Tigers ride Verlander to shutout win, avoid ALDS collapse

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Tigers ride Verlander to shutout win, avoid ALDS collapse

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OAKLAND When Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander held the Oakland As to just one run in seven innings in Game 1 of their ALDS series, it was easily the best postseason start of the Cy Young Award winners career.That is, until Game 5 happened.Verlander was dazzling on Thursday in Oakland, going the distance in a four-hit shutout while striking out 11 and walking just one. The Tigers eliminated the feisty Athletics, 6-0, just 24 hours after a heartbreaking loss in which they blew a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth.He has a pair of no-hitters under his belt, but the 29-year-old Verlander called Thursdays performance the biggest moment of his already impressive career.The two no-hitters are obviously up there, but thats something a little bit different. This is a win-or-go-home my team needs me, and I was able to go out there and have one of the better performances Ive had, a champagne-drenched Verlander said after the game. For me, this is number one, personally.While the Tigers were no doubt stunned after Game 4, they were able to take heart in the fact that their ace was available on full rest for the do-or-die game in a hostile environment. They could tell early on that Verlander had his best stuff, and quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning.Centerfielder Austin Jackson, who was 2-for-5 with two RBIs, explains.We had complete confidence in him going into this game, and when you see him working out there and you see him with that bulldog mentality, you feed off of it, Jackson said. And we fed off of it as a team.Manager Jim Leyland said: He had that look in his eyes today. He was determined. He had a complete game look in his eye. And we were thankful to get that.Verlander finished the series with an extraordinary stat line to go along with his 2-0 record. In 16 innings, he surrendered just one earned run (0.56 ERA) and struck out 22 while walking five. The As hit just .130 against him.He knew early in Game 5 that he had his best stuff.My changeup was working well for me tonight. I could tell from the first batter, from Coco Crisp, that it was going to be an effective pitch for me, he said. Its just one of those things as a pitcher, you go out there and see what youve got and whats going to work for you that night. I was hoping my changeup was going to be good with as many lefties as they have. If it was on, I knew it would make it tough on them, and thankfully it was.The Tigers were also able to put Game 4 behind them, and according to Gerald Laird, treated Game 5 as if it were just another day at the office.This game is full of highs and low, and the lows, youve got to get rid of them. Theyve got to be a quick memory, forget about it and get ready for the new day and ride out the highs, he said. Thats why this game is so wonderful, last night they made a good comeback and forced a Game 5, but we knew we had our ace. Probably one of the best, if not the best pitcher in baseball going for us, and I liked our chances.Tigers complimentary of As, Coliseum crowdPerhaps they were just still giddy from their relieving series-clinching win, but the Detroit Tigers had nothing but positive things to say about the Oakland As and their raucous Coliseum crowd.
RATTO: Oakland rekindles love affair with baseball
Jackson shot down one prevailing notion that the As are an unproven bunch that only made it to the playoffs by catching lightning in a bottle.I dont know where people get this inexperienced team or theyre just coming out of nowhere theyre a good team. Theyve got good pitching and good hitters, and it was tough on us, Jackson said. No game that we played this series was easy. We didnt expect anything different from them, theyre a good team.Certainly, they don't have anything to be ashamed of. They were a terrific opponent, Leyland said. And, I just hope that there's no lingering disrespect over the Al Alburquerque situation that happened earlier at our place. We apologized for that, we meant it sincerely, and we would never show anybody up. And I think that's past us, and we had a competitive series and we were fortunate to win it.Some Tigers also seemed a bit surprised that the As fans, which once again packed the Coliseum, were with their team until the final out despite the fact that their club was trailing 6-0 and not showing any signs of life at the plate against a dominant hurler.I think playing here was the toughest atmosphere Ive played in, Verlander said.These fans were unbelievable. They were on their feet from out one to out 27. Weve got some good fans at home, too, but they made it tough to come here and play. Thats what home field is all about.

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks' Burns still Norris frontrunner?

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Anonymous poll: Is Sharks' Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Throughout much of his dominant 2016-17 season, the words “Norris Trophy lock” have often preceded Brent Burns’ name. 

The 32-year-old has led all NHL blueliners in scoring for the past three months, building upon a strong second half last season in which he helped lead the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final, and solidifying himself as one of the best defensemen in the game.

In 76 games, Burns has 28 goals – 11 more than any other defenseman – and 45 assists for 73 points and a plus-17 rating. At one point on Feb. 19, he had 14 more points than Erik Karlsson, who was second among NHL defensemen.

