Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip


Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip

Kevin Kurz

BOSTON As the top two teams in the NHL in shots on goal, and with both offenses firing on all cylinders lately, the Sharks-Bruins Saturday afternoon matchup at TD Garden was primed to be an end-to-end affair with scoring chances aplenty.Or, maybe not.San Jose managed just 18 shots, a season low, and Logan Couture scored the only non-empty net goal of the game in a 2-0 Sharks victory. It extends their streak to 7-0-1 in the last eight games, and they have won the first two games on their seven-game road trip. The win also moved the Sharks into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference with 62 points, just three behind Dallas for the Pacific Division lead, pending Saturday night's action.
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While Couture coming through with a big goal is nothing new, the circumstances of his solid play were. The rookie was thrown onto a newly christened line with players that werent even wearing teal a month ago, as forwards Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager skated on either side of Couture in what was San Joses most energetic and effective line of the afternoon.That may not be saying a whole lot considering the other forward lines were pretty ineffective, but its a good sign nonetheless, and Couture was pleased with their chemistry.Wellwood really can make plays with his patience and his vision. He found me a couple times where I could have scored, he said. Eager is a big body down low and he can control the play, and hes good on the forecheck.We had some good movement, and carried the play in their end a few times, Wellwood agreed. We got some pucks at the net, and against a team like Boston on the road, thats hard to do.Coutures goal didnt come with his new linemates, though it came on the power play, an area in which the Sharks have been thriving during their recent run of success.He took a pass from Ryane Clowe and patiently waited for daylight before backhanding the puck past Tim Thomas at 7:22. The Sharks power play is an impressive 9-for-28 in the last nine games (32.1 percent).That was all of the scoring in the game until Devin Setoguchis goal with 2.1 seconds left with Thomas pulled for an extra attacker.While the Sharks were struggling to put the rubber on net, the Bruins werent doing much better. Boston was playing for the first time since a six-goal explosion in Thursday's emotional win over Dallas, which featured three fights in the first four seconds of the game.
REWIND: Bruins outslug Stars for 6-3 victory
Perhaps suffering from an emotional hangover, the Bruins lacked energy and cohesion from the start. The few scoring chances they did get, Antti Niemi was there to turn them aside in recording his third shutout of the season.Todd McLellan used one word when asked about Niemi, who was making his eighth straight start.Solid, said the coach. He saw the puck, made the first save, and was there when we he had to take care of the second. He made the team in front of him feel very comfortable.Dan Boyle, who played a game high 24:25, thinks the teams defense as a whole is trending upward.Were trying to become a better defensive team than we have in the first half, and its a combination of guys blocking shots, and defensemen doing a better job in front of the goalie, he said. Tonight our offensive game was not very good, but defensively we were pretty strong.With San Jose riding its hot streak, McLellan decided to leave his top two lines alone despite Coutures return, meaning that Clowe skated with Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski while Joe Thornton was with regulars Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.While Couture was busy generating scoring chances, Eager, in particular, found himself the center of attention a few times in the game. The big winger dropped the gloves with Bostons Adam McQuaid early in the second (and picked up an extra roughing minor in the process), but it was his contact with the Bruins goaltender later in the period that led to the most controversial call of the afternoon.With the Sharks applying pressure in the Boston zone, Eager tried to establish position in front of the goal crease. He bumped shoulders with Thomas right before a shot by Douglas Murray from the faceoff circle found the far top corner of the net. Referee Dennis LaRue immediately waived off the goal at 7:37 due to incidental contact.The explanation that Dennis gave me was exactly how I saw it in the video, said McLellan. Its a decision he has to make instantly, he went with it, and we have to live with it.Fortunately for the Sharks it didnt end up being a factor in the outcome, and a win in a tough building against a division leader is in the books.The Sharks resume their road trip on Tuesday night in Washington against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.Were in fourth place now, so its not a bad position to be in, said Thornton. Were chugging along pretty well.

Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs


Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs

OAKLAND – Three things you need to know about the Raiders’ 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night:

1. Back from the brink

The Raiders are still under .500. They face an uphill climb getting back into playoff consideration following a crippling four-game losing streak.

Still. 3-4 is a whole heck of a lot better than the alternative.

“Yeah, 2-5 did not sound good,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That made our stomach hurt. We wanted to come out here and get a big win. This is a big win. For our team, especially with the adversity we’ve gone through.”

The Raiders looked lost during their downturn, when a loaded offense averaged 13.1 points per game. They fell to 14th in the AFC and last in their division. Perceived strengths proved suspect. Everything was called into question.

If the Raiders were drowning, Thursday was that point in the movie where the hero reappears taking a huge, dramatic breath.

The Raiders are alive again, especially in beating the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs. There’s work ahead to make it more than a really fun night, but Thursday proved their survival instincts are still keen.

“It felt good,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “I wish it would have happened a few weeks ago. We wouldn’t be sitting here like that. You all would have been talking like ‘OK, we’re on a run.' I’m glad to get things going.

“I told them today I was going to go out there and let it rip. I told some other guys to go out there and let it rip. This offense was trying to be too perfect. We had high hopes going into the season when we started, then we hit adversity. We couldn’t find a way to get out of there fast enough. Now we’re getting out of this, but we have to keep it going. One thing we have been doing is we’ve been working as hard as we do every week. It’s starting to pay off.”

