Playoff Hockey: Underdogs, Upsets and Staying the Course

By Mary Walsh

It has been a busy few days in playoff hockey. Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens pushed back to stop the New York Rangers from taking a 3-0 series lead. That show starred Montreal’s rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski. Friday, the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors won their first Conference Final game at home. Saturday night, the Los Angeles Kings took a 2-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now that the Kings have taken a lead in a series, and scored dozens of goals against the daunting Blackhawks (actually only 11 so far), is it safe to say that maybe the 2013-14 Sharks were not that far from their goal, if they were able to beat Los Angeles three games in a row? No. The Kings have proceeded at an erratic pace but they built up momentum in each progressive series. A strong start does not make up for a weaker finish, so the Sharks can’t take too much comfort in the Kings’ success thus far. The Kings are making a habit of giving up leads only to take them back, but that doesn’t mean there were not a lot of holes in the Sharks roster and strategy. Can the Sharks seal up those holes?

The good news, the biggest and best news from Shark territory so far, is that Larry Robinson has agreed to stay on. His new title is Associate Coach and Director of Player Development. If his title was “Guy Who Does Whatever He Feels Like Doing Today In The General Vicinity San Jose” it would still be a good deal. He is that helpful. It can also be seen as a positive indicator for the team: if Robinson thinks that staying on will not be a futile waste of his time, perhaps fans should have a little faith too.

Thursday on Yahoo! Sports Talk Live, Doug Wilson said that he does not have specific plans to acquire a big name free agent this summer. He did not rule it out but he did not say it was a goal. He also said that missing the playoffs for several seasons starting next year was not his plan. He does not plan to move his best young players. This makes me think that, despite pressure from the fan base and many sources of common sense, he could be planning very little in the way of major roster moves. I do not think that is a bad thing, but I am sure it would be unpopular.

Popular or not, moving big names to shake the team up is an enormous risk. How do you trade away Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau, and avoid slipping badly in the standings, unless you pick up another very high-end forward to replace them? Do you get that player via trade? Who do you get them for if you want to keep your young roster? Do the Sharks have the picks to land such a player? As Wilson mentioned Thursday, however you bring someone in, you need to consider the impact that player will have on your younger players. He needs to not only be productive in his own right but supportive of your development plan.

Do Thornton and Marleau not fit that mold? There is no indication that either one of them undermines or stifles growth in their teammates. Their presence may be growing stale but change for change’s sake rarely pays off.

James Mirtle and Justin Bourne had a Twitter conversation about the high number of minutes being given to fourth lines in the Eastern Conference Final. It makes perfect sense, especially when teams have played a seven game series already, or more, to spread minutes around. But this means that you do need versatile players on that fourth line. You need guys who are reliable in the faceoff circle, tough along the boards, good shots, and reasonably able playmakers. As I said last week, you don’t need Mike Richards on that line but you do need someone who brings a lot more than energy and toughness.

Not so long ago people recognized that space on the bench could no longer be spared for designated fighters who could not do more than fight. Now the bar has been raised still higher: you need four lines that can play more than ten minutes and be better than “not a liability.” Your top six should not need more than 25 minutes per player to get the job done, and your fourth line should merit more than ten. Energy efficiency is about more than Gatorade.

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Dustin Tokarski. Folks who actually follow the Habs probably were not very surprised to see him chosen over Peter Budaj. Putting a rookie goaltender in a high pressure playoff situation is not unheard of, it just doesn’t often work out so well. A rookie comes in with some intangibles in his favor. Even if he has been scouted as much as possible, he simply has not played enough to be thoroughly scouted so the opponent won’t know how to beat him right away. That advantage fades fast. Another benefit can be that his team will rally around him, tighten up on defense to protect him. Or they might let him get shot to pieces like the Habs did in the first period of Game 3. That is where the real surprise was lurking, when Tokarski held the Habs in the game despite a 14-4 shot advantage for the Rangers. Tokarski may not be ready to steal a series but he certainly silenced the death knells in Montreal for now.

I find the Eastern Conference Final much more compelling than the Western, but I like upsets and underdogs. Both the Canadiens and the Rangers are sort of underdogs who achieved upsets. They are good teams, but the Canadiens were not supposed to beat the bestest team ever, aka the Bruins, because winners are supposed to play a big bruising game like the Bruins do. The Habs won anyway, and they did it their way.

