Sharks

Sharks vs. Avalanche: What to watch in NHL playoff second-round series

Sharks vs. Avalanche: What to watch in NHL playoff second-round series

SAN JOSE — It's hard to think about what's next after the Sharks' dramatic Game 7 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, but the Stanley Cup playoff show must go on.

Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche are next up for the Sharks, with the second-round series beginning Friday in San Jose.

When asked after Tuesday night's win if he’d thought about the Avs series yet, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer gave a sigh and a chuckle before shaking his head “no.” (The guy did just come off coaching his team to a huge come-from-behind victory, after all.)

But that didn’t stop the rest of us from looking ahead. Here are three things to keep in mind for the second-round matchup with Colorado.

Rest and repair

Of course, one of the biggest differences between the Sharks and Avs heading into this series is the amount of rest each team has had before the start of the second round. Colorado made quick work of its first-round opponent, dousing the Calgary Flames in a five-game set.

San Jose had a very different route to the second round, playing a full seven games against Vegas. Given the incredibly physical nature of the Sharks-Golden Knights series — there was no shortage of extracurriculars during those contests — San Jose certainly will enter the second round with a little less time to take a breath and regroup.

The lack of a long break also could play in the Sharks’ favor, though. San Jose enters the series riding a three-game winning streak and the confidence to come back from any deficit. So even though their opponent will change, the Sharks already will have forward momentum going into the next round.

How the teams matched up in the regular season

You might look on paper and see that the Sharks took the season series against the Avalanche 3-0-0. Keep in mind, though, the Sharks didn’t run away with any of those contests.

After going up 5-1 in the second period of their first meeting on Jan. 2, San Jose allowed Colorado to answer with three goals to make the score 5-4 late in the third frame. San Jose held on to win the game by one goal.

Their second meeting, on March 1, was more one-sided but still ended with the Sharks narrowly winning 4-3. 

The Sharks’ best performance against the Avalanche was a 5-2 victory in their regular-season finale. After surrendering the first goal at 2:56 in the first period, San Jose dug deep to attack back with three unanswered goals in the later part of the game. To beat this team in a playoff series, the Sharks have to be even better than that.

The key to beating the ‘Lanche

Team Teal can start by taking what made them successful against Vegas and applying it to this series. Strong starts -- preferably without giving up a goal in the first five minutes -- and offensive contributions from all parts of the lineup remain important.

But perhaps the best thing San Jose can do is shut down Colorado’s hot hands. Much like they had to slow down Vegas’ Mark Stone-led line, the Sharks’ defense will have to halt a second-line combination containing Mikko Rantanen, who leads all Avs skaters in the playoffs with nine points (five goals, four assists.)

[RELATED: Marchessault rips refs for penalty that changed Game 7]

Plus, nobody can forget about MacKinnon, who has carried his dominant play from the regular season right into the playoffs. The Sharks have the firepower to counter Colorado’s forward assault, but holding these players off the scoreboard also will be key.

Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

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USATSI

Sharks say Petr Mrazek 'flopped', got what he deserved from Joe Thornton

There was no shortage of electricity in Thursday night's rumble between the Sharks and Hurricanes, which San Jose got a point out of after falling 3-2 in the shootout

But the game really went on the verge of exploding when Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek went after Joe Thornton -- which unleashed some next-level fury that Sharks fans on social media like to refer to as "Angry Joe."

"Jumbo plays hard, and the goalie went after him," Logan Couture said after Thursday's loss. "So, I don't know if the goalie expected to get pushed like he did, but if you're going to go at someone you're probably going to get pushed."

Thornton went to give the puck a nudge as he skated by Carolina's net, realizing a bit late that Mrazek already had frozen it. But it was enough to irk the Canes' netminder, who then attempted to violently slash Thornton and subsequently stood up out of the crease as if to square off with the future Hall of Famer. 

Thornton responded with a half-push, half-punch to Mrazek's face, sending the goalie toppling over backward to the ice. Mrazek remained there as a scrum ensued behind Carolina's net. 

