Sharks

Sharks seal season series with win over Kings

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AP

Sharks seal season series with win over Kings

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- There's nothing like a visit with the Los Angeles Kings to get Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks on top of their game.

Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Jones made 35 saves in the Sharks' third straight victory over their longtime rivals, 4-1 Monday.

Barclay Goodrow and Mikkel Boedker ended lengthy goal droughts for the Sharks, who built a three-goal lead during another strong game by Jones against his former Los Angeles teammates.

The goalie who won a Stanley Cup ring as Jonathan Quick's backup followed up his 2-0 win over the Kings at the Shark Tank on Dec. 23 with another near-shutout of Los Angeles. Jones improved to 9-3-2 in 14 career appearances against his former organization, but he spread the praise for a comprehensive win throughout the Sharks' lineup.

"It's easy to prepare for games against these guys, or any division game," Jones said. "We know what the standings are like, and what these games mean. We play well as a team (against the Kings). When we play in the offensive zone that much, it makes everybody's job easier."

Dylan DeMelo returned from a three-game injury absence with two assists for his second career multipoint game for the Sharks, who were in control from the opening faceoff of a rare matinee at Staples Center. Joonas Donskoi also had two assists, and Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal.

"You battle a bit more when you're playing a rival and a division team that's ahead of you in the standings," Tierney said. "That's what this team is built for, is playing those tight games where you try to lock it down."

Trevor Lewis ended Jones' shutout bid with 7:18 to play, but the Kings lost their fourth straight to match their longest skid of the season. Los Angeles has been outscored 8-3 in losses to its two California rivals since returning from the bye week last Saturday.

"We had some guys that were really off tonight," Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. "I don't know if the break affected us that way or not, but certainly something did. We've got to regroup here. I feel like we got some good efforts out of our key veteran guys, but they cannot do it on their own."

Darcy Kuemper stopped 29 shots in his first start since Dec. 16 for the Kings, who have slumped into third place after leading the Pacific Division for a good chunk of the season. With a 5-7-3 record in division play, LA is just one point ahead of the Sharks, who have two games in hand.

"It's tough. We were ahead of the pack for a while there, and now we're right in the thick of things," Lewis said. "We've just got to figure it out in a hurry here."

The Sharks went ahead just 4:38 in when the Kings lapsed on defense, allowing Donskoi to make a pass across the crease to an unchecked Tierney for his 11th goal into an open net.

Goodrow got his third goal of the season midway through the second period, converting DeMelo's rebound in the slot. The goal was his first since Dec. 7.

San Jose had an extra step on the Kings throughout the first two periods and nearly added to its lead in the closing seconds, but Los Angeles defenseman Christian Folinstopped a shot with his skate on the goal line.

Boedker added his first goal since Nov. 24 in the third period, ending a 12-game drought.

Lewis got help from Marian Gaborik in scoring his 11th goal. The grinding forward scored a career-high 12 goals last season while playing in all 82 games.

NOTES: Kuemper lost in regulation for the first time in his debut season with the Kings. He is 5-1-3. ... Quick got the day off for the Kings after nine consecutive starts. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner gave up three goals in LA's loss to Anaheim last Saturday. ... Sharks D Tim Heed was scratched in DeMelo's place.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Kings: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday in just their third game in 12 days.

Stanley on the Strip? Expansion Vegas Golden Knights headed to Cup Final

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USATSI

Stanley on the Strip? Expansion Vegas Golden Knights headed to Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues - when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West - to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place - not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon - were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games - a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 - but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career - and first since 2015 with St. Louis - Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.

NOTES: The Jets were an NHL-best 32-7-2 at home in the regular season, but were a pedestrian 5-4 in the playoffs, including losses in four of their last five post-season outings. Winnipeg had won a combined 13 straight at home before dropping a 2-1 decision in Game 4 against Nashville. ... With his team facing elimination, Jets coach Paul Maurice inserted defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Joe Morrow in the lineup for Toby Enstrom and Ben Chiarot. Kulikov hadn't played since injuring his back on March 8, while Morrow last suited up April 20 in Game 5 of the Minnesota series.

Epilogue or prologue? Answer will determine Sharks' summer

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AP

Epilogue or prologue? Answer will determine Sharks' summer

The Sharks will have to answer a lot of questions this summer, but their offseason's overarching one will determine how everything else is answered.

Was the 2017-18 season an epilogue or a prologue for San Jose? There's ample evidence for both options.

The Sharks entered their 26th season with Patrick Marleau, the franchise's leader in every conceivable offensive category and one-time face, in Toronto. They ended it with Joe Thornton, the club's all-time assists leader and Marleau's fellow face of the franchise for a decade, out of the lineup. He was working his way back from what he revealed to reporters on Tuesday were full tears of the ACL and MCL in his right knee, the same injuries the 38-year-old suffered in his left knee a year ago.

Sunday's Game 6 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights ended the club's first playoff run without either player in the lineup since 1995.

But the Sharks also started the regular season relying on young players to improve and veterans to bounce back in order to offset Marleau's departure, and ultimately Thornton's absence. They ended it with five, 25-and-under players scoring 30-plus points, tying a franchise record, and 12 players in total hitting that threshold, setting a new one. 

San Jose made it to the second round, winning (at least) one playoff series for the ninth time in general manager Doug Wilson's 14-year tenure. That's more than any other team in the league during that time, and the latest came at least partially on the backs of players stepping into bigger roles. 

There are compelling arguments either way, especially within the Sharks' cap flexibility this summer and beyond.

As the roster stands right now, San Jose will have between $17.5-and-$21.5 million in salary cap space this summer, according to Cap Friendly. Assuming prospects Dylan Gambrell and Max Letunov plus defenseman Tim Heed start next season in the minors (or elsewhere, in Heed's case), the Sharks will have an additional $2.4 million to spend, plus nearly $5 million more if Paul Martin is moved. 

Thornton, Eric Fehr, Jannik Hansen, Evander Kane, and Joel Ward are the team's only unrestricted free agents, while Dylan DeMelo, Tomas Hertl, and Chris Tierney will need new contracts as restricted free agents. The latter contracts likely won't break the bank, while Thornton said Tuesday he's willing to come back on a one-year deal and at a reduced rate, too boot. That should leave plenty of cap space to re-sign Kane, if the Sharks choose, as well as land another free-agent forward in a class headlined by New York Islanders center John Tavares. 

Wilson will have to walk a tightrope, though, as cap space that's abundant this summer could dwindle as soon as the next. Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's extensions kick in next season. Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, and Joe Pavelski are eligible to sign contract extensions this summer. Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Joakim Ryan are, too, ahead of restricted free agency in 2019. 

If 2017-18 was the postscript of the Thornton/Marleau era, Wilson can truly start to strip things down. But if it marked the start of a new one, he has the flexibility to double down, possibly even if Thornton comes back.  

So what did the 26th season in Sharks history ultimately signify? We may know as soon as July 1.