Sharks earn some much-needed good feelings in finale

Sharks earn some much-needed good feelings in finale

SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ 82nd and final game of the regular season probably ranked 82nd in terms of importance. There was little doubt that San Jose would begin next week’s Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road as the third seed in the Pacific Division, and that became official when the Oilers beat the awful Canucks.

Still, there were some positive takeaways from their 3-1 win over Calgary in which they were still without the injured Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, as well as the apparently banged up Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun.

Perhaps the biggest plus is they’ll get to enter Game 1 of the first round either in Edmonton or Anaheim next week with some good vibes. Those have been sorely lacking since the beginning of March, as the Sharks had dropped nine of 12 games in regulation before Saturday’s finale. They also snapped a nine-game losing streak against Western Conference playoff teams.

"Nice to finish with a win,” Pete DeBoer said. “I thought the guys played hard. I thought we played the right way.”

Chris Tierney, who paced the offense with one goal and one assist, said: “Guys were positive. Guys were working hard. A lot of guys came in and stepped up and played a good game.”

Among the players Tierney is referring to is Danny O’Regan, who scored his first career NHL goal in the third period on the power play, giving San Jose some insurance. Probably the best player on the AHL Barracuda this season, O’Regan played nearly 14 minutes and was 6-for-13 in the faceoff circle while centering a line with Kevin Labanc and Melker Karlsson.

Although his first NHL score probably wasn’t how he dreamed it up – he admitted afterwards he wasn’t even sure he touched the puck – getting on the scoresheet was a special moment.

“Definitely. Really exciting,” he said.

Considering Thornton and Couture are questionable for Game 1 of the playoffs, and DeBoer admitted earlier in the week that Pavelski and Patrick Marleau were playing out of position as centermen, perhaps O’Regan’s number will get called again at some point. 

Would he be ready?

“Yeah, that would be cool,” O’Regan said. “I think I still have a lot of things I need to sharpen up that I think I’ll get more comfortable with as I play more games. I just have to be ready for that opportunity if it comes, and just keep working on my game.”

The Sharks also got a strong performance from goalie Aaron Dell, who made 20 saves in recording his 11th win of the season. While San Jose’s roster features a plethora of question marks headed into next week both injury-wise and performance-wise, the backup goalie position isn’t something that will cause anyone to lose sleep.

“Deller gave us another good game, which is comforting going into the playoffs,” DeBoer said.

The game tape won’t likely be analyzed too much by the coaching staff as the Flames were sitting some regulars, as well, including top defenseman Mark Giordano. Attention will quickly turn into preparing for either the Ducks or Oilers, instead.

For at least one night, though, the Sharks’ miserable past few weeks wasn't hanging over their heads.

“We were missing a lot of important pieces tonight, but anytime you finish the regular season you want to have a little momentum,” Brenden Dillon said. “We had a tough March and a first bit of April, but we're going to build on this."

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DeBoer has been especially quiet on the injury front recently, but said that the four late scratches on Saturday – Pavelski, Ward, Hertl and Braun – will likely return for the playoff opener.

"I would assume so,” said the coach, “but everybody's dealing with something day-to-day."

Thornton was spotted leaving the arena Saturday with a slight limp, carrying a brace in his hand. On Wednesday, Thornton said there was “no doubt” he would be fine for Game 1, but he also said he was possible for Thursday’s loss against the Oilers, which DeBoer later scoffed at.

Sharks' crazy comeback over Capitals is a testament to their character


Sharks' crazy comeback over Capitals is a testament to their character

Suffice to say, just about anyone watching the end of the Sharks-Capitals contest Tuesday night probably assumed the game was over in the last few seconds. Heck, even members of the Sharks thought they were about to lose to the defending Stanley Cup champs before Evander Kane scored the tying goal with one second left in regulation.

“I thought the game was over,” Logan Couture admitted. “I came to the bench and I changed, and I was frustrated. Broke my stick over the bench. And then I look up and Kane’s putting the puck in the net.”

You really do have to hand it to the Sharks. They went into Tuesday’s game on the back end of yet another back-to-back with travel involved. They were coming off their third straight loss --- not to mention their third consecutive game where they’d given up six goals. Plus, they have a banged up starting lineup going up against a desperate Capitals team looking to snap a five-game losing streak of their own. 