The Rangers were not supposed to beat the Penguins because the Penguins have high performance superstars like Malkin and Crosby, while the Rangers had so many underperforming superstars like Nash, Richards and St. Louis. On top of that, the Rangers had to muscle through a brutal schedule to get where they are, and they did so anyway. Personal tragedy is getting a lot of credit for their turnaround, but they had all of these pieces from the get go. It is satisfying to see them go ahead like a dark horse people forgot about.

Speaking of dark horses, the Condors’ Friday win gave them a 2-1 lead in the series against the Alaska Aces. Saturday, the Aces thumped them 4-1 and tied the series back up. That is not very surprising. The Aces are aces. Nonetheless, the Condors are making a little Central Valley history this weekend. That the Condors ever took a lead in the series is impressive and inspiring. This is their first appearance in a Conference Final, and they have held their own. They have earned the nickname “Cardiac Condors” with numerous comebacks thus far and the Aces would be foolish to back off now. If the Aces come back tomorrow and stomp them like they did tonight, Condors fans have still gotten their money’s worth from a team that made an amazing turnaround in a season. After so many years of being perpetual playoff also-rans, this is a mighty accomplishment for Bakersfield.

Bulls End Season Early

By: Phillip Torres and Kahlil Najar

SAN FRANCISCO-The San Francisco Bulls, ECHL affiliate of the NHL San Jose Sharks, ended their season early after just 40 games. The franchise called it quits after a season and a half in San Francisco, playing their home games at the legendary Cow Palace.

The San Francisco Bulls sent out an email to its season ticket holders and loyal fans about the unfortunate news that the Bulls are ceasing operations. In the email, President and Head Coach of the Bulls Pat Curcio stated the following:

“We want to thank all of our fans for your support and loyalty over the last two seasons, It’s been such a memorable time here with you in San Francisco, and we’ve especially appreciated all of your positive feedback over the past week.”

Th Bulls were hoping to gain new ownership that would either keep them in San Francisco, or either move the team to Fresno or even Oakland. Once the deal could not be worked out, the Bulls had to cease operations on January 27, 2014.

With the season ending after just 40 games for the Bulls, the Sharks affiliate finished the season with a 15-20-5 record. The Bulls had made the playoffs in their inaugural season last season, and were on pace to doing so again this season. But, the team simply did not have the financial stability to keep things going.

Pat Curcio also said in the email, “At this point, the best thing to do financially is to reluctantly end the season. We will miss playing here, miss our fans, and miss this city.”

Curcio was the person responsible for bringing hockey back to the city of San Francisco, unfortunately, it only lasted for a season and a half. 

 

 

Bulls Win A Thriller Against Rival Thunder In Shootout 3-2

Photo Courtesy Stockton Thunder
Photo Courtesy Stockton Thunder

By Kahlil Najar

STOCKTON – The San Francisco Bulls (15-20-4-1) beat the Stockton Thunder (20-13-0-5), 3-2 in dramatic fashion that saw the Bulls score the tying goal in the third period and win a shootout. The Bulls Sebastian Stalberg shined bright for the Bulls as he scored the equalizer and the winning goal in the shoot out over Brian Foster. Bulls goalie Tyler Beskorowany stopped 34 shots on the night  including the big stops in the shootout on J.P. Burkemper and Matt Bergland.

The Thunder got on the board first when Shawn Boutin took a nice shot from the point and beat Besko who was being screened hard by a Thunder player. There were four penalties in the first including matching fighting majors on Bigos for the Bulls and MacLeod for the Thunder. Macleod was also charged with an Illegal check to the head.

The Bulls tied it up in the second when Jordan Morrison scored his 11th goal of the season off of a rebound that bounced off Foster. Dale Mitchell and Dean Ouellet received assists on the goal. For Ouellet this upped his point streak to six games in a row. With less that five minutes left, the Thunder regained the lead when Matt Bergland beat Besko on a nice pass from Greg Miller and brought it to a 2-1 game after two periods.

