Sharks Cup Run Ends With Game 6 Loss

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: The Pittsburgh Penguins Justin Schultz raises the cup proceeding the clinching win over the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals Sunday at SAP Center

SAN JOSE– With 8:58 left in the third period, Brent Burns was called for slashing Phil Kessel. The Sharks penalty kill held up but the team still only had one shot in the period when the kill started. They had no more when it ended. The minutes ticked away and the Penguins would not let the Sharks get close to a shot. The score remained stubbornly at 2-1 Penguins.

The San Jose crowd stood and cheered with four minutes left. It was a sight to see. Were they just happy to be at a game on June 12? Were they simply urging their team on?

The Sharks pulled Jones with a little over a minute left and put Marc-Edouard Vlasic on as the extra skater to try to tie the game. It took a few moments but Sidney Crosby got the puck away from the Sharks and put it into the empty net to make the score 3-1. The Sharks had just two shots on goal in the final period.

The buzzer went, the Penguins threw themselves into a celebratory pile near their net, having won the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in their history.

The crowd stood again, cheering. Then they chanted “Let’s Go, Sharks! Let’s Go Sharks!” They got a salute from their team. Sharks fans were still happy that their team made it to the dance, even if they had to go home early this time.

Did the fan reaction to the loss surprise the Sharks players? Goaltender Martin Jones said simply “No, no. They’ve been great all year.” Forward Joel Ward said:

“It was really cool for the fans to stick by us. You know, I think they appreciate some of the effort we put in and for us…” he paused “I mean, for them sticking by us through some tough times at the beginning. But you know, it was good to see. We love the fans here, love the building, love the tank. We just got to get back on the horse for next season.”

After the loss, Logan Couture described the process of getting over a defeat like this: “End of hockey seasons are never fun. It’s like you hit a brick wall. Stop. You wake up the next morning and you’ve got nothing to do.”

Joe Thornton described his feelings about the loss as: “It’s just disappointing but just super proud, the effort the guys gave all year long.”

Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer declined to comment on the specifics of Sunday’s season-ending game. Instead, he talked about his team’s performance in general:

I’m very proud of our group. I thought our guys emptied the tank and gave us everything they possibly could we just weren’t as good as them during this two week period.

DeBoer also described what he saw from the Penguins:

Their speed, their pressure they put on with their speed. It’s not just their speed, they have good sticks too. They force you into quicker decisions, they really challenge your execution. You know we hadn’t seen pressure and sticks like that through the first three rounds and I think our execution was an issue because of that.

The Sharks did not come out with the jump that many had expected from them on home ice with a chance to tie the series and force a seventh game. Through the first five minutes, the Sharks did not register a shot on goal, while the Penguins had two.

Then, at 7:50, Dainius Zubrus was called for tripping Brian Dumoulin. 26 seconds into the power pla, Dumoulin took a shot from the blue line and Melker Karlsson tried to block it but it went between his legs to the net. By the time Jones saw it, it was too late and the Penguins had the early lead. Assists went to Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz.

Seconds later, Melker Karlsson went into the boards feet first and landed very awkwardly. No penalty was assessed, and it did not look like he was tripped or pulled down. He was helped off the ice but did return to the game later.

The Sharks finally started to push back around the 14 minute mark of the first. They threw a couple more shots on net, and the Penguins had not added any since their power play goal. The Sharks looked like they found the key for getting ahead of Penguins. They kept Pittsburgh hemmed in their own zone for couple of long shifts. Then the puck went out of play and a television timeout and the moment was gone. The Penguins attacked, the Sharks had trouble getting out of their zone and finally iced the puck. The tired defenders went back to work and pushed the attackers back.

After a short offensive push with some chances for Brent Burns, the Sharks were chased back into their own zone, where Martin Jones made half a dozen impressive saves before the Penguins were chased away again. The Penguins had five shots on goal in the final few minutes of the period.

At the end of the first period, the shots were 10-6 Penguins. After 3:13 of the second, the count was 10-9. That barrage of shots came from the Sharks’ top line. In those same opening minutes, the Penguins had a couple of chances that hit posts, but no sustained pressure like that long shift from the Thornton, Pavelski and Donskoi line.

It was several minutes later, after another long offensive shift, this time from the fourth line, that Couture tied the game up with a shot from the faceoff dot. Melker Karlsson was back, this time screening the Pittsburgh goalie. Assists went to Karlsson and Burns.

