Sharks, Predators OT thriller intensifies NHL playoff series


Sharks, Predators OT thriller intensifies NHL playoff series

Saturday’s Game 5 of this Western Conference semifinal series is brought to you by, the place you go to when you want to see athletes who would pay big money to trade their lungs and legs for yours.

The Nashville Predators needed three overtimes and Mike Fisher (formerly “married to Carrie Underwood” and now “Carrie Underwood, who is married to Mike Fisher”) to out-endure the San Jose Sharks, 4-3, in a game that finally imprints each team on the minds of the opposing fan bases, as in “remember the time when . . .”

You see, multiple overtimes of anything are heroin for viewers, and hell on players, and frankly, if you had the choice between entertained and worrying about players; welfare, you’d have stopped watching football decades ago.

Thus, the Preds and Sharks put on a sensational show which will enervate them both for Game 5 Saturday night in San Jose -– almost a doubleheader, followed by a 1,800-mile plane trip.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Preds outlast Sharks in 3OT, series tied 2-2]

And if you’re into history as the predictor for the future, the winners of nine of the last 11 triple-or-more-overtime games lost their next game -– sometimes in overtime. And if you’re really into history that has no value whatsoever, Thursday’s game was also the first time in five that a triple-overtime game did not involve the Chicago Blackhawks.

The real point, though, is that hockey is an unforgiving game sport that demands the exertion that Nashville and San Jose spent Thursday be replicated two nights later, and though that isn’t likely, they’ll be willing to play three more overtimes trying.

And they’ll spend precious little time either gloating over or whining about the non-goal by Joe Pavelski in the first overtime that forced the next two. Getting screwed is a constant feeling in hockey -– from the pass that doesn’t hit the boards just right to the rut that catches the skate at the wrong time to the bad change to the crossbar to the penalty that isn’t called or the non-penalty that is. In the immortal words of Al Swearengen, Patron Saint To Us All, “Pain or damage don't end the world. Or despair or f------ beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man . . . and give some back.”

Oh, and “Don’t forget to finish your checks.”

That’s the beauty here –- that the reward for playing all night is almost always the right to play some more. San Jose, oddly, is one of the few that didn’t get to do that, having lost the deciding game of the 2008 Western Conference semis in four overtimes at Dallas. And that was after the Sharks won Game 5 in overtime at San Jose.

See how this works? It’s a diabolical world out there, and what you got (other than the despicable bleatings of people back east who had “go to bed” or some equally snivelly nonsense) is a series that you’re suddenly more interested in, one that suddenly grabbed your interest because of what you saw Thursday.

In other words, if you didn’t go to bed, you are a full-fledged adult and better class of person than the Twitter narcoleptics who couldn’t endure an extra hour on the couch, or the bar stool -- just as the Predators and Sharks are better for this experience.

The Predators, we will grant you, better still. Now let’s see if these two teams have the human dignity, intellectual honesty and just plain gumption to do what the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs did in 2003 -– go two overtimes in Game 3, then three overtimes in Game 4, and two more in Game 6.

Now those guys gave a damn, by cracky.

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


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.