The third period saw both teams come out aggressive and saw three penalties called on the teams including a pair of roughing minors only 51 seconds into the period. Sebastian Stalberg tied the game with 6:38 left in the game when he followed his shot and gathered his own rebound and beat Foster to make it 2-2. Both teams turned up the heat as Riley Brace and Garet Hunt displayed when they got unsportsmanlike conduct penalties with three minutes left in the game. Foster and Besko were able to turn away 30 total shots in the period and take the game into overtime.

In the extra period the Bulls gave Stockton a chance when Kyle Bigos was called for tripping but the Bulls were able to hold them off and take the game into a shootout.

In the shoot out, Dean Ouellet and Stalberg scored for the Bulls and Besko stopped four of the the five Thunder shooters and gave the Bulls the 3-2 victory.

The Bulls now have a long 11-day holiday until they return back inside the Cow Palace on January 30th when they take on the same Stockton Thunder. Time of game is at 7:30pm.

Bulls fall 4-2 to Condors

By: Phillip Torres

BAKERSFIELD-The San Francisco Bulls (14-20-4-1) fell to the Bakersfield Condors (15-17-1-1) Friday night in Bakersfield. Ryan Garlock played his first game with the Bulls on Wednesday, and now played his first game against his former team in Bakersfield just two days later. Garlock earned a point with an assist on the night.

The Bulls held the early lead as Brett Findlay scored the first goal at 6:42 in the opening period. Jordan Morrison earned the assist on the play. Findlay knocked in the puck following a Jordan Morrison pass that helped set up the early advantage. 

Chase Schaber evened up the score at 1-1  at 14:07. Joel Broda earned the assist as Schaber was able to control the rebound after a missed shot by Broda. Schaber was able to get the puck past Bulls goaltender Tyler Beskorowany. 

Dean Ouellet gave San Francisco its second lead of the game with an early goal in the second. Garlock earned the assist against his former team with an excellent past to Ouellet on a three on two advantage to take the 2-1 lead. Andrew Caroll tied the game yet again for the Condors to make it 2-2. 

Bakersfield scored three unanswered goals after trailing 2-1. Broda gave them their first lead of the game with a power play goal. The goal made it 3-2 Condors, and ultimately was the winning goal. Cameron Abney made it 4-2 shortly after and that remained the score throughout the game.

The third period was scoreless for both teams. Laurent Brossoit held the Bulls scoreless for over 35 minutes and that cost the Bulls the victory.The Bulls will play in Stockton on Sunday as they will be hosted by the Stockton Thunder. The puck will drop at 4 P.M. 

 

 

Bulls win 5-4 in overtime against Eagles

By: Phillip Torres and Kahlil Najar

DALY CITY-The San Francisco Bulls (14-19-4-1) hosted the Colorado Eagles (19-10-3-2) on Wednesday night at the legendary Cow Palace. The Bulls defeated the Eagles 5-4 in overtime on Dean Ouellet Bobble head night. It was a big win for the Bulls as they defeated a Colorado team that currently sits in second place in a very tough Mountain Western Division, only behind the Alaska Aces.

San Francisco started off hot as they put the first two goals on the board first to jump out to the 2-0 advantage in the first period. Ryan Garlock put the first puck in the net at 7:06 on a power play goal. Dylan King and Kalvin Sagert earned the assists on the power play goal. Garlock received the puck by he boards on the Eagles side of the ice. A quick slap shot got past the stick side of Colorado goaltender Adam Brown for the goal.

Luke Judson made it a 2-0 game with a backhand goal in front of the net at 10:47. Riley Brace and Scott Langdon earned the assists on the play.

 The second period was dominated by the Eagles as they scored three unanswered goals to open up the period. At 6:22 in the period Alex Hudson cut the deficit to 2-1 with a power play goal. Riley Nelson and Brock Nixon recorded the assists on the play. Nixon got the puck to Hudson, who missed on his first shot but snuck the puck into the net with a great second effort.

At 12:30 Mark Nemec  tied the game. Kyle Ostrow and Kevin Ulanski assisted on the play that seemed to have changed the momentum into the Eagles favor. Colorado took its first lead of the night with a goal by Ulanski at 16:23. Ostrow picked up the lone assist and Colorado held the 3-2 advantage until the wining seconds of the second period.