The Penguins did not take long to regain the lead. Sidney Crosby found Kris Letang with a pass behind the net. Letang’s shot went right into Jones and trickled under him. Assists went to Crosby and Connor Sheary.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the bench at 7:46 and did not return until 18:05.

The shots stayed uncannily even as the period went on. First tied at 13, then at 16. But by the end of the second, it was 20-17 for Pittsburgh. The only stat that showed a gross difference between the teams was the faceoff wins. The Penguins had won 65% of them.

Five minutes into the third period, the Sharks got their first power play when Connor Sheary hooked Justin Braun to the ice. The Sharks did not get a shot on goal. The Penguins knocked the puck back up the ice several times, often aided by a careless pass. The Sharks never got their game back and the single goal they needed to tie it up never came.

No injury information was released after the game. That information may be released Monday afternoon.

Sharks Without Hertl for Game 3

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: San Jose Sharks Tomas Hertl who sat out game three vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals

SAN JOSE–Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer has confirmed that Tomas Hertl will not play in Saturday’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. He described Hertl’s injury as a lower body one. Of Hertl’s performance so far, DeBoer said:

He’s arguably been our best player for the first two games but injuries are no excuse this time of year, we’ve got someone who will go in for him and we’ll roll out there and be ready to play.

As for who will draw into the lineup, there is little mystery. When Matt Nieto returned to the lineup for Game 2, Dainius Zubrus was the odd man out. He will most likely be back in. On the subject of who will play in Hertl’s spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, DeBoer said:

We’ve got a couple guys that’ve played in that hole before. Melker has before, and so has [Zubrus] played there before. I think the one thing that those two guys… you’ve got a guy that’ll hound the puck and work for it. Those two guys pretty much take care of the rest. I think we’ve got a lot of options there because of who we’re sticking them in with and I think it should be fairly seamless.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski also weighed in on how Hertl has contributed to the team in the playoffs:

He’s been a big part of this team, especially the second half. You saw the smile on his face the last few rounds. He’s really enjoyed playing, he brings that energy. It’s tough to miss a guy like that if you have to. But somebody steps in, we’ve done it, we’ve done it for a while. We still expect a great effort from whoever comes in in a good role. We haven’t had a ton of injuries so there’s been somebody always ready to step in.

A the dust settles from Logan Couture’s comments on faceoffs, there remains the fact that the Sharks have not been very good in the faceoff circle. Among playoff teams, they have consistently been at the bottom in faceoff win percentage. It begs the question, what does the team do to still win the game, or 12 games, despite rarely starting with the puck? Logan Couture explained: “Get it back right away, put it in good places so we can forecheck and hold on to the puck in their end. There’s a few things you can do off a faceoff or forecheck that can turn the puck over.” So far, the Sharks have not been able to do any of those things very well against the Penguins. They will get another chance tonight.

Something else they will get a chance to do tonight is get back to their game. Apart from moving the puck quicker with simpler plays, thereby improving their execution, their forwards could probably backcheck more aggressively. Some time ago, I asked Sharks defenseman Paul Martin what it is about the Sharks that make them effective defensively:

[Jones] playing the puck, our forwards come back and support us and we rely on them to get out of the zone. I think everyone’s capable on our d-corps. When Roman [Polak] came over he kind of solidified that last pair and Brenden Dillon’s had  a break out year and he’s been great and he continues to improve. And the top four have been around for a while now. As far as experience, with [Vlasic] obviously, he’s a world class player, along with [Burns] they can bring something else that a lot of guys can’t.

I think we all can skate and get around the ice, and the ability to make that first pass out of the zone is big and I think we all understand the way we want to play. We all get along and so that’s big. The chemistry that we have is important.

Ironically, the formula Martin described there, with the forwards being as crucial to defense as defensemen are, pretty well describes how the Penguins have been playing. One has to wonder if it is even possible for two teams to play that way at the same time, or if they must first defuse their opponent’s arsenal.

The fact that Pete DeBoer has been here before, with the New Jersey Devils against the Los Angeles Kings, can only give fans so much comfort: his team forced a Game 6 but did not win the series. Is he hunting with a bigger boat this time?

