it.

Dan Boyle has experienced just about everything in his long career, and said that the Sharks need to try to turn the rabid home crowd against its team early.

Sometimes when you start at home and you dont start out the right way, the fans get on you pretty quickly, Boyle said. In this case, the pressure is kind of on them to have a good start. Hopefully we can have a good start of our own, and the fans can sort of turn on them a little bit.

When you go on the road, it would be nice to take tonight just to get an early lead on them and really put the pressure on, Joe Thornton said. Is it different? I dont know. Its playoffs, every game is so important, and its important to get a lead in games. Its strange, but it is a good thing I think.

Incidentally, the last time San Jose opened a first round series on the road was in 2007 in Nashville. The fifth-seeded Sharks beat the fourth-seeded Preds, four games to one.

The first 10: The Sharks expect a strong push from the Blues early on, and a tie score through the first half of the opening frame would be an accomplishment for the road team.

Getting a lead would be even better, as the Blues just won half of their games when surrendering the first goal of the game (15-23-7). The Sharks were 34-8-3 when taking a 1-0 lead.

It will be a good test for us. If we can get a goal early and have a little push back, thats what well look to do, Ryane Clowe said.

I think the first 10 minutes of the playoffs as whole is the hardest 10 minutes, Boyle said. Everybody is just insane, and so excited and amp'ed up. The first 10 minutes of Game 1 has been, for me, in my experience, the craziest 10 minutes of the whole playoffs, really.

In the crease: Jaroslav Halak will start for the Blues, opposing Antti Niemi.

Halak was 2-0 against the Sharks with one shutout this season, posting a 0.50 goals-against average and .977 save percentage in the process. Niemi was 0-3 with a 2.04 GAA and .923 SP in three games against the Blues this season.

Brian Elliott, who was nursing an upper-body injury, will back up Halak tonight.

Lineup look: As Ray Ratto reported, Colin White will likely be the odd man odd on the Sharks blue line, meaning Jason Demers and Justin Braun will comprise the third defense pair.

NEWS: Lineup tweaks for Sharks

Torrey Mitchell, who missed the season finale against the Kings, will also play. Mitchell will likely be slotted on the wing next to Dominic Moore and TJ Galiardi, while Michal Handzus will come back out of the lineup.

Clowe, who took a couple days off from practice at the beginning of the week before returning yesterday, is also good to go.

It was nice to get a couple day break, we havent had that in awhile, he said. Im gearing to go now. I feel great, ready to go, and healthy.

St. Louis, like the Sharks, is healthy.

Former Sharks give insight: The Blues' roster features a pair of former Sharks in Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins. It was reported earlier in the week that coach Ken Hitchcock had them address the Blues regarding how to play against San Jose.

Nichol elaborated a bit on that after the Blues morning skate.

I think any little tidbit will help. When I played there we had two long seasons in the Western Conference Finals, so you know how guys react in playoffs, and how they can elevate their game. And, they have, he said.

Theyve been in playoff mode for the last three weeks and they are probably one of the few teams that can turn it on and off. For sure, theyve got it on right now.

Hitchcock, himself, is also familiar with several of the Sharks top players, as he was an assistant coach on Canadas Olympic team in 2010.

I know the players in San Jose. I know a lot of them. Ive coached with and against them in very elite competition, Hitchcock said. I know what they can do and I know how well they can play. Wherever theyve been to get here, they know how to play when theyre here.

Odds and ends: The Sharks were 0-4 against the Blues in the regular season, including getting shut out twice here in St. Louis. Patrick Marleau had five points in the Sharks last four games (2g, 3a), as did Joe Pavelski (2g, 3a) and Marty Havlat (1g, 4a). David Perron scored in five of the last six games for the Blues. David Backes and TJ Oshie tied for the Blues team lead in scoring with 54 points each.

Sharks clinch playoff spot with LA Kings' loss in Edmonton

Sharks clinch playoff spot with LA Kings' loss in Edmonton

BOX SCORE

Although it hasn’t been a smooth ride lately, the Sharks officially punched their ticket to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night by virtue of the Kings’ 2-1 regulation loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

The Sharks are currently hosting the New York Rangers, looking to snap a six-game losing streak in regulation.

