Dodgers clinch final playoff berth with 10-6 victory over the Giants

Photo credit: @Dodgers

By Jeremy Kahn

SAN FRANCISCO — With the last playoff spot on the line, all the Los Angeles Dodgers needed to do was to defeat their longtime rivals, the San Francisco Giants, on their home field.

Manny Machado, who was acquired by the Dodgers near the trade deadline gave them the hit that they were looking for, as he hit a triple with two outs in the top of the eighth inning and the Dodgers defeated the Giants 10-6 before a sellout crowd of 41,768 at AT&T Park on Saturday.

With the victory, the Dodgers clinched their sixth consecutive playoff appearance. According to STATS, LLC., it is the third longest such in Major League history.

Only the Atlanta Braves, who made it to 14 consecutive postseasons from 1991-2005, and the New York Yankees, who went to 13 straight from 1995-2007, have longer streaks.

Machado tripled off of Mark Melancon to give the Dodgers a 6-5 lead and then Max Muncy hit a two-run double in the top of the ninth inning, as the Dodgers blew the game wide open to take a 10-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.

Bay Area native Joc Pederson got the Dodgers on the board in the top of the first inning, as he hit a leadoff home run off of Giants Starter Derrick Rodriguez.

It was the eighth leadoff home run of the season for Pederson, breaking the record of seven that was set by Davey Lopes back in 1979.

Pederson now has 11 leadoff home runs in his career, tied for the third most in Dodgers history with Johnny Frederick, trailing Rafael Furcal, who hit 14 and Lopes, who hit 28 in his career.

Yaisel Puig extended the Dodgers lead up to 2-0 in the top of the second inning, as he launched a Rodriguez pitch into the left field seats.

Gorkys Hernandez cut the Dodgers lead in half in the bottom of the second inning, as he singled in Brandon Crawford.

Joe Panik gave the Giants the lead in the bottom of the third inning, as he singled to score Gregor Blanco and Hunter Pence.

Enrique Hernandez doubled to center field to score Puig in the top of the fourth inning to tie up the game.

Clayton Kershaw helped out his own cause in that fourth inning, as he singled to right field to score Yasmani Grandal and Hernandez to give the Dodgers a 5-3 lead.

Hunter Pence got the Giants within one in the bottom of the fifth inning, as he doubled off of Kershaw to score Abital Avelino, who singled.

Panik tied up the game in that fifth inning, as he hit a sacrifice fly to score Pence from third base.

Rodriguez lasted just three innings, allowing five runs on six hits, walking and striking out one in his final start of the season.

It was also a rough day for Kershaw, who went just five innings, allowing five runs on eight hits, not walking a batter and striking out four.

Alex Wood pitched 1.1 innings in relief, as he won for the ninth time this season and Melancon took the loss, as his record fell to 1-4 on the season.

UP NEXT: The Giants and Dodgers will wrap up their regular seasons with a Sunday matinee finale at 12:05 pm PT.

Andrew Suarez will close out the season for the Giants, as he goes for his eighth win of the season, while Walker Buehler goes for the Dodgers.

Roadrunners make road kill out of Barracuda with 6-0 shutout in Game 3 of AHL first round series

Photo credit: @sjbarracuda

By Marko Ukalovic

The Tuscon Roadrunners (2-1) flexed their muscles early and often against the San Jose Barracuda (1-2) as six different goal scorers combined for a dominating 6-0 shutout victory in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series on Wednesday night at Tuscon Convention Center Arena.

The Pacific Division Champion would dominate from the drop of the puck and drew first blood early in the first period. Dylan Strome created a turnover inside the Cuda zone. He passed it over to Michael Bunting, the team co-leader in goals during the regular season with 23, in the low slot and he fired the puck past Antoine Bibeau (1-2) at the 2:27 mark.

San Jose dodged a bullet at the midway mark of the first period when a goal by defenseman Kyle Capobianco was disallowed after Bunting was called for goaltender interference. Bunting collided with Bibeau before he was able to center a pass to Capobianco who wristed a shot into the back of the net.

The Roadrunners would increase their lead 2-0 with Alex True in the sin bin for hooking. Lawson Crouse scored on a tic-tac-toe scoring play when Strome and Carter Camper made pretty one-time passes to get the puck to Krouse, who buried it home past Bibeau at the 12:47 mark. Crouse’s first goal of the series was also the first power play goal of the series for the Roadrunners.

Lane Perderson, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 1, skated down the left wing side and sent a rising wrist shot top-shelf past Bibeau’s left shoulder at the 16:16 mark. Andrew Campbell and Trevor Creek received assists on Pederson’s second goal of the series.

The closest chance the Cuda came toward a scoring chance was when Jacob Middleton’s shot hit the post during a mad scramble that Tuscon was able to clear the puck out that led to Pederson’s goal. They didn’t get their first shot on goal on Roadrunners goalie Adin Hill (2-1) until the 17:41 mark of the first period. They were outshot 10-3.

The Cuda responded with a better effort in the first five minutes of the second period as they outshot Tuscon 6-3 during that time frame. However, they weren’t able to get a puck past Hill.

Mike Sislo made it 4-0 with his first goal of the series when he tipped in a shot from the point by Dakota Mermis at the 6:53 mark of the second period. Strome received his third assist on the night. He now has six points in three games for the Roadrunners (3G, 3A).

Campbell fired a shot from the left point off the post into the back of the net for his first goal of the series. Campbell’s first goal of the playoffs ended a 32-game goalless drought at the at the 14:19 mark of the second period. Ryan MacInnnis–son of Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis–and Conor Garland received the assists.

Bibeau’s night was done after that as he let in five goals on only 15 shots to suffer the loss. Stephon Williams relieved Bibeau to finish out the game with seven saves on eight shots. Hill earned the shutout victory stopping all 21 Cuda shots.