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Sharks and Penguins

By Mary Walsh

design presented by Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks digital preview design

In their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the San Jose Sharks are in a good position to win, and so are the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not surprisingly, the two teams accumulated were very similar numbers on their way to the Final. Perhaps those are just the kind of numbers winners needed this year. Perhaps they are as irrelevant as statistics from the regular season. The Sharks and the Penguins could play each other four times or seven times, and it won’t add up to the number of games they played getting here. Games, and by association the series, can still be won or lost on a bounce. Either team could have trouble adjusting to a new sort of opponent, a heretofore unseen weakness could be exposed. This is why they play the games, because the NHL can’t award the championship based on past performance. Still, the likeness is uncanny.

Statistically, the Sharks and the Penguins are pretty even when you balance offensive and defensive numbers. The Sharks’ power play has a slightly higher success rate at 27%, with he Penguins scoring just 23.4% of the time. But balanced against the penalty kill, where the Penguins have been slightly better than the Sharks (83.4%-80.4%), the power play difference is even more negligible than 3.6%.

In shots per game, the Penguins have 35.1 where the Sharks have 28. San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns have taken 60 and 61 shots respectively, but Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel has thrown a whopping 73 shots at the net. Again, put next to the shots against per game, it evens out. The Sharks have allowed an average of 27.1 while the Penguins averaged 29.7.

In goals, the numbers are so close (Sharks at 3.5 and Penguins at 3.22) that a counterbalance is hardly necessary, which is a good thing for Pittsburgh since the Sharks have allowed an average of 2.28 while the Penguins allowed 2.39. That gives a tiny edge to the Sharks in the area of goal differential.

The counterbalance actually comes from the fact that the Penguins have shown greater depth in scoring. The Sharks have more goals but they have come from fewer players. The Sharks have seven skaters with five or more goals in these playoffs, and four more with two to four goals. That gives them eleven skaters with more than one goal. The Penguins have just five skaters with five or more goals but eight with two to four goals, for a total of thirteen skaters with more than one goal. It is not a big difference, but neither is the difference between how many goals the teams have scored on their way to the Final.

The Penguins may have an edge in experience because they do have some players who have competed for and won a Stanley Cup in the past. Only the Sharks’ goaltender Martin Jones can say that, though he did so as the backup goaltender. The Sharks have plenty of players with enough mileage that, if they do not know what it takes to win at this level, they will probably learn quickly. I would not put a lot of stock in the “been there” factor.

In goal, the teams have fairly similar situations. Both teams, coaches and players, have talked about how calm and unflappable their young goaltender are. Martin Jones has more NHL starter experience but he is still in his first season. He has not been replaced during the playoffs, he has started every game for the Sharks. Jones put together a .919 save percentage through the first three rounds, with the full demonstrable confidence of his coach and his team.

The fact that the Penguins’ Matt Murray came onto the scene later than Jones should not be held against him. Marc-Andre Fleury was the presumptive playoff starter for most of the season. That Murray had to earn his spot very recently could be an asset if he is still trying to establish himself. The Penguins did experiment, having Fleury start a game in Murray’s place, and Zatkoff started a game before Murray did. Even if any of that undermined Murray’s confidence, he still played well enough to help his team win. His save percentage has been .875. Jones seems to have the edge over Murray there, but those numbers can change quickly.

Ultimately, few of these comparisons matter. All of the games played to this point were conference exclusive. The Sharks’ numbers were against western teams, the Penguins’ against eastern. The Sharks had to defeat a recent Cup winner, and then defeat the team that defeated another recent winner. It would not be outrageous to say that it is harder to score a goal, or prevent one, in the west. But it would be pure speculation since the Final is the only time East meets West. Both teams earned their spot in this series, and the odds are good that they will both bring their best games yet.

Los Angeles Kings Win Stanley Cup Again

By Mary Walsh

The Los Angeles Kings have won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons. The game winner was scored in double overtime by the Kings’ fourth line. Alec Martinez actually scored it, but he gave his linemates credit:

I just saw there was a loose puck in my own end, I just tried to get it in a forward’s hands. And I think Toffoli had a great shot, far pad, and fortunately the rebound came to me and I was able to put it in. It was a great play by them, I was just the benefactor.

It was Martinez’ second overtime game winner in these playoffs. The first was in the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. This time, it was 15 minutes into a second overtime period, to win the Stanley Cup. He talked about the team’s mindset after they fell behind at the end of the second period on a short-handed goal by Brian Boyle:

I mean, the New York Rangers are a hell of a hockey club and we knew that this was going to be a tough series. There’s a lot of guys who’ve been around, a couple years ago, we know the fourth one’s definitely the hardest one to get, So that’s what we were talking about in the locker room, we just had to dig deep and just keep grinding away. We believed we were going to win this game.

