24 Apr 19
SAN JOSE — The Sharks were still recovering Wednesday after their epic Game 7 win over the Vegas Golden Knights the night before put them in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
Now here comes a team that just knocked off the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Sharks’ reward for beating the Golden Knights 5-4 in overtime on Tuesday is getting to play the Colorado Avalanche, which right now isn’t playing like a team that just squeaked into the postseason to claim the west’s second wild card spot.
The Avalanche knocked off the Calgary Flames in five games in its first round series and have been waiting, and resting, since last Friday to see who they would play next.
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Certainly they had to be loving what they saw coming out of Las Vegas and San Jose. The Sharks beat the Golden Knights in Game 6 on Sunday in double overtime and less than 48 hours after that game ended, came back in dramatic fashion Tuesday to complete an exhausting seven-game series.
Game 1 of the second round series is Friday night at SAP Center.
“I was watching almost every game between Colorado and Calgary, and they actually surprised me how well they played against Calgary,” said Sharks center Tomas Hertl, who had six goals and two assists in the series, of the Avs. “They were flying.”
The Sharks had the day off Wednesday so there was no medical update on captain Joe Pavelski, who was bleeding after the back of his head slammed against the ice surface at SAP Center midway through the third period Tuesday.
Pavelski’s helmet stayed on during the scary incident, but he needed to be helped off the ice with the Sharks still trailing 3-0. His teammates said they saw Pavelski after the game and felt he was much improved.
There’s also health questions regarding Joonas Donskoi, and whether Erik Karlsson’s leg issues can improve at all.
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Add it up and this is going to be a tough challenge considering how well Colorado is playing right now.
The Sharks had to deal with two terrific Golden Knights lines in the first round — one centered by Paul Stastny and the other by William Karlsson. Although the Avalanche don’t have quite the same kind of one-two punch, their top line right now is playing as well as any trio in hockey.
Against the Flames, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen combined for 17 points in five games. Gabriel Landeskog was no slouch, either, with one goal and three assists. They all averaged over 21 minutes of ice time per game.
MacKinnon is the driving force, though, and has the ability to create all kinds of headaches for the Sharks defense.
MacKinnon, listed at 6-foot and 205 pounds, is nearly as quick as Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, but at over 10 pounds heavier, can move like a locomotive through the neutral zone. He finished the regular season with a career high 99 points in 82 games, and had three points in three games against the Sharks this season.
“For sure you have to ready for their top line,” Hertl said. “MacKinnon is one of the best players in the NHL. That line, Rantanen, Landeskog, they almost owned the series. Young team, a lot of speed and we have to be ready.”
SAN JOSE, CA – APRIL 18: San Jose Sharks’ Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44), right, tries to get the puck away from Vegas Golden Knights’ William Carrier (28), left, during the first period of Game 5 of their NHL first round playoff series at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group)
Without question, the Sharks will want to have defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns on the ice against that line as much as possible this series. Over the last three games of the Vegas series, both Vlasic and Burns were only on the ice for one 5-on-5 goal against — Max Pacioretty’s third period goal in Game 7.
Asked before Game 7 what tells him that he made an impact on the game, Vlasic said, “Shutting down the top line. That’s my job. You look at the last two games and if I kept them off the scoresheet, I did my job.”
This series may not be quite as nasty as the one against the Golden Knights. Although emotions can bubble to the surface at a moments notice, the Sharks and Avalanche combined for just 32 penalty in three meetings this season, all Sharks wins.
San Jose beat Colorado 5-2 on April 6. But with it being the last day of the regular season, both teams just wanted to get out of that game healthy.
“Playoffs is a different scenario, right? You start over from scratch, and it’s best of seven,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar told reporters Wednesday. “There are adjustments to be made in the middle of the series. Our goal will be to go in there and have a real good start and pick up where we left off against Calgary.”
Also, Semyon Varlamov, not Philipp Grubauer, started in goal April 6 for the Avalanche.
Grubauer was a difference-maker for the Avs after the All-Star break, going 9-3-2 in 14 games. In that time, his save percentage and goals against average were .948 and 1.69, second only in both categories to Dallas’ Ben Bishop (.962, 1.15).
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]Martin Jones, meanwhile, enjoyed a complete turnaround within the first round. In the first four games against the Golden Knights, according to statistician Darin Stephens, Jones had a .838 save percentage through the first four games. In the last three games, that mark jumped to .946.
This will be the fifth time the Sharks and Avalanche will meet in the playoffs, with the last coming in the first round in 2010. The Sharks won that series in six games.
“It’ll be another tough series,” Hertl said. “We have to be ready. They’ll be fresh and be flying and we just have to shut them down and play o-zone.”