Mario Kempe made it 6-0 when he scored his second goal of the series just 53 seconds into the third period. Crouse and Mermis received assists on the goal.

GAME NOTES: San Jose was 0/3 on the power play. Tuscon was 1/1 on their only attempt. They are now 1/5 overall in the first three games.

Tuscon had a .574 home ice winning percentage (18-13-0) at home during the regular season.

Forward Joachim Blichfeld and defenseman Thomas Gregoire made their debuts for the Barracuda.

FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT! A big scrum that was led by Emerson Clark included 11 of the 12 skaters on the ice getting into it with Hill taking jabs at Clark with under eight minutes left in the lopsided game. Crouse also went after Julius Bergman with under five minutes left in the 3rd period. Crouse received a roughing penalty for his antics.

The 6-0 drubbing was the worst defeat for the Cuda since March 24th when they lost 7-3 to the Ontario Reign. It was also the first time they have been shutout in the post season.

The announced attendance was 4,799.

UP NEXT: Both teams return to action for Game 4 on Friday evening April 27 at 7:05 pm PT at Tuscon Convention Center Arena.

Warriors second half struggles lead to Game 6 loss

by Michael Martinez

picture credit Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

At the half, the score was tied at 61. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James each had a tremendous first half, but Klay Thompson kept the Warriors right in it.

Out of the half, James and Irving continued playing great on the offensive end of the court while the Warriors began to struggle. The Cavs shot over 60 percent from the field in the third quarter while the Warriors shot 29 percent.

And then in the fourth quarter, Cleveland only shot 42.1 percent but Golden State shot an abysmal 23.8 percent. After things had been close and both teams played tough, James and Irving kept playing like great players do in elimination games.

As Draymond Green was suspended from game 5, it seems as if James took advantage of facing anyone else but Green. Andrew Bogut also came out early in the third quarter with a knee injury, which effected the Warriors defensive presence.

In place of Green, Andre Iguodala had a solid game finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Thompson finished with a team high of 37 points as the forward was 11 for 20 from the field with six threes. Thompson was nine of nine from the charity stripe.

MVP Steph Curry scored 25, but the James and Irving were simply too much.

James and Irving became the first pair of teammates to score 40 or more points in a Finals game. With Kevin Love playing poorly, the duo was the reason Cleveland is sending the series to a game 6.

James and Irving scored 41 points apiece. James grabbed 16 rebounds and tallied seven assists shooting 16-30 from the field. James’ jumper looked smooth and the Warriors had no answer on the defensive end.

Irving also had six assists and incredibly knocked down  17 of 24 shots from the field.

As the final horn sounded, the Cavs defeated Golden State 112-97. Cleveland shot 53 percent from the field for the game and the Warriors just shot over 36 percent.

Tonight, the Warriors struggled to find their shot from beyond the arc, which is usually how they take the lead and maintain it.

Heading back to Cleveland, the Warriors should be excited to get after it in hopes of grabbing their second championship in as many years. Golden State will have Green back and more news is to come regarding Bogut.

The Warriors are going to need to find an answer to stop either James or Irving because if both play as well as they did it’s going to make difficult to finish off the series.

Tune in to ABC on Thursday at 6 p.m. PT and be prepared to watch a game full of offensive flurry. Golden State will look to try and finish off their historic season with the greatest prize the NBA has to offer.

Sharks Hang On To Beat Predators 3-2, Take 2-0 Series Lead

By Mary Walsh

USA Today photo: San Jose Sharks Martin Jones stops a shot by the Nashville Predators in game two at SAP Center on Sunday

SAN JOSE–The San Jose Sharks took a 2-0 series lead with a 3-2 victory against the Nashville Predators. Four of the goals were scored in the second half of the third, three of those in the final three minutes. It was not the Sharks’ best game, defensively or offensively, but it got the job done. After the game, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said as much:

We won and in the playoffs you’ve got to win all kinds of different ways. I really liked our first period. I thought their desperation level was just a little bit higher than ours in the second and third. I think that’s what you saw, and rightfully so. You got a team that is facing going down two game and no one wants to lose the first two game of a series. We knew their desperation level was going to be high and we found a way to weather it and Jonesy was fantastic and the important this is we won.

The win was significant also for being a home game. Not only have the Sharks been better on the road, but the Nashville Predators have too, at least in the first round of these playoffs. The Sharks were out shot and out hit on Sunday but they won where it mattered. Goals were scored by Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and a game winner from Joe Thornton. Martin Jones made 37 saves for the win. Mattias Eckholm and Ryan Johansen scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 22 saves.

Craig Smith was back in the Nashville lineup after missing Game 1. The first period did not look anything like the first period of the first game. This time, both teams started fast and earned chances early. They were slim chances, with no one having much room to choose a shot or get in position to make a play.

The Sharks were the beneficiary of that speedy play, in the form of an early power play. Roman Josi was called for cross-checking Chris Tierney at 6:24. The Sharks’ power play started out very well, with the Predators giving San Jose plenty of room to get set up. A rather cavalier behind-the-back pass from Joe Thornton to Logan Couture exemplified how composed the Sharks were with the man advantage. Yet that excess of time and space did not benefit the Sharks in the most practical sense: they did not score.

At even strength, the fourth line was very effective, making the Nashvile defense burn a lot of defensive fuel and block shots.

The Sharks went on the penalty kill at 13:38 when Joel Ward was called for tripping. Karlsson got the first clear, Couture the second, Dillon a third. The Predators got three shots through to Jones but he stopped them.

As the first ended, the Predators led the Sharks in shots by 10-7. That count did not include the ten shots that Nashville blocked. The Sharks had blocked five.