Jordan Morrison scored the “goal that changed the game,” according to head coach Pat Curcio with just 15 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

“It was a huge goal for us,” said Curcio.

“It was the goal that changed the game.”

Morrison’s goal tied the game at three and really gave the momentum back to the Bulls.

The third period consisted of both teams trading goals. Ostrow scored his 17th goal of the season, assisted by Dylan Hood, and Riley Brace scored on an unassisted goal 10:02 to tie the game at 4-4. The second half of the third period was a defensive struggle and the score at the end of regulation remained tied, 4-4.

The overtime period lasted a little over three minutes as Dale Mitchell sent the Bulls home happy with a game winning shot from Brett Findlay and Ouellet to send the Bulls off the ice with a 5-4 victory.

Ryan Garlock made his San Francisco Bulls debut Wednesday as he got into the city Wednesday morning. Curcio praised his new star player who scored a goal his first night on the job in a Bulls uniform.

“We’re extremely lucky to have Garlock,” Curcio said. “We haven’t had a player as talented as this guy ever play for us. He’s a star in this league”

The Bulls will be back on the ice on Friday January 17, 2014 as they will be hosted by the Bakersfield Condors. The puck will drop at 7:00 PM.

Bulls Fold To Aces 5-2

Photo Courtesy SF Bulls
Photo Courtesy SF Bulls

By Kahlil Najar

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Bulls (13-19-2-1) were defeated by the Alaska Aces (21-9-2-1), 5-2 on Saturday night at the Cow Palace. Brett Findlay and Sebastian Stalberg scored for the Bulls on their second annual LGBT night where the team wore special jerseys to show their support for the LGBT community in San Francisco.

Coming off an impressive win the other night against the Aces, the Bulls and their fans were looking forward to another hard fought, nail-biting night of hockey. Unfortunately, the game played out exactly as it did on Friday night but without the impressive comeback.

In the first period the Bulls were getting quality passes off to the front of the Aces goal however no one was there to put the puck home. Meanwhile the Aces seemed to skate into the Bulls zone with ease and set up plays nicely and wait until they got the numbers they needed to mount an attack. The Aces got on the board first when Shawn Skelly scored by coming around the back of the net and jumped on a rebound off a Nick Mazzolini shot and beat Beskorowany to the far post and gave Alaska a 1-0 lead. Less than two minutes later, Mathew Sisca and a fellow Ace were bearing down into the Bulls zone on a two-on-one and after a quick fake pass, Sisca beat Besko through the five hole and gave the Aces a two goal lead.

The Bulls got their first goal of the game and cut the lead in half in the second period when Dale Mitchell picked up the puck from behind the net and shot it out in front of the goal to Brett Findlay who scored into a wide open net. The goal was Findlay’s 26th point of the season and moved him into the fifth position of top rookie scorers in the league. The Bulls were taking shots on Aces goalie Roy however they weren’t quality shots at the all sailed on the ground or saw little flight in the puck at all. Findlay did have a beautiful drop pass to Jordan Morrison but even that shot was turned away by Roy. With 7:01 remaining in the second, the Bulls gave up the puck in their zone to former Bull Peter Sivak who found Tim Coffman in front of the net one-on-one with Besko and beat him top shelf to bring the lead back to two with a score of 3-1.

At the end of the second; after the buzzer sounded, Brett Findlay shot the puck down ice and head referee Stephen Reneau took exception to it and appeared to think he thought it was a knock at him and called an unsportsmanlike misconduct on him to put the Aces on the power play to start the third.

It didn’t take the Aces long to respond as 37 seconds into the final period, Sisca scored his second goal of the game with a nice feed from Coffman and bring the lead to three. At 3:36, Sebastian Stalberg scored his first goal with the Bulls on a nice feed from Dean Ouellet who found him streaking to the net and made it a 4-2 game. The Aces responded quickly when Coffman scored his second of the game when he picked the pocket of a Bulls player and beat Besko top shelf to give the Aces the 5-2 victory.

It was a messy loss for the Bulls as they had more than enough opportunities to capitalize on Alaska’s mistakes. The Bulls weren’t able to connect on a few two-on-one’s and even missed on a few nearly wide open nets when the Bulls had Roy scrambling from in front of the net.