The Conn Smythe trophy was awarded to Justin Williams. To many, Williams was flying under the radar when these playoffs started. As the leading scorer in the Final and a now three-time Stanley Cup winner, it is hard to believe he was very far under the radar. In any case, he is on everyone’s screen now.

The Kings scored before the Rangers even had a shot on goal. That would not be very unusual except that it wasn’t a goal in the first two minutes. Over six minutes had gone by. The goal came after a scramble in front of the Rangers’ net, after several tries. The successful shot was taken by Justin Williams. Assists went to Dwight King and Jarret Stoll.

Martin St. Louis took the Rangers’ first shot of the game, just shy of eight minutes in. For his trouble, Dustin Brown hauled St. Louis down and gave the Rangers a power play. The Rangers started pretty strong and got a few shots in, but the power play fizzled in the last 30 seconds or so, with the Kings getting a step on them before they could get set up.

It took the Rangers well over 20 minutes to tie the game. The goal came on a power play earned by Mats Zuccarello, who took a stick to the face from Dwight King. It started out badly, with a misfired pass from McDonagh to Richards, and then another pass to the other team, this time from Martin St. Louis. After almost a minute wasted, the Rangers were finally set up, with Brad Richards at the point.

One of the knocks on Richards has been that he overstays on the power play. This time was one of those extended stays, a minute and 29 seconds had elapsed and he had started it. Of course, no one else had gone off either so perhaps the criticisms are unfairly specific.

Ryan McDonagh shot a puck in from the wall, and it went neatly to Kris Kreider’s on the far side of the blue paint. It went by Quick and Kings defenseman Greene and landed right on Chris Kreider’s stick. Kreider got the goal, McDonagh the primary assist and the secondary assist went to Brad Richards.

Before the Rangers were done, they took the lead to end the second period. They set themselves up by taking a penalty and playing short handed. Dominic Moore got called for a subtle stick infraction. The Kings had a good chance early in that power play but the Rangers kept them to the outside and only allowed one shot on goal.

In the final three seconds of the penalty, Brian Boyle and Carl Hagelin went the other way when Slava Voynov could not hold the puck in. After Hagelin corralled the puck and kept it away from Voynov near the Kings’ blue line, he passed it in Boyle’s direction. Boyle had to hustle and reach for it but he got it before Drew Doughty could. Boyle skated around Doughty in the slot and shot from a wide angle, skating left and shooting at the top right corner. Quick slid just a little too far to the right.

The Rangers started the third period pretty well but nearing the midpoint, the Kings had the Rangers pinned in their zone and scrambling. Lundqvist made some desperate saves but a tripping call on Zuccarello put the Kings on the power play. The call could have gone either way, as Zuccarello was chasing the puck to the blue line and Jake Muzzin did nothing to avoid having his leg run into. Logically, he should have, if he had any intention of chasing the puck the other way instead of letting it go right by him. So that call was mysterious.

The Kings only needed 17 seconds of power play time to tie the game. Henrik Lundqvist had stopped the shot but it was sitting just between his legs. Marian Gaborik was right in front of him, having squeezed in front of Anton Stralman. With a quick poke he shot the puck under Lundqvist. The shot had plenty of momentum in case of snow piles.

The Kings had consistently led on the shot clock, almost doubling the Rangers in total shots. In the third, however, the Kings were shooting the Rangers to pieces. The period totals were 12-3 for Los Angeles. The Kings finished with a very dangerous play. Anze Kopitar picked up the puck near the circle at the Rangers’ end, carried the puck into the corner and back out, despite being harassed by Ryan McDonagh. He held it long enough to find the late-arriving Jake Muzzin with a perfect backhand pass for a final shot through traffic. The shot went wide but it was a strong finish from the Kings.

Near the four minute mark of the first overtime, the Rangers drew a power play when Voynov went to the box for hooking. The Rangers, led by an impressive forecheck from Brad Richards, made a good start to the power play but it lost some steam when Ryan McDonagh’s shot beamed its way through some traffic only to hit the post.

The middle minutes of the period consisted of grueling up and down play, with the Kings continuing to outshoot the Rangers. With about six minutes left, Tanner Pearson had two tries at Lundqvist, a shot and then a wrap-around but Lundqvist got across to stop both.

A couple of minutes later, the Kings pinned the Rangers in their zone again. For the first time, the Rangers looked weary, losing battles on the boards and unable to get the puck out. Finally, Dominic Moore did get it out with a careful play off the boards. It was still an icing but his team needed the air.