The Sharks started the second mostly trapped in their own zone. When they finally escaped, they came out with their best chance to that point. Couture and Donskoi went fast down the left wing and Couture managed to get a shot off. Rinne kicked out a rebound but Donskoi could not elevate it enough to beat Rinne’s right pad.

As the second period wore on, the Predators dominated on the shot clock and continued to block shots. By the 13 minute mark, Nashville had 11 shots to the Sharks’ 4.

At 15:16, the Sharks were penalized for too many men on the ice. The penalty kill started out fairly chaotic, with a snarl of bodies just in front of the blue paint. Finally they got untangled, with broken sticks sliding around and no one really able to control the puck. From that helter-skelter start, the Sharks pulled off another kill that ended with a short handed chance. Matt Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic made a nice play but Rinne stopped them.

The Predators took their own too many men penalty shortly thereafter. Trying to avoid the call, Roman Josi tried to get off the ice by climbing over the wall in front of the Sharks bench. That did not pass muster. After the game, DeBoer was asked about the incident: “I’ve never seen that before. 25-30 years of hockey, and I’ve never seen that situation before. I don’t know, it’s a good question. I’m assuming it’s a rule, that they’re not allowed to change into our bench.”

32 seconds into that power play, a Brent Burns shot produced a rebound for Logan Couture to put away. Couture had been lurking around behind the net, making an inconspicious pass or two, then moving in front of the net just as the puck made its way to Burns. Burns did not have to wait long after receiving the puck from Thornton before taking his shot. Pavelski deflected the shot which created a rebound for Couture, who had an open net. It was Couture’s fourth goal of the playoffs. Assists went to Pavelski and Burns.

At the end of the second period, the Sharks led 1-0, despite their shot deficit of 16-25 for the game. The Sharks had blocked ten shots in the second, while the Predators had blocked twelve.

The Sharks found themselves short handed again 6:34 into the third. Brenden Dillon was called for roughing. He Just 23 seconds into the kill, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was hit in the head by a Shea Weber shot. He stayed down for a spell before returning to the bench. He did not go to the room.

At 12:56 of the third, Nashville tied it up. Mattias Eckholm took a shot from the blue line, just as three skaters converged in front of Martin Jones. The shot went just wide of Jones’ glove.

The Sharks got it back at 17:23. Thornton skated into the slot and passed the puck to Matt Nieto on the wing. Nieto waited until the last moment to take a shot. Rinne stopped the shot but it bounced off of a Nashville skater and landed in front of Joe Pavelski. He put it where it belonged. It was an unlocky bounce for Nashville, especially coming so late in the game. Assists went to Nieto and Thornton.

The Predators responded by pulling Rinne with more than two minutes to go. They sustained pressure for about a minute before a puck went over the glass and Nashville used their time out. When play resumed with a defensive zone draw for the Sharks, Pavelski controlled the puck and passed it out of the zone. Joe Thornton was on his way through the neutral zone when Pavelski’s pass found him. Thornton took his time and put the puck in the empty net.

Nashville responded with a furious attack on the Sharks’ net. With just 1.6 seconds to go, Ryan Johansen scored, making Thornton’s empty net goal the game winner.

The series now moves to Nashville for Game Three on Tuesday at 6:00 PT.


In case you missed the black cat tale from Game 1, you can read the updated version with video at here: Sharks working to find home for ‘Joe Paw-velski’

Sharks Win Game 4, Take 3-1 Series Lead

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was kept busy all night by the Sharks here a shot goes wide in the first period at SAP Center on Wednesday night

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks defeated the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center on Wednesday, by a score of 3-2. The win gives San Jose a 3-1 series lead, sometimes called a stranglehold. Despite rumors that there would be changes to the Sharks lineup for Game 4, there were none. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer did not even alter his line combinations. The lack of change paid off. The team as a whole was sharper and more balanced than it had been on Monday. Even when they gave up two goals early in the third period, they corrected quickly enough to hold on for the win. It was altogether an impressive performance.

The fourth line that struggled in Game 3 pulled themselves together and played very effective minutes. After Wednesday’s game, coach DeBoer talked about the line of Chris Tierney, Tommy Wingels and Nick Spaling:

They were excellent. Again, I think with our group, every time this year that we’ve challenged them to be better, they responded and I think that speaks to the character in the room. And those guys I thought were excellent tonight for us. I didn’t hesitate to put them out with four or five minutes left in the game.

All three Sharks goals were power play goals, scored over four power plays. This was a vast improvement over their 0-5 power play performance Monday. The game winner was scored by Patrick Marleau, with additional goals scored by Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski. Martin Jones made 26 saves for the Sharks. Jonathan Quick also made 26 saves, for the Kings. Los Angeles goals were scored by Trevor Lewis and Luke Schenn.

The Sharks spent most of the first five minutes in the Kings zone, but could not find any good shots. Near the five-minute mark, the Kings went the other way, frst two on one, then when Justin Braun caught up to them, three on two. That led to a prolonged attack in the Sharks’ zone. Martin Jones stopped the three shots that came his way, but when the Sharks finally got the puck out it was by icing it. The Sharks were on their heels for several minutes even after that. Their forays into the Kings’ zone were short and not productive. Slowly, the Sharks started pushing back. They were spending less time trapped in their own zone when the 10 minute mark ticked by. But the shots were still 7-2 Los Angeles.

By the time the period ended, the Sharks had corrected that disparity. They saw a good number of excellent chances pass them by, since no one was in the right spot to take advantage of unexpected, glaring opportunities. The shots were 11-8 San Jose, and 9-2 San Jose for the second half of the period. The teams were even in faceoff wins.

Jeff Carter started the second off with a roughing penalty 30 seconds in, against Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The Sharks maintained the attack for a solid 40 seconds and then a crazy bounce sent the puck off the back boards and through the crease, then off a skater and back through the crease, still not going in. This disrupted the play enough for the Kings to clear the zone.