The Bulls now take a few days off before they play again on Wednesday when they take on the Colorado Eagles at 7:30 pm.

Bulls win in overtime thriller

By: Phillip Torres and Kahlil Najar

DAY CITY-The San Francisco Bulls (13-18-4-1) hosted the Alaska Aces (20-10-1-1) on Friday night at the Cow Palace. The Bulls rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to beat the Aces 6-5 in overtime. The victory evened up the three game weekend series at one win a piece and gave the Bulls a chance to win the series on Sunday.

Alaska started of hot as they opened up the scoring just 18 seconds into the contest. Eli Zuck scored his second goal of the season. The assists were earned by Tommy Mele and Peter Sivak. Sivak, the former San Francisco Bull had a huge game against his old team as he racked up four points on the night. He scored his tenth goal in an Alaska uniform at 13:37 in the first period to make it 2-0 Aces. Drew MacKenzie made it a 3-0 advantage with a goal of his own with assists from Ross Ring-Jarvi and Sivak.

The Bulls got red hot in the second period as they scored four goals within a span of 1:31. Jordan Morrison put the Bulls on the board first with his eighth goal of the season at 8:49. Brett Findlay and Dale Mitchell assisted on the play. Forty-two seconds later Mitchell scored a goal of his own on a power play. Mitchell put the puck right in the corner of the net on the glove side of goaltender Oliver Roy. The goal was assisted by Dean Ouellet and Eriks Sevcenko.

With the Bulls down just 3-2, Mitchell scored his second of the game seventeen seconds later to tie the game at three goals each. The play was assisted by Findlay. Findlay broke away with the puck and passed it to Mitchell at the last second as the defender could not get to the puck on time.

Ouellet scored the fourth goal within the span to give San Francisco its first lead of the night, making it 4-3 Bulls. Ouellet scored at 10:20 with assists from Sebastian Stalberg and Riley Brace.

Beskorowany appreciated the offensive explosion by his team in the second period.

“It was great,” the goaltender said.

“It was great to play with lead. We haven’t played with the lead for a while now and it was great to create some offense tonight,” Beskorowany said with a laugh.

Alaska tied the game with a goal from Tim Coffman past starting goaltender Tyler Beskorowany. Brad Richard slipped Coffman a nice past to earn the assist on the play.

Morrison capped the combined six goal second period with his second goal on the night and in the period. Beskorowany shot the puck back in after making a save to Mitchell deep down the ice and Mitchell flicked it quickly to Morrison as he put the puck on the net to give the Bull the 5-4 lead heading into the third period.  

The third period contained only one goal, and it came early as Sivak struck again to tie the game at five. Mele assisted Sivak on the play. The Bulls played stout defense as they defended the penalty kill great in this period.  Alaska threatened to score on a five on three power play late in the frame. The Bulls killed the penalty with Beskorowany making a couple of tremendous saves to save the game for San Francisco.

“That’s what won us the game,” head coach Pat Curcio said after the game.

“I don’t remember the last time having to kill a five on three power play two nights in a row.”

The score at the end of regulation was notched at five and the game went into overtime. Dean Ouellet put in the game winner exactly one minute into the overtime period with a put back goal into an empty net.

Morrison went in for the score but got tripped up with Roy on the side on the net. With a great second effort Morrison got the puck to Ouellet who tapped in the game winner and sent the Bulls off of the ice as 6-5 winners over Alaska.

“I really didn’t do much on the goal,” Ouellet said after the game.

“It was Morrison’s second effort that got me the puck and I had empty net right in front of me.”

The Bulls and Aces will finish the weekend series on Saturday. The puck will drop at 7:30 Pm at the Cow Palace.

Bulls Rally Falls Short, Fall To Aces 3-2

Photo Courtesy Of SF Bulls
Photo Courtesy Of SF Bulls

By Kahlil Najar

SAN FRANCISCO – In their first meeting in San Francisco since the playoffs last year, the San Francisco Bulls(12-17-4-1))  were defeated by the Alaska Aces (9-9-1-1(,  3-2. Steven Tarasuk and Dean Ouellet scored for the Bulls and Tyler Beskorowany stopped 31 of 34 shots. Martin, Molle and Sisca put up the tally’s for the Aces and Olivier Roy stopped 17 shots from the Bulls.