But Burns went cold earlier this month. During one stretch, he went nine out of 10 games without finding the scoresheet, and finally snapped a 16-game goal drought with an overtime winner on Tuesday against the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Karlsson has been heating up. A two-time Norris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2015, the Senators defenseman has 13 points in his last 14 games. As of Wednesday morning, Karlsson was just five points behind Burns in scoring, with 15 goals and 53 assists for 68 points and a plus-seven rating.

There’s talk Karlsson could take home a third Norris, snatching it out of Burns’ grasp.

But, probably not.

In an anonymous poll among 21 PHWA members, most of whom get a vote for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, Burns’ designation as the frontrunner seems fairly safe with just six games to go in the regular season.

Of the writers polled, including a broad swath from across North America, 14 told CSN they would likely vote for Burns as the league’s best defensemen if the season ended Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Three were leaning towards Burns, while only four said they would give it to Karlsson.

One writer polled had Burns first, Tampa Bay’s Viktor Hedman second, and Karlsson third.

Of course, 21 votes is just a small sample size of the PHWA membership. Last season, 183 writers took part in voting for the Norris, according to the final tally. Burns finished third in voting, well behind winner Drew Doughty, while Karlsson was second.

Still, as long as Burns stays in front of Karlsson in the scoring race, it appears he remains in line to become the first Sharks defenseman ever to earn a Norris Trophy.

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

SAN JOSE – In desperate need of a win and without arguably their best forward over the past two months, the Sharks found a way to get past the New York Rangers, 5-4, in what was – from a purely entertainment standpoint – one of the best games of the season. Let’s dig a little deeper on what is a much happier morning in Sharks-land with our three takeaways…

1 – Tierney takes over

While several of the Sharks depth players contributed, no one was better than fourth line center Chris Tierney, who had a pair of goals, a plus-three rating, and five shots (tied with David Schlemko for the team lead).

His game-tying goal late in the third period was huge, and he credited Jannik Hansen getting him the puck, as Hansen made a slick play on the Mikkel Boedker rebound. Interestingly, Pete DeBoer put those three players out as a line for the first time that night, with less than three minutes to go in regulation.

"I think it was Jannik who made the play. It was a great play,” Tierney said. “I was kind of just wide open. That's a pretty easy goal for me when he makes that play."

Tierney continues to be somewhat enigmatic. Every once in awhile he’ll have a dominant performance like this one (such as Feb. 2 in Vancouver), but then he’s invisible offensively for weeks at a time. To be fair, Tierney doesn’t always have the most highly skilled linemates while centering the fourth line, but when he puts up the kind of game like he did on Tuesday night it does make you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

Still, his game against the Rangers provides hope that he’ll be able to fill a void while Logan Couture is out, and we’ve already seen that Tierney can be a very effective player in the postseason, too.

2 – Getting one early

It’s hard to believe that the Sharks didn’t have a lead in a game before Tuesday since March 14 in Buffalo. After that game, which they came back to win fairly easily, they allowed the first goal in all six games of their losing streak and never recovered.

It was evident early that the Sharks were poised to end both their first-goal streak and their losing streak, as the first three shifts were all played in New York’s end. Hansen capped it off by swatting in a loose puck that Boedker had put on net.

“It was critical. I don’t think it was an accident our record over the last six or seven without scoring first,” DeBoer said. “Traditionally we’ve been pretty good in that area. But it’s slipped here in the last six or seven. We found a way tonight. I thought we played a great game.”

Joe Pavelski said: "It was nice coming out in the first and scoring first. It’s been awhile since we had a lead. So, that was good to see. I think everyone was encouraged by that start."

The Sharks improved to 32-9-1 when scoring first. They are 11-17-6 when allowing the opening score.

3 – Melk man delivers one

Is there a more overlooked player on the Sharks roster than Melker Karlsson? He’s not a flashy guy, of course, but Karlsson plays that north-south game that coaches love, and he’s a tenacious penalty killer, too. He now has 10 goals on the season, good for fifth on the team.

His shorthanded goal, on a two-on-one with Tierney, gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead just before the first intermission.

“They took away the pass to Tierns there,” Karlsson said. “I looked up a little bit, and it went in. Low blocker is usually a good shot.”

Karlsson was playing in his first game since missing the previous eight with a lower body injury. As one of those depth guys, is there more responsibility for him and others to help fill the void left by Couture?

“Yeah. We’ve always got to be there, but especially when Logan is out. He’s a big player for us,” Karlsson said.