The Sharks retrieved the puck behind their own goal line and resumed the attack. This time the Sharks did not take long. A cross-ice pass from Joel Ward to Brent Burns found him above the left faceoff circle. Quick could not get across in time and Burns’ trademark shot blew by him to give the Sharks the lead. Assist went to Ward and Vlasic.

Before the cheers died down, play had resumed and Jonathan Quick was handling the puck behind his net. Matt Nieto, chasing the puck down, caught Quick in the back of his skates. Both players went down and Nieto went to the box. The Sharks penalty killers started out well and had a short-handed chance half way through the penalty, with Chris Tierney almost skating in front of Quick for a shot before being held up by Kings defenders.

In the final seconds of the penalty kill, Karlsson, Vlasic and Thornton carried play back into the offensive zone and set the Kings spinning for a shift.

Unfortunately, that penalty kill was followed by another less than a minute later. Joel Ward was called for high sticking. The Kings had a good chance about half way through but an overhead clear by Vlasic allowed the Sharks to regroup and change.
The Sharks finished that up with another short handed chanced, and not long after it expired, yet another outrageously improbable missed chance. A Kings skater got tangled up with his goalie and a Shark and all were out of play for several seconds, with the puck sitting in the blue paint. No Sharks skater could get to it, including the one trapped in the body tangle inches away.

The score remained 1-0.

The Sharks drew another power play when Tomas Hertl was tripped next to the Kings net by Rob Scuderi. 39 seconds into the power play, Patrick Marleau sent the puck behind the net to Thornton, who sent it out front for Joe Pavelski. A fast shot as he fell to his knees earned Pavelski his fourth goal of the playoffs.

The game tempo increased after that. The Sharks drove play for a long spell after that. When they did not have th epuck, they wasted little time stripping the Kings of it, or knocking them off of it. Brenden Dillon made Dustin Brown pay for sendng the puck around the boards, and Patrick Marleau added a solid hit or two.

The Kings finally did get some traction in the last three minutes of play, but it did not last for more than a minute. The Sharks were back in the Kings’ zone at 7:30 when Luke Schenn was caught roughing Joe Thornton. The Sharks did not convert on their third power play but the Kings did not take any leisurely skates into the Sharks’ zone either.

The shots for the period were 13-8 San Jose.

The teams picked up where they left off for the third. 1:34 into the period, Jamie McBain caught Joonas Donskoi in the face with a high stick. Five seconds into that penalty, Patrick Marleau stopped the puck with a skate, kicked it to his stick, and put the puck in the net. Assists went to Logan Couture and Brent Burns.

The Kings got on the board just 69 seconds later when Luke Schenn’s shot from the blue line got by Martin Jones. Trevor Lewis was in front of Jones, wrestling with a Sharks defender. As the shot came in, Lewis fell into Jones. Coach DeBoer challenged the goal for goaltender interference but the call stood up. The goal went to Lewis, with assists to Luke Schenn and Kris Versteeg.

The game got a little more interesting at 6:44, when Schenn took a shot through a long line of traffic and beat Jones, closing the gap to one goal. Assists went to Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik.

After that, the Kings tried more of those shots, but Jones seemed to see them better. The Kings kept pushing, they caught up on the shot clock, and as the final minutes ticked away, the game lost none of its intensity. The Sharks spent a lot of time with the puck but they were not getting the shots or the chances they had before. Even with the Kings net empty, the Kings kept the Sharks from taking good shots. The Sharks managed a couple of shots from their own zone but missed the net.

With 18.3 seconds to go, Los Angeles took their time out, then sent six skaters back on the ice for an offensive zone draw. It was to no avail as Game 4 slipped away from the Kings.

Game 5 will be back in Los Angeles at Staples Center on Friday.

Sharks And Kings Preview: Playoff Remix 2016

By Mary Walsh

photo credit San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton and teammates will be in L.A. to try and take the Kings out of the first round of the playoffs starting Thursday

The San Jose Sharks will face the Los Angeles Kings Thursday, in game one, round one of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They say that lightning does not strike twice. A lot happens in a hockey game, and a playoff series can produce the same result in many different ways. But it is probably safe to predict that the Sharks will not win three games in a row and then lose four. The odds of that happening again are very slim indeed, and I don’t need to be a math genius to know that.

The Los Angeles Kings are probably the best first round opponent for the San Jose Sharks. The Kings are not only a “must play” for any team trying to get through the western conference, they also have a special place in San Jose’s heart. The last two seasons have been dark for San Jose, starting with their humiliation at the hands of the Kings two seasons ago. While the meek of heart would probably want to avoid Los Angeles entirely, few professional hockey players can be described as meek.

Two seasons is long enough to see any team change, even if change is not their objective. The Sharks have made several changes. Head coach Pete DeBoer brings a new angle to the Sharks’ game. The Kings have seen DeBoer’s Sharks several times this season, but they are nowhere near as familiar with them as they were with Todd McLellan’s team. DeBoer has coached against the Kings in the playoffs, when the New Jersey Devils faced them in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. That was a long time ago, and he has a very different team now, except in one respect: the Kings are still the favorites to win.

Those expectations are a little bit strange. Even though the Sharks were embarrassed by their lost 3-0 lead in 2014, they did beat the Kings three times before losing. The Sharks also won the 2015-16 regular season series 3-2, going 3-1-1. The Kings have a terrible habit of starting slowly, in the regular season and the playoffs. That is a habit that is bound to trip them up eventually. It is far from unlikely that the Sharks could win this series.

The Kings have the home ice advantage over the Sharks, but that advantage has proven to be less and less significant over the past few seasons, not only for the Sharks but for most playoff teams. What has been true for the Sharks over the past couple of seasons is that they play better on the road. It is not a stretch to say that the Sharks have the “road advantage” in this series.