The Bulls came out fast in the first period as they pelted Roy with four straight shots before the Aces got their first shot on goal. However that first shot got the Aces on the board. James Martin took a nice wrist shot and beat Beskorowany with 8:03 gone in the first.  With a little over three minutes left in the first Dean Ouellet scored on a nice feed from Dale Mitchell that Ouellet was able to lift over a sprawled Roy.

In the second, the Aces kept pounding the puck towards Beskorowany and while Besko was laid out on the ground Dustin Molle was able to life the puck over the Bulls goalie and gave the Aces the 2-1 lead with 4:58 left in the period. Less than three minutes later, the Bulls had the puck in the Aces zone and it looked like they were applying a ton of pressure on and had the Aces on their heels. Then the Aces Brad Richard stuck his stick out and intercepted a Bulls pass and found a streaking Mathew Sisca who was one-on-one with Besko and beat him top shelf with a quick wrister to give the Aces a two goal lead at the end of 40 minutes.

In the final period, Steven Tarasuk, who was recently picked up by the Bulls continued his hot streak as he was able to catch the puck on a crazy bounce in front of the Aces goal and push it in to bring the deficit to one goal and make it 3-2. With a little over one minute left in the game and on a power play Pat Curcio pulled Besko and even though the Bulls were able to take three quality shots, Roy was able to turn them all away and hand the Bulls their 17th loss of the season.

“We looked lazy at times but I thought towards the end we battled hard. We could have got lucky and got a point and took it into overtime. We had an opportunity there at the end but Dale (Mitchell) missed it and that’s the way it goes,” said Head Coach Pat Curcio on the final minutes of the game. “It is what it is. We need to be a bunch that overcomes adversity and we’ve done it all year. We’ll look to rebound tomorrow.”

The Bulls and Aces head back at it tomorrow night at the Cow Palace at 7:30pm.

San Francisco Bulls Standout Gron Heads To ECHL, Lee “Suspended”

Photo Courtesy SF Bulls
Photo Courtesy SF Bulls

By Kahlil Najar

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Bulls announced yesterday that Tyler Gron has signed a two-way AHL-ECHL contract with the Worcester Sharks, the Bulls’ AHL affiliate. Gron has been one of the massive additions to the team the Head Coach Pat Curcio has been keen on getting the past few months. Other call up and signings by CUrcio include Adrian Foster, Dale Mitchell and the newly added Steven Tarasuk.

In odd news, Mark Lee has been “suspended by the team and has signed a tryout agreement with the Schwenninger Wild Wings of the German Elite League.” No speculation yet as to why this was deemed a “suspension” but Mark Lee has only played 15 games with the Bulls and tallied 3 goals and 7 assists.

Bulls Comeback Falls Short, Lose 3-2

Photo Courtesy Ontario Reign
Photo Courtesy Ontario Reign

By Kahlil Najar

ONTARIO – The San Francisco Bulls (12-17-4-1) scored late in the third to tie the game at the end of regulation but lost to the Ontario Reign (26-5-1-3) on a Gasper Kopitar goal in the extra period to fall 3-2.

The Bulls got on the board first when Collin Bowman took a shot that bounced off the pads of Ontario goalie Michal Hutchinson and landed on the stick of Luke Judson who smashed it home for his third goal of the season. In the closing minute of the first period, the Reign’s Mario Lamoureux was able to push the pack through the Bulls crease and tie the game at 1 after 20 minutes of play. The second period saw both teams take 10 shots and not come up with any points.

At 6:15 of the third period, Cody Sol zipped a one-timer from the top of the right circle that beat Besko and gave Ontario a 2-1 lead. Bulls Captain Scott Langdon tied the game at 2 with 3:58 left in the game and sent the game into overtime.

In the overtime period, Matt White and Kopitar jumped on a two-on-one rush into the Bulls zone and White tapped a pass over to Kopitar who beat Besko for his first pro goal of his career and seal the victory for the Reign.

The Bulls head home for a three-game set against the Alaska Aces starting this Thursday at 7:30pm.