Sharks

Kevin Labanc makes history in Sharks' crazy Game 7 comeback vs. Vegas

Kevin Labanc makes history in Sharks' crazy Game 7 comeback vs. Vegas

SAN JOSE -- Kevin Labanc made Stanley Cup playoffs history Tuesday night at SAP Center.

Labanc powered the Sharks' wild third-period comeback during their 5-4 overtime win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the first-round series. The winger assisted or scored on all four of San Jose's goals after Cody Eakin's controversial cross-checking major, becoming the first player in the history of the NHL's postseason to score four points in a single period of a Game 7.

With four points in 4:01, Labanc's playoff heroics will be remembered as a driving force behind the most memorable game in Sharks history and as the answer to a trivia question.

"I don't even know," Labanc said when a reporter brought the record to his attention after the Sharks' win Tuesday. "I'm still kind of awe-struck right now. But yeah, that power play was on point and really came in clutch for us."

Labanc is not a household name, but he has grown into a proven power-play contributor over the last two seasons. Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were the only Sharks to play more minutes per game on the power play than Labanc. In the last two regular seasons, Labanc's 37 points ranked fourth among Sharks skaters and his 31 assists are second only to Brent Burns. 

He also has been among the most productive players on the power play across the league. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, skaters have played 150 minutes in 5-on-4 situations. Of that group, Labanc ranks in 10th in assist rate (5.06 per hour), 14th in primary-assist rate (2.87 per hour) and 22nd in points per hour (5.91), according to Natural Stat Trick.

"He help us a lot," Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said Tuesday of Labanc's power-play contributions this season " ... A lot of plays he can make. He's really smart, he's patient and he for sure help us [in Game 7] because we were a little bit struggling early -- and kind of all playoff with power play. But, he come back in big moments and you need a guy like this."

Before Eakin's penalty, the Sharks were 0-for-4 on the man advantage in Game 7, and just 4-for-29 through the entirety of the season. But in the absence of injured captain Joe Pavelski, who drew the penalty after his head hit the ice following a collision with Vegas forward Paul Stastny from Eakin's shove off the face-off, Labanc and the Sharks' power play got to work quickly.

Labanc set up Logan Couture's first power-play goal with a Sharks staple, dishing a cross-ice pass through the seam of the Vegas penalty kill that got goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury moving laterally. Labanc's second and third points -- both secondary assists -- played out in similar fashion to one another, with the forward quickly working loose pucks up to defenseman Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, respectively. Hertl deflected Karlsson's shot past Fleury, and Burns one-touched a pass that Couture stepped into with a slap shot.

For his record-setting fourth point, Labanc handled the goal-scoring duties. Gathering the puck just in front of the Vegas blue line, Labanc saw he had time, skated straight to the right face-off dot and fired the Sharks' go-ahead goal past Fleury.

"I just kind of saw a little opening," Labanc said. "They kind of just gave me [the] shot, and they've been giving me shot all series. So, I just kind of saw the far side and went for it, and it was also a good screen by Timo [Meier] kind of getting in Fleury's eyes. He's been great all series, so we got in his eyes and went in."

[RELATED: Errey forseaw how Sharks could rally to win epic Game 7]

The Sharks held onto the lead given by Labanc's goal until Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault scored his fourth goal in as many games to tie Game 7 with 47 seconds remaining.  Barclay Goodrow's goal with 1:41 remaining in overtime eventually completed San Jose's comeback, and the Sharks advanced to the second round. The Colorado Avalanche await, fresh off dispatching the top-seeded Calgary Flames in a five-game, first-round series.

But the win that got them there? One that Labanc played an instrumental role in? That will be hard to top.

"Game 7, down 3-0 in the third period with 10 minutes to go?" Labanc rhetorically asked. "I'd say that's a cherry on top for sure, but it's still not over yet. We've still got three more rounds to go. It's a good win. It's a great feeling, and we've just gotta take care of our body and get ready for the next series."

