Tag Archives: antti niemi

Sharks Need To Match Eager

Ben Eager's antics were part of the reason the Sharks lost last night. But his ferocity needs to matched by his teammates.

Ben Eager was a maniac last night. He ran Daniel Sedin head first into the boards, he took more bad penalties than I can count on one hand, his yelled at the Vancouver Canucks bench, scored a goal and cursed out Roberto Luongo (by the way the Sharks were down 7-2 at that point) and start a brawl at the end of the game.

Overall Eager tallied 5 minor penalties, a game misconduct, did more harm than good for his team and for the most part looked like an idiot doing it…

And the rest of the San Jose Sharks need to get mean and angry like Eager if they want to come close to winning this series.

True, I didn’t like Eager’s antics one bit, however at least he showed some sort of caring on the ice last night while the rest of his teammates let the Canucks tap dance on their heads without any recourse. After a dead even first period Vancouver mauled San Jose over the last two periods.

The Canucks out shot them 25-18 outscored them 5-0 and forced six penalties that led to two power play goals and kept the Sharks on their heels for the rest of the night. What was worse was how the Sharks defense played. They were routinely out of position and the let Canuck forwards do whatever they wanted.

On Daniel Sedin’s goal that made it 5-2, he, brother Henrik and Alex Edler basically skated untouched in a 3-man weave behind the net while the Sharks defenders stood there and watched until Daniel Sedin knocked home a rebound from Henrik. The last two goals were virtual untested one-timers where Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond got open and had clear shots while San Jose’s defense was either shielding Antti Niemi or four feet away from the puck. It was embarrassing.

Antti Niemi would love some help right now.

In essence the Sharks are playing right into Vancouver’s hands with their style of play. The Canucks are a finesse team that relies on their forwards to handle the bulk of the work and always push the puck. The Sharks are the way except I think that it’s safe to say that Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture are not the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler.

What the Sharks have to do is get physical. They have to disrupt the Canucks offensive flow and knock around their top two lines. Ryan Clowe and Eager have to bruise these guys up if the Sharks want to advance to the Cup finals. As good as their offense is they cannot keep up with the Canucks and have to slow them down. That also means Dan Boyle, Ian White and company have to play better in front of Antti Niemi and keep pucks from going by them.

If not then the Sharks will be going home in four again just like last year.

(Not that it would surprise me at all. I told you that I never have and never will trust the Sharks in the playoffs until they actual win in a convincing and emphatic manner in the way that this team is built. It makes no sense that a team with this much offense, a good defense and good goaltending gets killed in the playoffs year after year.

Is it Todd McClellan? Do they need different pieces? Maybe they need to get tougher, add more physical pieces, more mentally tough players… something, anything, because I think I speak for most of the hockey fans in Northern California that this is starting to get old and something has to change and change quickly.)

Even though I think Ben Eager’s antics last night went beyond the antics of the average NHL goon, I think that the San Jose Sharks need to channel some of that anger and get tough to find a way back into this series. The Sharks are facing another disappointing ending to their season and with the way things are going it will end very soon.

Maybe that’s why Eager was so volatile, he sees it coming and wants to stop it at all costs.


And We’ve Only Just Begun

Alex Burrows series winner was one of the great moments from the first round of the NBA and NHL playoffs.

The first round of the playoffs are never interesting. There are your 1 versus 8 matchups that are usually over in a week, a slightly more interesting 2 vs. 7, a deceptively tough 3 vs. 6 matchup and the 4 vs. 5 is always the most evenly matched series but can swing either way.

All of the series normally run too long and in the past I’ve complained about how the playoffs need to be shortened. After the last two weeks, I’ve changed my mind at least for one year.

The NHL and NBA playoffs first round action was so compelling that it was hard to keep up with every series even though I tried my hardest. If Alex Semin wasn’t scoring in overtime to save the Capitals in game 1 versus the Rangers it was Derrick Rose carrying a sloth-like Bulls team to a come from behind victory against Indiana. If Chris Paul didn’t have a throwback game 1 against the Lakers, then Teemu Selanne looked a 24 year old instead of a 40 year old versus Nashville.

There were so many ridiculous occurrences that it made my head spin. Here I am at Eddie George’s trying to watch the Yankees-Orioles game and Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday are knocking down huge threes to keep the 76ers alive versus Miami, and as soon as I turn my head Daniel Briere and Ville Leino are forcing a game 7 versus Buffalo after scoring late goals to keep the Flyers alive.

It’s like the NHL and NBA are trying to one up each other… I like it.

Think about each series for a minute. Let’s subtract the Red Wings-Coyotes series and the Orlando-Atlanta series because Detroit dominated the Coyotes and no one cares about either Orlando or Atlanta.

After this first round exit, Dwight Howard's future in Orlando is now in question.

(Actually I lied. There is an interesting dynamic from the Orlando series; Dwight Howard won’t be playing for the Magic much longer. I can’t envision him staying with a team with no backup big man; a roster of shook players and no real consistent shooters around him. This series loss was almost the last draw for Dwight because when he played well he lost and when he played terrible the magic won, which I can’t understand at all. Dwight is probably sick of being in Orlando and hearing Stan Van Gundy in ear every two seconds and being ripped by everyone for not exceeding his talent level. Picture Dwight in L.A. or New York or maybe even Boston in a year or two. Yikes.)

Starting in both Eastern Conference matchups, The Bulls-Indiana series should’ve been a washout. Instead Darren Collison and company put heavy pressure on the Bulls for 4 of the 5 games and could’ve easily won the series as they lost it.

Why didn’t they? Derrick Rose.