Wherever they play, the Sharks have every reason to be hungrier and angrier than the Kings. The Kings have won two Stanley Cup Championships. The Sharks have not gotten to the Final yet. If NHL parity is not a myth, it is the Sharks turn for a shot.

Both teams have made significant changes to their rosters since 2014. For the Sharks, Martin Jones and James Reimer are a more formidable goalie tandem than Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock were. Jones’ star is rising. He proved this season that he can be a reliable presence in net, and can even steal a game here and there. James Reimer has proven that he can gut out some pretty gruelling playoff games, and he has already turned in some very impressive performances for San Jose.

With Martin Jones in net, the Sharks are starting the goalie who carried them through most of the season with only a few hiccups. That he used to play for the Kings should not be much of a factor, since any familiarity the Kings have with Jones will be matched by his knowledge of their skaters. Jonathan Quick is not exactly an unknown quantity for the Sharks, either. The Sharks know him well from many meetings.

The Sharks have Matt Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic coming back from injury. The last time the Sharks appeared in the playoffs, also against the Kings, the collapse began with the loss of Vlasic to injury. The Sharks have added a couple of veteran defensemen since then, in Paul Martin and Roman Polak, but Vlasic’s importance cannot be understated. The Sharks played pretty well down the stretch without him but they will need all their best blue liners to go far in the playoffs.

The Sharks also have some added depth in the scoring department, in Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi. Ward is a seasoned veteran of playoff games, and scored timely goals for Washington. Donskoi is going into his first NHL Playoffs, but he has some experience with championship games from his time in Finland. Both players were consistently helpful during the regular season, and as additions to a group that has been to the playoffs together many times, they could be difference makers for San Jose.

Melker Karlsson joined the team last season and showed that he could contribute in the scoring department. He has spent a lot of time this season on the fourth line, but DeBoer’s fourth line is very different from the fourth line that Todd McLellan would put together. It is reasonable to expect more offense and fewer penalties from the likes of Karlsson and Dainius Zubrus.

If there is an x-factor for the Sharks, I would say it is Joel Ward or James Reimer. Any of the rookies could surprise the Kings and all have to contribute to get the Sharks through the first round. But Ward and Reimer both have enough playoff experience to do some heavy lifting. Even if Reimer does not play, he provides an added sense of confidence and security that should permeate the team’s mental game.

On the Los Angeles side, defenseman Alec Martinez and forward Marian Gaborik have returned from late season injuries. The team has confidence in their readiness to play, as they recently reassigned forward Nic Down and defenseman Kevin Gravel to the AHL. Other changes to their roster over the last season include the addition of Milan Lucic, and the losses of Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll. The last two were historically problematic for the Sharks, if in very different ways. Lucic combines some of both of those, as a cagey and tough competitor.

The Kings also picked up some scoring depth in Vincent LeCavalier. LeCavalier is nothing if not streaky but he should not be ignored. He has a lot to prove after his dismal stay with the Philadelphia Flyers. Since he is supposed to retire after this season, he can be expected to give it his all.

For the Kings, I would not identify particular players as x-factors. Rather, their tendency to start slowly should be seen as the critical factor. If they let the Sharks get ahead of them, they might not catch them again. If the Sharks can avoid having key players injured early, the Kings might not need to spot them the lead. They might just take it fair and square.

DMC and Gay lead Kings to victory, 103-101, over Jazz

by Michael Martinez

Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Image

SACRAMENTO- Heading into Thursday night’s game the Sacramento Kings were 2 games back behind their opponent, the Utah Jazz. Sacramento, 5-12 on the road, looked to come back from a bad loss the night before against the Pelicans. The Kings found a way to hold their opponent to a low shooting percentage, at least for three quarters, with tough perimeter defense while getting the ball inside to DeMarcus Cousins who had a tremendous game. The Kings shot the ball well and were able to just hold on to pick up the win against the Jazz, 103-101, at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

As the game got underway the Kings looked like the better team all the way. The team’s defense was tremendous and Utah could not make any shots. Willie Cauley-Stein got off to a great start putting up six quick points while playing tremendous defense. Cauley-Stein’s quickness as a big man has benefitted the Kings and his hustle does not go unnoticed.

Cousins did not do a ton of scoring in the first quarter, six points, but did a good job of moving the ball around for his teammates while picking up eight early rebounds. The Kings shot the ball well, while holding the Jazz to a 16.7% shooting percentage. The Kings did a great job of continuing their run as Utah went about eight minutes without a field goal. Gordon Hayward bricked a lot of shots and found a couple buckets at the charity stripe. Sacramento held the Jazz to 12 points, the lowest of any Kings’ opponent this season, giving them a 1st quarter lead 26-12.

The Jazz looked to have a better second quarter, but the Kings held them in check again. In full, Utah went nine minutes and 19 seconds without a field goal before Trevor Booker got a put back dunk for a field goal. After struggling all season with perimeter defense, the Kings were much improved in the first half, although there were a lot of fouls, 17 in the first two quarters for the Kings. The quarter consisted of a lot of free throws, 12-18 for Sacramento, and 9-13 for the Jazz.

Boogie came out stronger in the second quarter, totaling 18 points and 13 rebounds in the half, his sixth consecutive double-double. With DMC’s scoring ability the Kings were able to hang on to the lead although the Jazz outscored them 33-30 after shooting the ball much better. Trey Lyles and Raul Neto totaled 10 points for a team high as the Kings held the lead 56-45 heading into the locker room on 54.3% shooting. Utah shot 1/16 from 3 point range, much improved for Sacramento’s perimeter defense. The Kings scored a field goal with 1.6 seconds on the clock as Rajon Rondo passed the ball all the way up court to Darren Collison who missed the lay-up but Boogie cleaned it up with a dunk as the red lights lit up the backboard.