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

When it comes to the Sharks' top prospects, 19-year-old defenseman Ryan Merkley is in a tier unto himself.

San Jose selected Merkley with the No. 21 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft after he slipped due to character concerns. His talent, however, has never been in question and was too good to pass up.

Merkley impressed during his participation in the Sharks' rookie camp last September, and just completed what is likely to be his final season in junior hockey with the OHL's London Knights. With 15 goals and 76 points, he was the OHL's second-highest scoring defenseman, and his 61 assists ranked fourth-most in the entire league. London's season was brought to a premature conclusion due to the coronavirus pandemic, at which time the Knights sat in first place in their conference with a 45-15-2 record. San Jose's top prospect played a key role in their success.

"Ryan had a very good year," Sharks scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. said last week on a conference call (H/T The Athletic's Kevin Kurz). "In his career, every single season he scored more goals, he had more assists, he had more points and his plus-minus got better all four years in the OHL. I’m very excited about Ryan."

Always an offensive standout, Merkley is a great skater with advanced vision and tremendous passing ability. Though he has added more than 10 pounds in weight since the rookie camp, he's never going to be an imposing physical specimen, and his defense definitely is the area where he'll need to improve most. The Sharks, however, have someone specific in mind for him to learn from and model his game after.

"The biggest thing with [Merkley] was he’s never going to hit guys like Brent Burns or Radim Simek, he’s going to play defense more like Erik Karlsson," Wilson Jr. added. "If we can get him to use his stick to angle guys off in the neutral zone and then get the puck going north faster, that’s how he’s going to play defense. I think that’s what you saw this year with him."

Karlsson has long been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and deservedly so. He signed an eight-year contract extension prior to the currently-paused season, so he should be around for quite a while. Merkley has a long way to go to get on Karlsson's level, but he already has been studying the former Norris Trophy winner for some time now.

"Yeah. He’s not the biggest of bodies, but he’s a great skater and closes up the gap well, makes that great first pass," Merkley told Kurz about Karlsson. "I do think there are some similarities and things I can look up to. Obviously, he’s one of the best in the world. So [Wilson Jr.] and [the Sharks staff] were big on me watching him and watching the way he defends. It’s just (about) growing, getting better and getting more reps."

In addition to Karlsson, Merkley has another Sharks' defenseman to learn from in Mario Ferraro. They roomed together during the rookie camp, and Merkley made sure to follow Ferraro's extremely successful rookie season.

"For sure, it was awesome for him. I was excited for Mario," Merkley said. "He got a good chunk of NHL games. He’s a workhorse. I’ve never seen anybody (take care of) the body and (do) what he does off the ice. It’s incredible. He never stops moving out there, his work ethic is incredible. He’ll play a long time in the league because there’s not many that take care of their body like that or work as hard as he does. It’s awesome, something I can look up to and follow."

[RELATED: What NHL's potential 24-team return could mean for Sharks]

Ferraro projects as a future top-pair defenseman and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually was involved in the captaincy. The Sharks are hoping Merkley turns out just as well.

And, if they end up with another Karlsson ... that's the dream.

NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

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NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

The NHL and the players' association took a big step toward returning to the ice, but it could mean the Sharks' 2019-20 season is over.

The NHLPA announced Friday night that it has "authorized further negotiations with the NHL" on a 24-team return to play format.

As the players' association noted, the sides still have more details to work out before the league officially can resume the season that was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While no specifics were provided on the teams that would be allowed to resume playing, the Sharks are not one of the 24 best teams in the NHL standings.

The Sharks possessed the worst record in the Western Conference (29-36-5; 63 points) and the third-worst record in the NHL when the season was suspended.

[RELATED: What went wrong for Sharks]

If this is how the Sharks' season concludes, it will put an end to a campaign in which the team entered with high expectations.

Last season, the Sharks made it to the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Sharks again were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, but the departure of several veterans, combined with poor play early in the campaign, led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer after 33 games. Bob Boughner took over as interim coach, but San Jose skated to just a 14-20-3 record under him.