Oh, and Alex Ovechkin registered a hat trick. Don’t forget about that part.

But the Sharks hung around. Although San Jose was down two goals partway through the third frame, they kept pushing so Kane could find the back of the net at 19:59 to send it to overtime -- where the Sharks would eventually seal the win.

“The guys knew we were in a tough one tonight,” Sharks’ coach Peter DeBoer told the media after the 7-6 overtime victory. “With the scheduling of it and the way the road trip has gone and some of the injuries we’ve got. We could’ve used it as an excuse and mailed it in at a bunch of different points tonight and we didn’t.

“I think that’s a testament to our character.”

That character helped to catapult the Sharks offense in the third frame after Ovechkin tallied his third goal to give Washington a 6-4 advantage at 5:52 in the period. San Jose kept grinding, with Tomas Hertl capitalizing on the power play halfway through frame and Kane beating Braden Holtby at the final buzzer. The push culminated in overtime when Martin Jones stood his ground in three-on-three play so Couture, Hertl, and Timo Meier could carry the puck the other way. Hertl scored the game-winner, notching his third career hat trick -- which also made him the first player in team history to register a hat trick that included a game-winning goal in overtime.

To top it off, the Sharks didn’t just hand the Capitals their sixth straight loss. It was also the first time Washington lost a game in which Ovechkin scored a hat trick

Kane gave a nod to the team’s resilience while being down. “We never stopped thinking we could get back,” he said. “As long as we kept getting that next goal and [Washington] didn’t make it a three-goal lead. Big win going into the break.”

Speaking of that break, the majority of the Sharks get a 10-day breather with their bye week occurring immediately after All-Star weekend. This team has had a crazy schedule and is facing adversity with the injuries. Getting that win over Washington no doubt allows the team to start that break in a positive frame of mind.

“It’s been a grind,” DeBoer acknowledged. “It’s nice to go into the break with a big emotional win like that. Makes the time a little more enjoyable.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in wild 7-6 overtime win over Capitals


Sharks takeaways: What we learned in wild 7-6 overtime win over Capitals


Fans probably weren’t expecting a goal-scoring clinic when the Sharks and Capitals met up for the first time this season Tuesday night, but it turned into a goal-scoring frenzy, as the teams went back and forth for the good part of 60 minutes. 

It was an absolutely insane sequence of events between San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champs -- especially when Evander Kane tied the game up at 19:59 in the third frame to send the contest into overtime. In the end, Tomas Hertl played the role of the hero, securing a hat trick in overtime to give the Sharks the 7-6 victory.

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' last game before the break:

The defense struggled again

Neither the Sharks nor the Capitals were particularly successful at breaking up plays in their own end, which didn’t give either starting netminder much help. Braden Holtby and Martin Jones didn't exactly do themselves a lot of favors, though, as they weren’t particularly good at preventing rebounds.

Nevertheless, this is an aspect of San Jose’s game that has suffered as of late, and can't be entirely attributed to top members of their blue line being sidelined with injury. The Sharks’ overall defense was stellar before they went on this road trip. They have to get back to that way of playing heading down the stretch toward the playoffs.

Special teams produce, but still room for improvement

Neither team’s special teams were particularly consistent -- Washington gave up a 3-on-0 for crying out loud. San Jose’s improved as the game went on, as Logan Couture scored a short-handed goal in the second stanza, and Tomas Hertl found the back of the net on the man advantage in the third. 

While the short-handed goal proved to be crucial, the Sharks' penalty kill still has to be better when play resumes out of the All-Star break. San Jose had the second-best kill in the league earlier in the season. That’s a level they need to return to if they’re going to get back in the win column on a regular basis.

Defensive identity

Even though the Sharks won Tuesday’s game, they can't be happy with how many goals they gave up. Six goals in four straight games? The Sharks haven't done that since 1995, and it’s not the mark of a sound defensive club. This team has to play a tighter game, and getting a little time off could help them reset and do just that.

After the All-Star break, the Sharks' travel schedule is more forgiving than it has been up to this point in the season. Plus, San Jose should get a couple injured players back and healthy. They've stumbled a bit going into the long break, but all they can do at this point is look ahead to how they can be better after the 10-day bye.