Sharks

Rewind: Jones 'a stud' as he steals Game 5 for Sharks

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Rewind: Jones 'a stud' as he steals Game 5 for Sharks

PITTSBURGH -– Headed into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, all of the chatter regarding the Sharks revolved around their inability to secure a regulation lead in any of the first four games.

Turns out, they didn’t play all that differently with the lead than without it while losing three of the first four -– other than goalie Martin Jones, who made certain that his team stayed alive after the Penguins generally dominated for the final 57 minutes.

Brent Burns and Logan Couture staked the Sharks a 2-0 advantage early, and after Jones surrendered a pair to the Penguins –- both on deflected pucks -– he shut the door on the furious Pittsburgh attack, making 44 saves in all in a 4-2 Sharks win.

The goalie stole this one.

“[Jones] gives us confidence every night,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “He plays well every night. He’s our best player every night.”

[RATTO: Jones' three hour long headstand saves Sharks, for now]

He had to be in Game 5. Although the Sharks managed to retake the lead on Melker Karlsson’s goal late in the first, set up skillfully by Couture, they were often caught running around in their own end and struggling to get the puck out. Of the Penguins’ 46 shots, 31 came over the final two periods.

Even before Karlsson’s marker, which ended up being the game-winner, the Penguins had 12 of the previous 13 shots after Couture’s goal. It seemed like it was just a matter of time before the game-tying score came.

Jones didn’t allow it to happen, though, making a fantastic save on Nick Bonino in the second period, and more stops on Patric Hornqvist, Conor Sheary and Sidney Crosby in the third.

Coach Pete DeBoer said: “We needed some big-game performances from guys. Jonesy was one of those guys in a tough environment.” 

“I felt good tonight,” Jones said. “I thought our D did a good job in front of the net. We got a few bounces. It was a combination of things.”

Also encouraging was that some of the Sharks’ top players finally managed to find the scoresheet. Couture was San Jose’s best forward on the night, with three points, a team-high five shots, and a fancy assist on the Karlsson goal, while Burns also played his best game of the series, scoring once and playing with a nasty edge that sometimes shows up in his game.

There was also a weight lifted off their shoulders in actually getting a lead, even though that early 2-0 edge was frittered away.

“We realize we can score, and get the first goal,” Joe Thornton said. “We just have to continue attacking, and getting those first goals."

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Sharks seize Game 5, keep Cup hopes alive]

Burns said: “We talked about trying to get a better start, get off to the lead. It was a good start for the team.”

Thornton and Joe Pavelski were still missing in action –- Pavelski’s empty-net goal that put the game away, aside -– but Jones’ heroics and the early scores were enough to give them all another chance at having an impact.

“We still want to come back here [for Game 7], but there’s a lot of work to get to that point and a lot of focus that will be needed, and a lot of commitment,” Pavelski said.

What they won’t have to worry too much about, though, is their goalie’s focus and commitment. That’s been there throughout the playoffs, and he may have overtaken Pavelski as the Sharks’ front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy – if they can complete the comeback and capture their first Stanley Cup, that is.

“[Jones has] been doing it all year,” Thornton said. “Just not tonight, he does it every game for us. He’s just a stud for us."

NHL rumors: Patrick Marleau only wants trade to Sharks by Maple Leafs

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AP

NHL rumors: Patrick Marleau only wants trade to Sharks by Maple Leafs

As he's linked to a trade away from salary cap-strapped Toronto, Maple Leafs winger Patrick Marleau reportedly has one destination in mind above all else this offseason. 

Marleau, the longest-tenured player in Sharks history, wants to return to San Jose, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos said during a Tuesday appearance on "Prime Time Sports" on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto. A reunion won't be so simple, according to Kypreos.

"So right now, my understanding is San Jose's not sure yet," Kypreos said. "[Sharks general manager] Doug Wilson's in a position to say, 'Yeah, maybe I'm interested, but not certainly at the price of the last year of the contract.' So, I would probably believe that a third team would need to get involved, a team that needs to get to the [salary] floor. The Leafs would have to entice that team to take [Marleau's] contract, and have to give up something. And then if [the third team] were to buy out Marleau, then San Jose could come in and sign him at a number that they're satisfied with."

Marleau, who will turn 40 in September, is entering the final year of a three-year, $18.75 million contract that he signed with the Leafs in 2017. He has a full no-movement clause, and can veto any potential trade.

The veteran forward is coming off his worst offensive season (37 points) since he was a rookie, and the Leafs reportedly want to trade him in order to clear enough cap space to re-sign pending restricted free agent winger Mitch Marner. Marleau took Marner and Leafs star Auston Matthews under his wing in his first two seasons in Toronto, but he’s no longer creating offense or driving play as well as he once did. 

While the Leafs can retain up to 50 percent of Marleau's cap hit -- or $3.125 million -- in any trade, that's still likely a bit rich for what the forward brings to the table at this point in his career. Throw in the Sharks' own cap concerns, as evidenced by trading Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers one day after making Erik Karlsson the NHL's highest-paid defenseman, and it's hard to envision a trade outside of the three-team scenario that Kypreos outlined.

With recent reports indicating the salary cap might rise to $82 million rather than the $83 million the NHL first projected, San Jose would have about $15.3 million in cap space with just seven forwards under contract. Toronto retaining salary still might not leave enough space for the Sharks to re-sign their cadre of free agents. Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi all can hit the market as unrestricted free agents, and Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are due to hit restricted free agency. 

[RELATED: What should the Sharks do with Joakim Ryan?]

Pursuing a post-buyout Marleau is another matter entirely. He remains a popular figure among fans and his former teammates alike, but Marleau's production is more in line with a bottom-six forward at this stage of his career. The Sharks didn't get enough production from depth forwards in the playoffs, and it's possible that returning to his longtime NHL home with his family in pursuit of his -- and the franchise's -- first Stanley Cup would rejuvenate Marleau.

But as things stand right now, Marleau is a Maple Leaf, and the Sharks have more pressing priorities. 

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

It's sounding like Joe Thornton will be back with the Sharks next season.

Thornton had previously expressed that if he were to return for a 22nd NHL season, it would indeed be with San Jose.

"I’m a Shark,” Thornton said at the Sharks' end-of-season availability. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”

At the NHL Awards media availability on Tuesday, Thornton eliminated whatever mystery remained and confirmed he would put off retirement for at least another year, per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Thornton went even further while clarifying his comments to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

Thornton can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but it's fully expected he and San Jose will come to an agreement on a contract -- a task made somewhat easier by the trade of defensemen Justin Braun on Tuesday morning, which provides some much-needed salary cap relief.

[RELATED: Sharks trade Braun to Flyers, acquire two draft picks]

"He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton back in May. "But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him."

Thornton's announcement Tuesday would seem to indicate there are plenty of more days left to cherish.