[RELATED: Watch Jumbo send 'Canes goalie to ice with forearm shiver]

"I think it definitely gets your group emotionally engaged in the game when you have a goalie swinging a stick at a guy like, but, as you saw, Joe can take care of himself," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer chuckled. 

Even after Thornton was ushered over to the penalty box to serve two minor penalties, Mrazek was slow to get up off of the ice. The long delay in play left some wondering if Mrazek had a concussion, but he stayed in the game. 

This, of course, raised a couple of mid-game questions. Should Mrazek have come out of the game and gone straight into the league's concussion protocol? Was it actually the fall and not Thornton's force that caused him to labor on the ice for so long? Or, was Mrazek waiting things out so Thornton would receive more discipline?

Sharks goalie Aaron Dell offered up his two cents after the game. "He either got hit really hard and should have gone into concussion protocol or he flopped a bit, but I guess that's the ref's call," Dell said with a shrug.

Mrazek didn't offer up much to the media after the game, calling it a "cheap shot" by Thornton before saying he has suffered hits "worse than those, so it's not bad." So, perhaps we'll never know the real story.

While there is a lot of attention on his tiff with Mrazek, Thornton also deserves credit for playing an incredible game. He led the third line along with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc to one of its most impactful games so far this season, and set up Sorensen for San Jose's first goal on the evening. With the Sharks' road trip continuing with a back-to-back this weekend against the Floridian teams, getting that kind of bottom-six contribution is vital.

"He's playing well," Couture said of Thornton. "We need [the third line]. Can't win with only the top six scoring. Some nights you need the bottom six to score, and I think that line's looked really good."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 shootout loss vs. Hurricanes

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 shootout loss vs. Hurricanes

BOX SCORE

There’s nothing like some fireworks to kick off a tough road trip.

The Sharks and Hurricanes might only see each other twice a season, but boy did things get heated between the two teams in their second and final meeting of the 2019-20 campaign Thursday night at PNC Arena. It was a fast-paced and entertaining matchup all the way through overtime. In the end, San Jose got only one point after Carolina prevailed 3-2 in the shootout, but there were a lot of good things that came out of this one.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday's exciting game:

Thornton ruffles some feathers

Joe Thornton has come up in conversation a bit lately, but mostly because he hasn't produced much over the first two months of the season. But Jumbo Joe has gotten back to what he does best -- setting up goals -- which he has done in three of the last five games. Against the Hurricanes, he looked like his vintage self, and even responded in kind when Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek slashed him late in the second period. 

[RELATED: Watch Jumbo send 'Canes goalie to ice with forearm shiver]

Thornton was the leader of the Sharks' third line Thursday, which was easily the team's best. His work setting up Marcus Sorensen for San Jose's first-period goal was especially impressive, as he displayed great patience in setting his young linemate up with Hurricanes skaters pressuring. Not only was the assist a beauty, but it also brought Thornton within four helpers of tying Adam Oates for seventh on the NHL's all-time list. 

Dell bounces back

Dell was coming off a couple of rough outings, but in his first start since Nov. 27, he put up a strong performance in Raleigh.

After giving up the first goal of the game within the opening minute, Dell really settled in and had a good handle on the Canes’ offense. He was very strong at the start of the second period when Carolina came out with a ton of energy and generated plenty of grade-A chances. But perhaps his best came on a third-period penalty kill to keep the game tied up 2-2. 

Or maybe his saves in overtime were better. Really, he put some great tape together.

Karlsson keeps it going

The Sharks are paying Erik Karlsson to be one of their best players, and he was exactly that against the Hurricanes.

The defenseman has been heating up over the last couple of weeks, and on Thursday he looked downright elite. His work on both ends of the ice was superb, and he set up some of the Sharks' best plays of the game. His incredible work setting up Logan Couture's game-tying goal in the second period was the cherry on top of his highlight-reel performance.