Sharks

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

CHICAGO – Ilya Kovalchuk is still reportedly mulling over a return to the NHL, four years after he surprisingly walked away from a monstrous contract with the New Jersey Devils to play in the KHL.

The Sharks have been linked to Kovalchuk, in large part because of Pete DeBoer, who was Kovalchuk’s most recent head coach. In 2011-12, Kovalchuk was a dangerous scoring winger under DeBoer, helping the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final.

It was apparently a good working relationship between the player and the coach for the two seasons they were together, DeBoer said on Friday at the NHL Entry Draft at United Center.

“I loved Kovy in New Jersey,” DeBoer said. “We went to a Stanley Cup Final together. He was a huge piece for us there. I really enjoyed coaching him. I haven’t seen him in four or five years now. I’m sure there’s still a lot of game left there.”

DeBoer said he’s had no contact with the 34-year-old Kovalchuk, who would have to be traded by New Jersey before signing a new contract with any other NHL club. Still, it seems like the Sharks’ coach might welcome a reunion with Kovalchuk, who posted 78 points in 60 games with SKA Saint Petersburg last season, and has 816 points (417g, 399a) in 816 career NHL games with Atlanta and New Jersey.

“I had a really good relationship with him. I had a lot of respect for him as a player and a person,” DeBoer said.

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DeBoer seemed as uncertain as everyone else as to whether Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will return to the Sharks or move on to other clubs as free agents.

But, naturally, it’s on his mind.

“You think about it all the time,” DeBoer said. “They’re obviously important pieces in the history of the franchise, and in our group. I also understand the business side of this, and there’s always tough decisions to make. The way I approach these type of things is I’m going to go to Canada and relax, and Doug [Wilson] is going to make those decisions. I’m sure we’ll have a good group come training camp.”

“We’ve got a really good core group of guys and some tough decisions that have to be made. The one thing Doug and his group has shown over the years is their ability to stay competitive, to find a way even after making tough decisions. I have all the faith in the world in that, and I’m excited about training camp.”

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The Sharks lost David Schlemko in the expansion draft earlier in the week. Vegas then flipped him to the Canadiens for a fifth round pick in 2019.

“I think for David, it’s a great opportunity for him, especially going to Montreal,” DeBoer said. “For us, it’s an opportunity for a young guy to jump in. The one thing we have in the organization is some depth. There’s a lot of guys knocking on the door, and guys hungry to grab that job.”

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 arguably 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 on 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 awaits, 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' Game 7 comeback vs. Vegas was greatest win in franchise history

Sharks' Game 7 comeback vs. Vegas was greatest win in franchise history

April 23, 2019, will go down as a prominent chapter in Sharks history.

What happened at SAP Center on Tuesday night during the Sharks' 5-4 overtime win in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights might have been the franchise’s greatest win in their three decades of existence. There’s really only one other kind of victory which would top it at this point … but let’s leave that for the road ahead.

Here are five observations from San Jose's monumental comeback:

Redemption

Talking about the infamous “reverse sweep” brings bad recent playoff memories for Sharks fans. And while this wasn’t the full extent of that, coming back from a 3-1 series hole and a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 felt equally monumental.

Individually in the series, Martin Jones went from a “goat” after Game 4, to literally the “G.O.A.T.” by Game 6. Kevin Labanc revealed earlier this season that coaches had motivated him by specifically questioning their trust in him for a then-hypothetical Game 7 versus Vegas. All he did was score or assist on all four goals in the third period.

And lastly, Barclay Goodrow was benched most of the third period in Game 7. But with tired legs on both sides, Pete DeBoer gave him another shot, and a fresh Goodrow made all the difference by netting the overtime winner.

#WinForJumbo, and #WinForPavs

The sight of a concerned Joe Thornton holding a bloodied towel to the back of Joe Pavelski’s head should be enough to rattle anyone with a pulse. If Pavelski couldn’t see what was unfolding during his absence, there’s no doubt the captain (below the lower deck) could hear how his injury became the rallying point as the SAP Center erupted four times in four minutes.

The gruesome scene, and the five-minute power play it offered were a huge opportunity for San Jose, which was quickly noted by the Thornton. According to multiple teammate accounts, Thornton became very vocal and motivational on the bench.

Bad call?

First off, the cross-checking major resulted in an unprecedented four straight power-play goals, which was probably more detrimental to Vegas than the call itself.

But for your consideration of officiating, I present Brent Burns' disallowed goal in Game 2 which would have given San Jose a 4-3 lead and tremendous momentum. Also, Joe Thornton was suspended for Game 4 after his hit on Tomas Nosek … not debating the play or call, only the extreme lack of consistency in the NHL’s levels of discipline this season. Also, consider Game 6 when Goodrow was in the penalty box for a less-than-obvious double overtime slashing call when Tomas Hertl netted the game-winner shorthanded. And there were other questionable calls in Game 7. Was Eakin’s goal a high touch?

I’ll rest my case in saying that questionable calls went both ways in this series, and can’t be used as an excuse by either side.

 Timo, Tomas and Clutch-ure

Two of the four comeback goals Sunday night were scored by Logan Couture. I’ve had the privilege of watching and covering almost every NHL game he’s played in during the last ten seasons, and it must be said: he’s one of the biggest heartbeats of this team. When they’re struggling, he’s accountable. When they’re surging, he’s usually involved. I also want to single out Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier as being absolute beasts in Game 7, and the series as a whole. Hard to say any kind of “window” is closing in San Jose with these three continuing to emerge.

Nice road ahead

This is not to suggest or predict or imply anything, just an observation: the playoff brackets stack up well for whoever was going to advance in this series. Calgary, Winnipeg, Nashville — they’re all out in the West. Toronto, Tampa, Pittsburgh — they’re all out in the East. Sure, the teams that upset their counterparts have to be taken seriously, but it’s not the heavy-hitting survivors that most expected.

In addition for San Jose — yes, there may be some mental and physical fatigue to guard against starting Friday night against Colorado. But what they’ve already gained in facing elimination three times, and galvanizing as a group, you’d think would have to pay off greater dividends in time.