The Kings were leading the period in shots 13-6.

Jonathan Quick showed uncanny tenacity in the last 90 seconds of the period, when the Rangers overwhelmed the Kings and peppered him with a couple of shots before crashing the net en masse. The referee took his time with the whistle but Quick did find the puck. Two more chances, one for each team ended the first OT. Chris Kreider had a breakaway stopped by Quick, and Jeff Carter had a chance thwarted by Rangers defenders.

It took the Kings almost 15 minutes of the second overtime to finish off the Rangers. They had to kill a penalty 5:43 in when Kyle Clifford went to the box for boarding. After some difficulty getting the puck away from his own net, Alec Martinez, Clifford and Toffoli went the other way in a three on two against Kevin Klein & John Moore. Martinez sent the puck across the neutral zone to Toffoli, who carried it in and took a shot from the half wall. Brian Boyle tried to get back to help but he was too late.  Lundqvist kicked the puck out right to Martinez who did not miss the open net.

It was a disappointing finish for Lundqvist after making 49 saves through almost five periods.

For all the talk of puck luck in this series, it is hard to ignore what looks like a special relationship between the Kings and Friday the 13th. The Kings also played a playoff game on Friday the 13th in 2012. That day, they beat the Vancouver Canucks. That was just a first round game, the second in the series. What are the odds they would win twice on Friday the 13th, and win the Cup both seasons?

Stanley Cup Final: Kings Shut Out Rangers in Game 3, Lead Series 3-0

By Mary Walsh

After a 3-0 win in New York, the Los Angeles Kings are the verge of sweeping the New York Rangers out of the the Stanley Cup Final. Two seasons ago, they were in the same position against the New Jersey Devils. They also started that series by winning two overtime games, then winning the third with a shutout. The Devils rallied and won the next two to stretch the series to six games.

Of being up three games to none, Justin Williams said:

Just because you’re leading a series doesn’t mean that you’ve won anything.

The game showed improvement in some areas for the Kings. They skipped the sluggish first period and falling behind early. They showed the defensive prowess they are known for. Jonathan Quick turned in an impressive 32 save shutout in his first game at Madison Square Garden.

Of the mood in the Kings’ room, Williams said:

It’s all business in there. Certainly right now, yeah, we’re happy, we’re up three-nothing. But we know as good as anyone that three-nothing doesn’t mean four and the fourth one’s the hardest and we’re going to be ready for it.

Being ready might have to include generating more offense. The Kings were dangerously outshot, testing their goaltender and defensive resilience. In the second period the Rangers outshot the Kings 17-8, in the third 11-2.

A 3-0 shutout might look like an about-face from the two games they won in overtime, but this game should have been closer on the scoreboard than it was. Two of the Kings goals relied on unlucky bounces off of Rangers players.

The Rangers have to be feeling frustration now, and there was one penalty that could well be a focal point of that frustration. At 14:02 of the third period, the Rangers’ Chris Kreider was called for goalie interference, after pushing Drew Doughty in the direction of Jonathan Quick. Doughty went in to Quick and took him down, but no goal, no good scoring chance resulted.

It was not a completely insane call, but it was wildly inconsistent. It made the non-call against Dwight King even more grotesque, as he scored a goal by falling on Henrik Lundqvist in Game Two. Granted, the calls were not made by the same referees, but it is likely to be a sore point.

The first period was noteworthy for two reasons: the Kings scored first, which is so infrequent that it seemed like a mistake. Additionally, the NHL server was down for most of the period so there were no stats available. Once the server came back up, the officials finally made a call, a coincidence no doubt. The call went for New York but they did not score with the man advantage.

Though the penalty took up most of the time remaining in the period, Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter still managed to squeak an even strength goal in before the period ended. Justin Williams found him in the slot, where Carter put a quick wrist shot past Lundqvist. The shot appeared to go off of Dan Girardi’s skate and the tip of Henrik Lundqvist’s glove. It was an auspicious start for the Kings and another point for Justin Williams.

The second period was littered with penalties. They were called at a rate of about one every three and a half minutes, three against each team. Only the Kings converted, and they only did so once.

Starting with a lead did not put the Kings off their rhythm. As usual, they scored early in the second period again, this time with the help of a power play, giving them a 2-0 lead. This put them doubly in unfamiliar territory, since it is their habit to be on the other side of the two goal lead before they win.

