Sharks-Bruins: What to watch for

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Sharks-Bruins: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Any good feelings from the Sharks exciting 3-2 overtime win last Saturday against Detroit are long gone.

After San Jose looked to be coming out of its six-week funk, beating the Red Wings to improve to 3-0-1 in its last four, the Sharks suffered a pair of discouraging regulation losses to Anaheim on Monday and Los Angeles on Tuesday.

I thought wed continue that momentum and play well, and we didnt, Logan Couture said.

After a day off for the regulars on Wednesday, the Sharks (36-27-10, 82 points) will try to get things going in the right direction again tonight at HP Pavilion against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. San Jose enters the evening in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points behind the eighth place Kings (Phoenix is in ninth, also with 84 points).

RATTO: Sharks' hearts and minds will decide playoff berth

Couture said: Were trying to remain as positive as can be. Weve got a big test tonight. I know Im excited. Any time you play a team that just won the Stanley Cup, you have to get up for it.

We need to play our best game of the year and build off of that, Patrick Marleau said.
Handzus returning; Wingels too? Sharks center Michal Handzus will return tonight after missing the last six games with a lower body injury.

Obviously its an exciting time right now. Its fun to play in these games, its like playoff hockey, Handzus said.

It hasnt been the most pleasant of seasons for the offseason addition, as Handzus was a healthy scratch in three of the seven games before he was hurt.

I havent played well enough, too, before so Im looking forward to getting back in and playing better, he said.

Rookie Tommy Wingels, whos been out with an upper body injury for the last five games, could also return, although neither he nor coach Todd McLellan would confirm it.

RELATED: Wingels nominated for Masterton

Look for Jason Demers to return to the lineup, too, possibly in place of Justin Braun. Nathan Horton (concussion), Rich Peverley (knee) and Tuukka Rask (groin) remain out for the Bruins.
Havlat surging: The Sharks have welcomed Marty Havlat back to the lineup, as the winger has four goals in four games after missing 39 with a partially torn hamstring. He has six points (4g, 2a) in his last three games.

Hes very creative out there with the way he passes and where he places pucks, said linemate Patrick Marleau. He protects the puck well, he sees the ice very well, and knows when to go fast and when to go slow. Thats something very special in a player.

Havlat had just two goals in his first 26 games with San Jose before he was hurt on Dec. 17.

Bruins streaking: The Boston Bruins (42-27-3, 87 points) had a difficult two-month stretch after a dominant early part of the season. The club has won its last three, though, including an 8-0 thrashing of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.

Stanley Cup Champs for a reason, coming off a real good win, McLellan said. Playing probably better over the last week to 10 days than they were earlier in the year. They went through their funk as well, as all teams do. Theyre gearing up for their playoff run, so well have our hands full.

Theyre a complete team, right from the goaltender on out, said former Bruins captain Joe Thornton. Theyre flying high off that 8-0 win last game. Wed like to score early, get some confidence, and get ready to roll from there.

In one of the more entertaining games this season, the Sharks won at TD Garden on Oct. 22, 4-2. Benn Ferriero scored the game-winner midway through the third period, breaking a 2-2 tie at the second intermission.

Marleau said: You take some confidence from the previous game. You know that theyre going to bring their game tonight and have lots of firepower. They play a great system game, so were going to have to do the same.
McLellan looking for some clutch hitting: The Sharks head coach used a baseball analogy to describe what hes looking for from his team as it continues its trudge through the second half of the season.

When youre up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the walk is great. Its kind of the safe play, but Id like to see somebody hit the ball. Well take a single, well take a double, and those are the kind of players we want right now.

If you have too much on your shoulders you might get to first, but youre going to walk. For lack of a better analogy, I like baseball, so thats what Im going to use right now.

Whats been the problem over the last two games?

I feel at times its a nervousness that holds us back. We have to go out there and play free. Its not about one or two individuals carrying the weight of the team on the shoulders, its about distributing it evenly. The 25 minute guys have to take as much on as the seven minute guys. When you do that, the team plays well.
Niemi vs. Thomas: Antti Niemi will make his 13th straight start in net for the Sharks. Hes 4-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in four career games against Boston, and made 37 saves in the win on Oct. 22.

Tim Thomas goes for the Bruins, as capable backup Rask remains out with a groin injury. Thomas is 2-3-0 with a 2.02 GAA and .928 SP career against the Sharks.

Former Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco is Thomas backup. He was signed as a free agent on March 5 after Rask went down.

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

SAN JOSE – To borrow a phrase from Chuck Woolery, Todd McLellan was back in two and two.

Saturday’s Game 6 between the Sharks and Oilers marked exactly two years and two days since the Sharks-McLellan love connection was broken up, as the coach and his staff were all essentially fired on April 20, 2015. But McLellan and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft quickly resurfaced with the Oilers a few weeks later, and now they’re moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the expense of their former employer.

At what was his home for seven seasons, McLellan took the press conference podium at SAP Center as the victorious visiting coach after Edmonton’s 3-1 win clinched the series in six games. Asked what the moment meant to him, McLellan preferred not to focus on himself or his staff.

“It’s not about Todd, it’s not about Jay or Jimmy. It’s about the Oilers and the group of players there that are growing up in front of us,” McLellan said.

“We’re part of this team now. I obviously have a soft spot for a lot of the players that are here in San Jose. They gave us a hell of a series. They helped us grow up by pushing us, and we’re lucky to get through. That’s an important thing for us.”

Amazingly, the Oilers managed to prevail with just one even strength point from Connor McDavid, who led the league in scoring in the regular season. That point came with less than a second remaining on the clock on Sunday when McDavid converted on an empty net.

The focus from the outside, among many of the Edmonton and San Jose media, was that the Sharks were doing an admirable job of defending the 20-year-old, who had 30 goals and 100 points in the regular season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, in particular, were keeping McDavid frustrated.

While that may be the case, McLellan said after Game 6 that he had no problem with the McDavid vs. Vlasic showdown. In his view, the Oilers could win the series elsewhere.

“There was a lot of talk in this series about us trying to get Connor away from Vlasic and Braun. Obviously we don’t want to talk about it during the series, but we had an eye on [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] against [Joe Thornton’s] line, especially since they put them together. That was a match we were looking for.

“You can’t get everything. When you’re a coach, the media experts find something and they keep going to it. But coaches have different plans sometimes. Peter [DeBoer] had his plan, we had ours. Ours wasn’t about getting Connor away from Vlasic and Braun, ours was getting [Nugent-Hopkins] on the ice against [Joe] Pavelski and Jumbo and Patty Marleau. For the most part, it worked in our favor.”

It worked, because as the stars on both teams were essentially neutralized, the Oilers’ depth players contributed just a little bit more than the Sharks group did and at more opportune times.

Zack Kassian had a pair of game-winning goals in games two and three; David Desharnais was the Game 5 hero with a game-tying assist and game-winning goal; and Anton Slepyshev posted the game-winner with a breakaway in Game 6. Not exactly big names.

DeBoer was particularly disappointed with Game 3, a 1-0 loss on Kassian’s third period goal; and Game 5, in which the Sharks had a 3-1 lead that they couldn’t protect. That the Sharks only got one power play goal in 18 chances not counting the Game 4 blowout was also one of the reasons for their downfall.

“If you had told me before the series we would have held McDavid in check, we would have won the special teams battle on paper, I probably would have felt pretty good about our chances,” DeBoer said.

Instead, McLellan will take his up-and-coming team to the next round, where it will face off with the Anaheim Ducks.

“For our team, we’re watching them grow up right in front of us, which is a great thing,” he said.

 

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.