2. Dormant volcano erupts

The Raiders offense was horrible four straight games. The season’s first two games proved what a loaded unit can do when functioning well, but those efforts got lost in a wash of bad play.

An MVP-caliber quarterback’s play was openly questioned for the first time. So was a bright young coordinator taking shrapnel for the team’s misgivings. Averaging 13 points per game will make a fan base an angry mob. The offense grossly underperformed, but raw talent didn’t diminish.

Production was hot lava, bubbling underneath the surface. It erupted on Thursday night, with the previously cautious Raiders offense opened up and consistently took yards in chunks.

In doing so, a lost offense may have found an identity, a fallback: The Raiders can flat out sling it.

Quarterback Derek Carr was throwing darts all over the field, completing 29-of-52 passes for 417 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 8.0 yards per pass play and, at times, threw people open or allowed receivers to make a play in tight coverage.

Pass catchers certainly did that. Amari Cooper had 11 catches for 210 and two scores. Tight end Jared Cook had six receptions for 107 yards. Michael Crabtree only had 24 yards, but snagged the game-deciding touchdown.

It felt and looked like the Raiders offense everyone expected each week, finally back on track. That was clear after Carr threw Amari Cooper a touchdown pass the first two drives.

“We struggled to do a lot of things over the last month,” Carr said. “To start fast, again I think that gives life to a team. That’s a sense of hope, which we always have and belief and those kind of things, but to start fast, it always just gives your team a little boost at the beginning that you have to have.”

In previous weeks, the Raiders were wound too tight. They strived for perfection and failed to attain anything close. They just let loose, and went for it. An offense with no TNT blew up, to the tune of six explosive plays.

“We got so many weapons, we got so many explosive athletes on our offense but just in these last four games that we loss we were just so out of whack,” running back Jalen Richard said. “It was little stuff here and there, technical, maybe a missed assignment here and there. Guys were doing their thing, guys were playing hard. We believed the whole game even when we got down a little bit. We pulled through and got the win.”

3. Return of the 2016 Raiders

Last season’s Raiders owned the fourth quarter. They generated seven come-from-behind victories last season thanks to offensive magic and timely defense.

That’s how they erased a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Kansas City. They never wavered, even in tough times. The defense provided opportunity. With two minutes remaining, the offense got it done.

Derek Carr orchestrated an 11-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Crabtree on the second straight untimed down brought on by defensive penalty.

That moment produced great emotion. It should’ve after completing one of the wildest comebacks in franchise history. The drive itself, however, was clinical.

The Raiders believed they would score. They expected it.

"There was no panic, or anxiety or anything like that,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “We were going to get the job done. There was never, ever any doubt.”

That’s exactly what last year’s Raiders did. On the regular. They couldn’t respond well to adversity in recent games. They found their magic on Thursday night.

Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December


Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December

In case you were asking, and you shouldn’t have been because this game deserves to be savored a bit longer, it’s December 10.
That’s when the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders play each other again, in case Thursday night wasn’t good enough for you.

You philistines.

And while there are some folks who won’t be happy (those who like the Chiefs or bet the Chiefs), there won’t be a more magnificently bizarre game this NFL season – because these two teams are exactly that.
The Chiefs, who two weeks ago were the best team in football as voted on by the instant punditocracy, made enough mistakes in the last two minutes of Thursday’s 31-30 defeat to lose 47-10.
And the Raiders did the same, capped off by Marshawn Lynch’s gloriously Oaklandish reaction to fellow citizen Marcus Peters’ late hit on Derek Carr – namely, “I got your rules and your respect for officials right here!”
But in the end – the glorious, bizarre, untimed end – the Raiders saved themselves from pre-Halloween doom, the Chiefs reverted to the team you can never fully trust, and the rest of the NFL can only shake its collective neckless head in wonderment at the power of the old American Football League.
Because that, ultimately, is what this was – a game out of time. This was a throwback game, all the way back to the mid- to late-60s, when the Raiders and Chiefs hated each other not out of historical duty but out of genuine solar-generated animosity. When they both played as though their cars were being looted in the parking lot, and when 750-yard combined passing nights were actually not that unusual. They were hell-bent then, and Thursday showed that they still have that bent in their DNA even now.
This was that era, played out in a way that old Raider and Chiefs fans can tell their grandchildren, “Now you’re sitting there scratching your head and all, but I’m telling you that used to happen all the time. You think Marcus Peters was bad? Google Ben Davidson on Len Dawson, little Tad.”
And it ended the only way it could for the good of the rivalry – with Oakland winning, and in the most staggeringly improbable way.
Not because the Raiders are more noble human beings or a superior life form from a time long ago, but because that December 10 game needs to mean something. The Raiders needed to win Thursday because losing meant their playoff hopes would be deservedly dead, and their remaining nine games would be reduced to competitive afterthoughts, and the year would be reduced to wondering why what should have been never came close to happening.
And the Chiefs needed to lose because running away with a division this difficult just seems wrong. There is nothing that says Kansas City isn’t better than Denver, or Oakland or the Fightin’ StubHubs, but it shouldn’t be this easy. The Patriots may have eaten the AFC East and spit the bones into a dumpster long ago, but the AFC West clung harder to its AFL roots than the East ever did.
And Thursday was the evidence required to show that, at least for the Chiefs and Raiders, the old days can be recreated with a keen eye for the most malevolent details and the most bizarre turns of fortune.
Call it nostalgia on crank – seemingly the only thing we have left that can bond the generations in these otherwise mean-spirited days.