Boys won't stand a chance in Sharks-Blues series

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Boys won't stand a chance in Sharks-Blues series

St. Louis -- To figure out the event that sparked the mayhem that defined the second game of this Western Conference quarterfinal is like finding the best piece of hay in a haystack. The San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues came to the rink loaded for bear, and came away with handfuls of fur.

Of the game, which St. Louis won, 3-0, to tie the series at one skin apiece, this can be said. The Sharks started, and didnt finish. They didnt finish their chances, they didnt finish their work along the wall, they didnt . . . well, anything, really.

RECAP: Sharks singing the Blues, blanked in St. Louis

But the many incidents that turned the game into a 132-minute fist-fest turned the match into a veritable triumph of physical and even dirty one-upsmanship that San Jose coach Todd McLellan said, is the stuff were trying to get out of this game.

His complaint was the brawl at games end. When asked to cover the game as a general topic, he said, That depends on what you want to talk about -- the instigation, the sucker punch, the blow to the head, the broken nose, all directed at Vladimir Sobotka, who hammered Dominic Moore.

The Blues, on the other hand, were incensed at T.J. Galiardis charge into Andy McDonald 10:10 into the third that McDonald said cracked his helmet; he even held up the damaged equipment as evidence.

Others (well, general manager Doug Wilson) thought that the broken St. Louis bench 5:11 into the game that caused a rhythm-breaking delay seemed, well, convenient.

But finding the match that lit the stick that started the fire is, as always, in the eye of the beholder. The point to be made is that two teams that had produced few enough deeds to rile each other, now have enough to light up the rest of this series.

I dont know what set it off, but if thats gonna happen, theres going to be pushback, Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said. If they want to talk about the Galiardi hit, we can talk about when McDonald slue-footed Cooch (Logan Couture). At the end, when we had four and they had five . . . he (St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock) had guys who wanted to do that stuff. I would have loved to have been in there at the end.

The end, as Clowe described what could end up being the start, saw Sobotka throttling Moore while defenseman Roman Polak pounded Justin Braun as the high (or low, as you wish) lights of the 60th-minute 83-minute smackdown.

It ended what Hitchcock called a test of wills that the Blues passed with a better grade than San Jose.

They gave us what a veteran team that knows how to win will do, Hitchcock said. They gave it to us in the first period. They tested our will, big time, in the first period. We had no choice but to respond. They pushed us hard. They have that experience of being a veteran team and knowing what its like at this time of year. They shoved us hard, and I liked the way we responded.

We grew up to the level of what it takes to win against a team that knows how to do it. That part feels good. We have some more knowledge that we need to compete at this level at this time of year. Theres a level out there. Theres a tenacity. Teams like San Jose, Chicago, Detroit they play right through you. And if you dont respond, you get pushed out the back door quick.

For statistical purposes, the game ended 91 seconds in when Marc-Edouard Vlasic knocked a loose puck shot by Sobotka into his own net. Since San Jose didnt score, the third time they havent in this building, that was the odd but deciding score.

But San Jose didnt really lose control of the game until the second period, when St. Louis started winning the smaller battles that led to the biggest one, David Backes game-sealer. T.J. Oshie essentially bullrushed his way past Jason Demers, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to find Backes alone to goalie Antti Niemis blind right side at 13:49.

And though tempers were already starting to betray the growing animosity between the teams (Kris Russell working Pavelski in the first of the main events), it headed toward hell shortly thereafter when Brent Burns popped Scott Nichol in the head 47 seconds later.

After that, well, you know. Of the 132 minutes of penalties detected by officials Marc Joannette and Brian Pochmara, only six were innocuous a hook by Torrey Mitchell, a hold by Mitchell and a delay-of-game by Nichol for shooting the puck over the glass. And 112 happened after the Backes goal.

In short, as Hitchcock put it, Boys will be boys.

And that, too, is an eye-of-the-beholder thing. Game Three is Monday in San Jose, and boys wont stand a chance.

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.

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.