After the half time break, Hayward finally made a field goal after going 0-9. Cousins answered right back with his tremendous scoring ability. Rondo kept showing off his vision and passing ability with a pass on a very tight window to Rudy Gay for an alley-oop. Cousins continued his scoring ability with his first three pointer in the ball game in the third quarter. And Rondo once again got Gay the ball for another alley-oop later in the quarter. Both teams shot well and both Gay and Cousins showed off their scoring abilities. Gay scored eight in the quarter while Cousins scored 10, both shooting 3-5 from the field. The Kings got to the line 10 times and converted eight free throws. Hayward had a much better quarter, scoring nine points on 3-6 shooting.

Cousins produced the game high in three quarters with 28 points and Gay had 16 for the second highest point total. The Kings shot the ball well once again with a 54% percentage through three quarters, which is something they have done well all season. Through three quarters the Kings totaled 42 points in the paint and got the ball inside to Boogie a lot. Boogie has scored 15.7 points in the paint per game in the month of January as the Kings continue to dominate their opponents close to the rim. Their dominance allowed them to hang on to the lead although Hayward hit a buzzer beater heading into the fourth. Sacramento led the Jazz 82-71 with 12 minutes remaining.

To open up the final quarter, Omri Casspi knocked down a three pointer, something he has done well all season. Down 85-71 the Jazz found a rhythm and went on a 9-0 run in a minute and 50 seconds. The run consisted of a Casspi foul and technical, which gave Utah three easy points as Trey Burke connected on the free throw. Cauley-Stein stopped the bleeding with a put back dunk, but Utah kept hanging around. Gay struggled from three but Cousins was able to hit a big 3 pointer of his own to put the Kings back up by 10. Utah maintained a way to stick around with the Kings who could not find a way to put the Jazz out.

With two minutes and 55 seconds left the Kings held a six point lead over the Jazz and Cauley-Stein helped maintain that lead with a big rejection, showing off his athletic ability. But Gay fouled Rodney Hood behind the arc, which led to three shots from the charity stripe. Hood connected on all three cutting the lead to five. The Kings started to struggle and went three minutes and 16 seconds without a make but Cousins then proceeded to score. Rondo fouled Burke, which set up a three point play as the Jazz kept scrapping.

As time wound down, Hood hit a second chance three pointer to cut the lead to five one again. With 33 seconds left, Gay got to the foul line and made one of the two free throws. In just under four seconds, Hayward took the ball down the court, got fouled and made a circus shot to get the and one. Hayward made the bucket and forced the Kings to called a timeout, up 101-98 with 29.2 seconds remaining.

Out of the time out, Rondo took the shot and missed it, as the Jazz gained possession with 8.5 seconds remaining. Utah’s Joe Ingles took the three point shot and made it to tie the game at 101. Sacramento took a 20 second time out with 4.8 seconds remaining and drew up a play for Gay who scored well all night. Gay got the ball and hit a mid-range jumped that was good with 0.6 seconds left. Utah heaved up a miracle shot that had no chance and the Kings picked up a rare victory on back to back games especially on the road. The final score, 103-101, as the Kings just barely pulled out a W.

Amongst rumors of a proposed trade for Pelican’s forward, Ryan Anderson, Gay played an awesome game. Number eight finished the night with 24 points, 9-17 from the field, adding nine rebounds and three steals while knocking down the game winner.

DMC was once again unstoppable, finished with 36 points, 10-21 shooting, and adding 14 free throws on 21 attempts. Boogie also added 17 boards. Cousins has led the NBA in points in the month of January with 32.3 points per game. Cousins showed off his scoring ability once again with his inside dominance as Utah had no big man to cover him with Derrick Favors out. And Rondo continued to dish the ball out adding 13 assists, while adding 6 points and 6 rebounds.

Overall, Sacramento got careless with the ball, 16 turnovers but still shot well. Their defense looked good for three quarters but really let up towards the end although they were much improved. The team also dominated the rebounding category, 54-38. Cauley-Stein was a great spark for the Kings who looked better tonight as they continued to chase the Jazz for the eight seed.

On Saturday, the Kings will take on the Clippers in Los Angeles and will need Cousins to continue his hot start in the new year. The whole Kings crew is going to have to come together as the team is finally healthy and looks to beat a team in their conference and division. The Kings have struggled against really good teams so Saturday night will be a big test.

There is No Joy in Oakland as the A’s are One and Done

by Jerry Feitelberg

The Oakland A’s and the Kansas City Royals played one of the best playoff games ever on Tuesday night in Kansas City. It was a thriller all the way and the fans of both teams had moments of great joy and great despair all through the night. The A’s and their fans, however, will not be celebrating as the Royals kept coming back and finally overtook the A’s in the bottom of the twelfth inning as they advanced to the best of five ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels as they won in a walk off 9-8.

Big Jon Lester started for the A’s. Lester, who won two World Championship rings with the Red Sox and was the only A’s pitcher to beat the Royals this year, was on the mound for Oakland. Lester was 9-3 against KC lifetime and 3-0 against them this year. Kansas City had their ace “Big Game” James Shields taking on the task of beating the A’s. All the pundits thought the game would be a one run game with a final score of 2-1 or 2-1 but they were wrong. It turned out to be a game of the A’s power against the running game of the Royals and in the end the running game won.

The A’s got off to a good start when Brandon Moss hit a two run homer in the top of the first. The Royals made it 2-1 when they came back in their half of the inning. The Royals then took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third by scoring twice off Lester. The A’s took the lead in the top of the sixth. Royals’ manager Ned Yost took Shields out in the sixth with two men on and two out and brought in Yordano Ventura to pitch to Brandon Moss. Moss hit a tremendous blast to center field to make it a 5-3 game and the A’s scored two more runs to increase the lead to 7-3.

