Sharks

Three takeaways: Martin impressing on Sharks blue line; finding Nemo

Three takeaways: Martin impressing on Sharks blue line; finding Nemo

SAN JOSE – It took some time for the Sharks to get going, but the end result on Sunday against Dallas was a fairly easy 5-1 win over a disappointing Stars team that will miss out the postseason. The veterans led the way, as we focused on in the game recap, but let’s dig a little deeper in the three takeaways…

1 – Martin finding the scoresheet

On Sunday morning Sharks coach Pete DeBoer was asked about Paul Martin, who rarely makes headlines but whose unassuming game this season has been a huge part of San Jose’s success.

“I think he’s gotten better as the season’s gone on,” DeBoer said of the 36-year-old. “The tougher the grind of the schedule, the more he’s rising to the occasion. I thought [Saturday afternoon] he might have been our best defenseman. That’s great to see. He takes good care of himself, he’s a pro’s pro, and a big part of our group.”

Martin had another notable performance on Sunday, notching a pair of assists on the two most important goals of the evening. He sprung Joe Pavelski on a two-on-one that the captain finished off, and continued a quick passing play from Patrick Marleau to Logan Couture that Joel Ward slammed home early in the second.

He’ll bring a three-game point streak (1g, 3a) into Tuesday’s game against Buffalo.

“The guys have made some good plays on just some pucks that I’ve passed to them, so I think it’s just a coincidence,” Martin said of his scoring uptick.

Pavelski gave his teammate a little more credit than that.

“He’s been up in the play. He’s been really solid with the puck, the way he’s been reading plays,” Pavelski said. “That’s what we know he can do. He’s at a high level right now.”

2 – New second line generates a pair

Ward was promoted to the second line in place of Mikkel Boedker late in the loss to Nashville on Saturday, and remained in that spot against the Stars. The 36-year-old scored his first goal in 10 games early in the second period, after linemate Marleau opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game.

The Sharks would love to get more from Ward, who has shown to be a clutch playoff performer, as the postseason approaches. He has eight goals and 26 points in 66 games, after finishing with 21 goals and 43 points in 79 games last season.

“For me, it’s just trying to get pucks out, get to open areas, help my linemates as much as possible, and just try to do little things and believe in that process,” Ward said. 

“Our team gets chances, so it’s just a matter of when you do, you just try to have some opportunities. I’ve had opportunities, just couldn’t score. Today I got a good pass from Cooch, and fortunate to put one in. If you stay with it and believe in it, you’ll get your opportunities.”

The Couture-Marleau-Boedker line had started together the previous 17 games (other than Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, which Couture missed due to illness).

3 – Finding Nemo, Dallas edition

Perhaps the most memorable event of the night came just after Ward’s goal made it 3-1, when Dallas coach Lindy Ruff wanted to pull Kari Lehtonen for Antti Niemi. The problem was, Niemi was nowhere to be found more than two minutes into the middle frame. Jamie Benn had to come off of the bench and leave the ice to go find the netminder, who entered the game at the next stoppage of play.

Cameras showed the Stars head coach was not too pleased behind the bench at the time, but he was restrained after the game when asked about the delay in the tunnel, where Niemi should have been.

“[The referee] said, ‘you’re going to have to wait until the next shift,’ so it was probably the right call," Ruff told reporters.

Niemi said: “I got the word when they decided [to change goalies], so I don't think it matters. Just a few more steps. Maybe it was better to get a few extra seconds there to get mentally ready.”

On the Sharks bench, Martin indicated they weren’t sure what was happening as Lehtonen floated towards center ice, but was then forced to go back to the crease as the puck was dropped.

“I thought Benn was maybe hurt and getting off the ice,” Martin said. “Usually the goalie is sitting right over there. Obviously he was in the back, so…haven’t seen that before.”

Sharks-Vegas Game 7: Why Kerry Fraser thinks game-changing penalty wrong call

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AP

Sharks-Vegas Game 7: Why Kerry Fraser thinks game-changing penalty wrong call

Game 7 of the Sharks' Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights will be remembered for a call and a comeback, and Kerry Fraser can empathize.

In the third period Tuesday, Vegas Golden Knights forward Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct. On a face-off in the Vegas end, Eakin shoved Sharks captain Joe Pavelski in the path of Eakin's teammate Paul Stastny, and Pavelski's collision with Stastny caused the San Jose forward to hit his head on the ice. Pavelski bled from his head, and needed assistance off of the ice. The Sharks scored four goals on the ensuing non-releasable penalty, and ultimately extended their postseason while ending the Golden Knights' with a 5-4 win.

The longtime NHL referee tweeted Wednesday he thought the penalty was too harsh.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant and forward Jonathan Marchessault told reporters they felt badly Pavelski was hurt, but laid into referees Eric Furlatt and Dan O'Halloran after the Sharks' win. Gallant said the referees told him Eakin hit Pavelski in the face, but replay indicated his cross-check caught his San Jose counterpart closer to the chest.

Fraser faced similar criticism after failing to call Wayne Gretzky -- then with the Los Angeles Kings -- for a high-sticking penalty against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I’m sure they’re gonna feel like I am, sick in the pit of my stomach. We’ve all been there,” Fraser told The Athletic. “I have the same feeling I had that night on the ice.”

Fraser's call, much like Tuesday's, marked a turning point. Gretzky's stick hit Maple Leafs forward Doug Gilmour in the face, drawing blood while the Kings had a power play in overtime. The Leafs led the series 3-2 at the time, and could have clinched a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with a win. But the Kings tied it 3-3 thanks to a Game 6-winning goal from -- you guessed it -- Gretzky.

Toronto ultimately lost Game 7, and the Leafs haven't gotten as close to a Stanley Cup in the interceding 26 years. Vegas doesn't have the Original-Six pedigree, but Golden Knights fans got a great taste of Leafs fans' gripes over the last quarter-century in their second season following the team.

Vegas' complaints are warranted, just as Toronto's were at the time. However, both teams still had chances to make up for it.

[RELATED: Check out Sharks-Avalanche second-round game schedule]

The Golden Knights failed to score on a power play of their own following the five-minute major, and could not score in overtime after Marchessault tied the game with 47 minutes remaining in regulation. Vegas also lost two previous close-out games -- one in San Jose, and one in the friendly confines of T-Mobile Arena.

Similarly, Toronto still had a home game of its own and a chance to advance in Game 7. The Leafs and Kings were tied with fewer than five minutes remaining, before Los Angeles scored two goals in a 37-second span.

Both calls will live in playoff infamy, but they didn't have to.

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 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 after 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 await, 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."