The Kings’ loss gives the Sharks back-to-back appearances in the playoffs after a rare miss in 2015. Last season San Jose advanced to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Penguins in six games.

Since 1997-98 the Sharks have made the playoffs in 17 seasons. Only Detroit, which has been officially eliminated from playoff contention this season, has more (18).

San Jose is aiming for its first Pacific Division title since 2011.

 

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

Programming note – Sharks-Rangers coverage starts today at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-26-7, 91 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Rangers: 46-26-4, 96 points, 4th Metropolitan Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***There are several different scenarios that would clinch a playoff spot for San Jose tonight, but the simpliset would be the Sharks beating the Rangers in regulation or overtime, or the Kings losing in regulation to the Oilers.

***The New York Rangers make their only visit of the season to SAP Center, where they will see a Sharks team that has reached its season nadir. San Jose has lost its last six games, all in regulation, and has been outscored 13-3 in a pair of blowout defeats to Dallas and Nashville.

Coach Pete DeBoer did his best to put lipstick on the pig that is the last two performances, both five-goal losses.

“A loss is a loss. Sometimes you’re better getting beat by five than one,” he said. “We lost, we’ve got to figure out a way to win. I don’t look at the numbers on the board, or the difference – a loss is a loss. A lot of times it’s better to get soundly beaten. [You don’t] fool yourself and lose a one-goal game that maybe you didn’t deserve to win.”

***DeBoer offered the following update on Logan Couture on Tuesday morning, after the center underwent a medical procedure on Monday.

“Status quo. It was dental work, and I don’t have a timeframe for when he’ll be back, but I’m confident he’s going to be back,” DeBoer said.

The Sharks are 1-0-1 in the two games without Couture this season.

***New York won the only other meeting between the Sharks and Rangers on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, 7-4. They are 2-3-2 in their last seven games, including a 6-3 loss in Anaheim on Sunday.

The Rangers have the NHL’s fourth-ranked offense, at 3.13 goals-per game.

“If we play the top end teams like that that have speed, we’re able to shut them down if we manage the puck and we’re not turning it over, and keep that good gap through the neutral zone,” Paul Martin said. 

Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “We’ve just got to get back to good breakouts and good forechecking.”

The Sharks will try to end a streak of seven straight games allowing the first goal.

***Kevin Labanc was recalled from the Barracuda. DeBoer wouldn’t confirm any lineup decisions, but it appears that Marcus Sorensen will come out. Melker Karlsson (out the last eight games with a lower body injury), Vlasic and Chris Tierney and will all play, too.

Labanc was reassigned to the AHL on Feb. 20, having not scored a goal in his previous 25 NHL games. He has 19 points (6g, 13a) in 49 games with the Sharks this season, and another 19 points (6g, 13a) in 19 games with the Barracuda.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Patrick Marleau. The forward has been one of the only Sharks players lately that’s actually doing something positive, with three goals in the last five games. Marleau will be playing center for the fifth time this season, and probably the foreseeable future, too, with Logan Couture out indefinitely. Whether he can handle the added responsibility could determine where the Sharks finish in the Pacific Division.

Rangers: Mats Zuccarello. The shifty Rangers forward has a three-game point streak, at least one point in seven of his last eight games, with nine points (3g, 6a) over that span. The 29-year-old Norway native also led the way in New York’s win over the Sharks way back on Oct. 17, with one goal and two assists.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Rangers
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Mika Zibanejad – Rick Nash
Michael Grabner – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast
Matt Puempel – Oscar Lindberg – J.T. Miller

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Brady Skjei
Brendan Smith – Nick Holden

Henrik Lundqvist
Antti Raanta

INJURIES/SCRATCHES

Sharks: Logan Couture (face) and Micheal Haley (suspension) are out.

Rangers: None.

QUOTEABLE

“You’re not always going to start with the lead, and if you don’t, you’ve still got to stick with it. There’s two teams out there. It’s 50 percent chance you score the first goal, and if you don’t, you’ve got to stick with your game plan. If you get away from it, that’s when things go bad.” – Marc-Edouard Vlasic