Lester pitched well after the third inning but ran into trouble in the bottom of the eighth. Lester recorded just one out and the Royals scored three times to close the gap to 7-6. They tied the game in the ninth scoring a run off A’s closer Sean Doolittle. Former A’s outfielder Josh Willingham came through with a pinch hit single to right to start the ninth. Jarrod Dyson, pinch running for Willingham advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and then stole third base. Nori Aoki hit a long fly to right field and A’s right fielder Josh Reddick mad a great catch robbing Aoki of a hit but Dyson tagged up and scored the tying run and the game went to extra innings.

The Royals had their chances to win the game in the 10th and 11th innings but the A’s pitchers managed to get the third out in each inning stranding the winning run at third in both frames. In the 12th and and final inning of the game, the A’s took an 8-7 lead when Alberto Callaspo,pinch hitting for Nate Freiman, poked a single to left field driving in Josh Reddick with the run. The Royals, however, were not done. Eric Hosmer hit a triple to left center field high off the wall. Christian Colon then hit a high chopper that A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson could not make a play on and Hosmer scored.

The A’s kept a close eye on Colon as they knew the Royals would try for a stolen base. The A’s called for a pitchout but Derek Norris took his eye off the ball and it hit his glove and he could not make the throw. Royals’ All-Star catcher, Salvador Perez, who had been hitless all night, lined a shot past a diving Josh Donaldson down the left field line that drove in Colon with the winning run and the celebration began for the Royals who now face the Angels Thursday night.

For the A’s, it was a season that started with high hopes and for four months they had the best record in baseball. General Manager Billy Beane made a great trade in early July for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. On July 31st, he traded slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester. Everyone thought it was a great trade and the A’s would be headed to the World Series. However, a funny thing happened to the A’s. They stopped hitting and they had a losing record the last two months of the year and made the playoffs on the last day of the season. Tuesday night’s game was a mirror of the season, a great start but a lousy finish. The A’s will have all winter now to figure things out for next year.

That’s a wrap for 2014 for A’s baseball and congratulations to the Royals who are in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years.

Game notes- Major League Baseball and MLB Advanced Media announced that Josh Donaldson was named the Oakland A’s nominee for the 2014 Hank Aaron Award.

Fans can vote exclusively online at and the 30 Club sites. For the fifth straight year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Hank Aaron will join fans in voting for the award, which is officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball and has recognized the most outstanding offensive performer in each League since it was established in 1999.

After finishing fourth in American League MVP voting in 2013, Donaldson ended the 2014 campaign with career highs in home runs (29), RBI (98) and runs scored (93), while ranking in the Top 10 in the American League in each of those three categories. Donaldson also tied his career highs in games played (158) and walks (76), and hit a Major League-leading three walk-off home runs, tied for the most in A’s history.

The Hall of Fame panel led by Aaron includes some of the greatest offensive players of all-time –Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount. These Hall of Famers – who combined for 16,956 hits, 8,844 RBI and 2,109 home runs – have all been personally selected by Aaron to lend their expertise to select the best offensive performer in each League.

“Josh is well-deserving,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He’s been a very inspirational player, as was Hank Aaron. He’s really showed up to play, especially in recent weeks with his injuries.”

Through October 5, fans will have the opportunity to select one American League and one National League winner from a list comprising of one finalist per Club. The winners of the 2014 Hank Aaron Award will be announced during the 2014 World Series.

The finalists for the 2014 Hank Aaron Award are:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Nelson Cruz Arizona Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt
Boston Red Sox David Ortiz Atlanta Braves Justin Upton
Chicago White Sox Jose Abreu Chicago Cubs Anthony Rizzo
Cleveland Indians Michael Brantley Cincinnati Reds Devin Mesoraco
Detroit Tigers Victor Martinez Colorado Rockies Justin Morneau
Houston Astros Jose Altuve Los Angeles Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez
Kansas City Royals Alex Gordon Miami Marlins Giancarlo Stanton
LA Angels of Anaheim Mike Trout Milwaukee Brewers Jonathan Lucroy
Minnesota Twins Trevor Plouffe New York Mets Daniel Murphy
New York Yankees Brett Gardner Philadelphia Phillies Marlon Byrd
Oakland Athletics Josh Donaldson Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen
Seattle Mariners Robinson Cano St. Louis Cardinals Matt Carpenter
Tampa Bay Rays Evan Longoria San Diego Padres Seth Smith
Texas Rangers Adrian Beltre San Francisco Giants Hunter Pence
Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista Washington Nationals Anthony Rendon

Past winners of the Hank Aaron Award include: Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt (2013); Cabrera and Buster Posey (2012); Jose Bautista and Matt Kemp (2011); Bautista and Joey Votto (2010); Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols (2009); Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis (2008); Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder (2007); Jeter and Ryan Howard (2006); David Ortiz and Andruw Jones (2005); Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds (2004); Rodriguez and Pujols (2003); Rodriguez and Bonds (2001-02); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton (2000) and Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999).

The Hank Aaron Award was introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th Anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, and, at that time, was the first major award introduced by Major League Baseball in more than 25 years.

The Best in the West To Finish Sunday

By Mary Walsh

As the NHL Scouting Combine is under way, and draft rankings and reviews are cropping up all over Twitter and hockey sites, it is hard to focus entirely on playoff games that don’t involve the local team. Still, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks have done their darndest to keep us entertained with a pretty good Western Conference Final.