The goal was a little later than usual, a power play goal made possible by Marc Staal being called for high-sticking. The call may have been overdue, as other players, including Staal, had gotten away with some high-sticks already. It took the Kings just under a minute to score. Jake Muzzin threw one in from the point while Jeff Carter screened Lundqvist. New York’s Martin St. Louis tried to block the shot but only deflected it around his goaltender.

The third Los Angeles goal came off a two on one of Trevor Lewis and Mike Richards versus Ryan McDonagh. Richards tried to pas the puck but it went off of McDonagh and came back to Richards. By then, he had the shot and he took it.

The Rangers entered the third period trailing by three, having gone 0-7 in the playoffs when trailing after two periods. That had to be as discouraging as the three goal deficit.

The Rangers did make one change late in the second: head coach Alain Vigneault put Rick Nash on the power play. He started by crashing the net, something the Rangers have not done enough of through the series. The collision did little more than aggravate Quick, who gave Nash a glove to the head for his trouble.

Nash was again on the ice for the Rangers power play early in the third period. The power play as a whole was ineffective, mostly taken up by a game of keep away by the Kings.

Henrik Lundqvist made 12 saves for New York. Derick Brassard led the Rangers in shots with five. Ryan McDonagh and Marc Stall each blocked two shots and no Ranger blocked more, but there were not very many to block. McDonagh led the team in time on ice with 26:56.

Jeff Carter led the Kings in shots with four, Jake Muzzin led in blocked shots with four, and Drew Doughty led in time on ice with 26:03.

Game Four will be played Wednesday  in New York at 5:00 PT.

One of Three Sevens: Sharks, Kings Must Win or Go Home

By Mary Walsh

Seven. Each NHL Playoff round is a best of seven games, and three of eight first round match-ups have gone the distance. Second round dates have already been set, even for the Penguins who do not yet know who they will play.

With three Game Sevens today, it seems likely that we will see at least one upset… if you define upset as the triumph of the team with the lower position in the standings. In the case of the Pacific Division contest, the predictions have been for the third place team to upset the second place team all along, so would that even count as an upset? Is it really an upset if it was expected? Will the Kings live up to expectations, or will the Sharks reassert themselves?

All three of today’s games came to be with a Game Six win won by three goals. The Flyers and the Wild both beat their opponents 5-3 and the Kings beat the Sharks Jose 4-1. A little more eerie than that is the Philadelphia connection to Los Angeles: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were both part of the Flyers team that upset the Bruins in 2010, and now they are in another Game Seven after a three game comeback, while their old team is playing a Game Seven on the same day.

The Sharks are not playing in three games, only one. They are not even playing in seven games, they only have one tonight. Is it any different from any other game? Sharks forward Logan Couture said:

Every playoff game has a different atmosphere compared to a regular season game. I mean, guys know, obviously, what’s at stake. I don’t think it’s any big difference.

Playing in and winning a Game Seven is every young hockey player’s dream. But after squandering a three game lead in the series, the Sharks might be feeling some extra pressure. This morning, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle was asked about the fun and the pressure of a Game Seven:

This is fun, you know everyone’s going to talk about how we got to this point but at this point it really doesn’t matter. We’re in Game Seven, we got to win a hockey game to move on and we’re at home. So you’re right this is fun and we’ve got to channel our energy the right way.

The Kings won three games in a row, as did the Sharks, but the Kings played all of those games with the threat of elimination hanging over them. They were all “win or go home” situations. Is it any different for the Sharks now that they too must win or go home? This morning, Sharks defenseman Jason Demers said:

I don’t think so. But it’s like I said, it’s just about executing. You can talk as much as you want about x’s and o’s, but it’s just about executing those x’s and o’s… Just executing when we need to execute to win.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan’s approach to the win or go home situation is to go back to his core group:

I think our core on our team has to step up, and they were there early in the series. LA’s core has been there later in the series. Tonight’s the deciding game and in my opinion Nemo’s a very big part of that core and they’re going to get their chance to perform in Game Seven.

It is April 30, 2014, or 4/30/14. Add month and day together without the zeros and you get seven. Divide the year by two and you get seven. All three games start in the seventh hour, two of them at seven sharp. It seems like it should mean something, but I can’t tell what that is or what could possibly be done about it. Probably a safe bet that everyone should steer clear of deadly sins.

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi said his routine would not change for this game:

I just got to think about my own game… and do the same things to get ready as I do every day.

Sounds like a plan.