It has already been called one of the best series, certainly in these playoffs, maybe one of the best ever. Los Angeles and Chicago are still slugging it out, so to speak, neither heavyweight willing to concede. That will end Sunday in Game Seven. What impresses most about these games is the speed that they are playing at. Even in double overtime, they seem to play faster instead of slowing down like any reasonable person would expect. But how are they playing, compared to how they played in the regular season?

The Kings, as several opposing coaches have observed now, are playing well above their regular season level. In the regular season, they were 26th in goals per game, with an average of 2.42. In these playoffs, they are first, averaging 3.4. Defensively there has been a predictable drop off. In the regular season they were first in goals against, averaging 2.05. They gave up the fewest goals at even strength, but their penalty kill was only 11th, with a success rate of 83.1%. In the playoffs they have now given up an average of 2.8 per game, putting them 8th among playoff teams.  Their penalty kill is also weaker, ranked 9th among playoff teams at  82.7%. It is hardly surprising that their defensive numbers have taken a beating, since they were playing playoff teams in fairly long series. On top of that, to make such a jump offensively they have to take risks. Obviously, those risks have paid off so far. They are just one win away from a return to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have not seen much of a change in their scoring or defensive numbers. In the regular season they averaged 3.18 goals per game, good for second in the league. Their power play had a success rate of 19.5%. In these playoffs, they have averaged 3.00 goals per game, with their power play chugging along at 19.2%. Defensively they have slipped only slightly, allowing an average of 2.78 goals per game, compared to their regular season average of 2.58. They have seen an uptick in their penalty kill, killing 84.1% in the playoffs, compared to 81.4% in the regular season.  In general, despite the changed conditions that come with a playoff schedule, they have remained pretty consistent.

The Kings are described as a team that is built for the playoffs. Maybe that is a way of saying they don’t hit their stride until playoffs, but if the Blackhawks had made an offensive jump for the playoffs akin to the one the Kings made, they would probably not be playing a seventh game. Is Chicago tapped out? Did they burn all their reserves during the regular season compensating for injuries to key players? Were they ever a better team than the Kings? That they are meeting in the Conference Final for the second season in a row suggests there is not much to choose between them, outside the regular season. The Kings have won two games by more than two goals and the Blackhawks have won only once by more than a goal. That certainly weighs in the Kings’ favor, but a win is a win. You can’t read too much into how much the team won by. Heck, maybe the Blackhawks are due a a big lead.

It is hard to imagine the New York Rangers beating either of these teams, except that the Rangers seem to have finally found their depth. Additionally, the Kings and the Blackhawks are doing a good job of taking the edge off each other. Fatigue will be a slightly bigger issues for the Kings, as this is their third seven game series. Chicago hasn’t had a much quicker trip, with two six game series before this one. It still seems like a stretch that a team so reliant on their goaltender could beat teams who have come so far despite some erratic goaltending. Still, it might be an entertaining Final, which is good since it will probably attract a lot of viewers. Broadway versus Hollywood has obvious appeal but Chicago can bring a sizeable audience as well. The NHL must be humming a gleeful tune.

Sharks suffer their worst playoffs exit yet

By Ivan Makarov

SAN JOSE, CA — After many years of Stanley Cup playoffs disappointments, San Jose Sharks found a new way to end their season after making the playoffs once again.

After going up 3-0 in the series against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks let the Kings climb back and take the series in Game 7, when LA won the game 5-1 at the SAP Center. LA Kings became just the fourth team in the NHL history to accomplish such a feat since the 7-game series format was introduced for the Stanley Cup playoffs back in the 1930s.

Devastated. Disappointed. Shocked. Upset. Low point.

These were some of the words heard again and again in post game interviews inside the Sharks dressing room. These are no doubt some of the emotions experienced by the Sharks fans as well that night.

And the Game 7 played out just like the previous four games won by the Kings. Stingy defense by LA, and a complete lack of offense and execution by San Jose, coupled with the outstanding game by Jonathan Quick.

Sharks scored the first goal in the game when Matt Irwin blasted a shot from the blue line early in the second period. But their lead did not last long as Kings tied the game four minutes later on a power play goal by Drew Doughty and played a solid defensive game for the remainder of the period. The big blow came towards the end of the period when Kings took 2-1 lead on a counter attack goal by Anze Kopitar.

When the Kings made it 3-1 on a goal by Tyler Toffolli early in the third period on an odd man rush, the home crowd loudly exhaled, knowing how hard the task became at hand. And the Sharks never came back, failing to score the rest of the game.

After scoring 17 goals in the first three games, Sharks scored only 5 in the remaining four. That’s the most telling stat of them all.

Special teams were once again terrible for the Sharks, giving up a power play goal, and going 0/6 on the man advantage.

So how did this all happen after going up 3-0 in the series and what happened to the offense?

“I think their defense just swallowed up our offense, to be honest with you,” said Sharks captain Joe Thornton. “They played real tight defensively, and their goaltender got really hot like he usually does this time of the year.”

Coach McLellan had similar thoughts.

“From the way I look at it, [the LA] fixed their problems,” he said after the game. “We didn’t. Our problems got progressively worse as we went along. We were awful off the rush. They scored I don’t know how many goals off the rush and we were awful around our net. Every day we came to the rink, we tried the stress that, but we were never able to fix that. It’s frustrating because during the year we’re pretty good in those areas.”

It’s hard to predict right now what changes the club is going to make in the offseason after another good regular season team ends their season early and without a championship. Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson job could be in danger, as he’s built every aspect of this team and still haven’t taken the Sharks into the Stanley Cup final while his neighbors Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings have all been there and have won the Cup. Todd McLellan’s future is also in question now, and he did admit after the game he’s in charge of this team and is to blame as well. Some of the players will no doubt change their home address to another NHL city.

These things happen to the teams that can’t win. But this win in particular will sting for a long time because of how close the Sharks were to advancing into the next round, and how far they let their game slip.