To hell with PER rating and things like that, Rose was the best player on the floor at all times and packed the Bulls on his back leading them to victory in the first three games of the series. His acrobatics and constant driving to the hole was amazing. He was undaunted, vicious and would not lose. If you had doubts on the MVP then you didn’t after this series.

Miami versus Philly was mostly a wash except for game 4 when Philly had one last gasp and the Wells Fargo Arena went nuts thanks to Williams and Holiday’s heroics… and LeBron’s inability to close again.

LeBron James could’ve easily beaten the 76ers with a drive to the rim late in the game, but he stopped short, threw up a bad shot and Philly escaped. Thanks for the new material LeBron. We’ll be watching you closely throughout the playoffs again. And I have a feeling that you might be screwing up again.

The Celtics-Knicks series should’ve gone 7 games, if: Amar’e Stoudemire got the ball in the last 5 minutes of game 1, Carmelo Anthony got any help in game 2, and if the Knicks had any reliable players besides those two at all.

Truth be told the Celtics were only impressive in game 3 when they crushed the Knicks at The Garden. However, in the other 3 games they looked terrible. Sure the Big 4 lead them to victory by taking turns in handling the majority of the scoring, but they cant come out cold like they did in games 1 & 2 and they cant give up a huge lead like they did in game 4. If they do then Miami will eat them for lunch, unless LeBron has the ball late.

Derrick Rose's acrobatics put the Bulls in the second round of the playoffs.

In the NHL the Caps-Rangers series could’ve went both ways. The Rangers could’ve won games 1 & 4 if not for a late goal by Alex Ovechkin in a hard-fought game 1 and if they didn’t choke away game 4.

The Caps fans had to be thinking “here we go again” as the third period of game 4 started and they were down 3-0. Another Washington collapse after they had an early 2-0 series lead had to be in the back of their minds . Then Alex Semin and Marcus Johansson led a charge that sent the game into overtime where Jason Chimera effectively ended the series with a fluke goal that gave them a 4-3 win.

Instead of concerns of another early exit, the caps pulled it together and won the series in 5.

The Sabres and Flyers series was fun and head scratching at the same time. The Sabres chased a Flyers goalie in 3 of the games in the series, had a 3-1 lead in game 6 at home and had the series in their hand… and lost.

Philly’s goaltending has been bad since Bernie Parent retires it seems, but in this series it was a cluster****. If not for Daniel Briere’s timely offense and Ryan Miller’s ineffectiveness in net for Buffalo then the Flyers would’ve been toast. Instead they move on and Buffalo has another postseason horror story.

Speaking of fans saying “Oh no not again” how do you think Boston Bruins fans felt after losing the first two games of their series at home after the playoff collapse to the Flyers last year?

Boston showed incredible resilience by taking the next two games in Montreal before winning a pair of overtime games at home, including a raucous game 7, to win the series.

It was a classic rivalry that seesawed between both sides and was a thrill to watch (even though the Spurs were clinging to their lives versus Memphis. More on that later.)

Finally Tampa Bay continued its revival of a season by coming back from 3-1 down to Pittsburgh to win in 7 games.

First off this wasn’t a collapse. The fact that Pittsburgh was almost in the second round without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is a shock to me. What else was a shock was how dominant Tampa looked in games 5,6 & 7.

Nathan Horton and the B's finally got rid of the Habs.

They were a different team from the first 4 games. They were flying around without a care and just took it to the Penguins. Steven Stamkos and company looked like a Stanley Cup contender than a team in the middle of a grand rebuilding plan that took a huge leap this year. There 1-0 game 7 victory was even more impressive because of their defensive play that they hadn’t had all year.  Are they for real? Maybe, but it’ll be fun to watch it play out.

(Ok, halftime. I told you these playoffs were nuts. And we’re not even into the West yet. Ready and break.)

Now the Western Conference where arguably the best series in each sport took place.

The Thunder vs. Nuggets was interesting for one reason and one reason only, the possible alpha-dog fight between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Let’s be clear about this… THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER ARE KEVIN DURANT’S TEAM PERIOD!

Yet in game 4 Westbrook took it upon himself to take every big shot when the game got down to the wire and he also made every big mistake. It was like watching a train wreck. Westbrook chucking up bad shot after bad shot while Durant just stood there calling for the ball and not getting it.

In the end the Thunder lost and Westbrook took 30 shots to Durant’s 18. Scott Brooks probably wanted to ether Westbrook on the spot.

Sad part is that it was in the process of happening again in game 5. Westbrook was making more bad plays late in the game and was putting the Thunder behind the eight ball again. Then Durant said enough.

With the Thunder down 9 with 4 minutes left, Durant hadn’t yet scored in the quarter. Once he got the ball that changed. In an instant the lead for Denver went from 9 to 7 to 5 to 3 to 1 and then OKC was up. Durant had a Jordan blackout moment. No one could stop him at all. He drove to the lane, hit from three, from 18 feet, hit floaters, right-handed and left-handed. He was unstoppable and led the Thunder to victory.

I run OKC... got it?

Hopefully Westbrook learned his lesson but I don’t know. This is going interesting to watch over the next few weeks.

Dallas had a message for everyone that picked Portland in their series, kick rocks, barefoot.

Despite Brandon Roy’s heroics in two wild games in Portland, Dirk Nowitzki guided Dallas to Victory in a series that no one had them picked to win. At this point in his tenure in Dallas the Mavs are more than ever Dirk Nowitzki and a bunch of parts. His 28 a game and 33 in the clincher paced the Mavs and his cool demeanor weathered any storm that Portland gathered up for Dallas and led them to an impressive series win.

The Lakers-Hornets series was a throwback series. We saw glimpses of the greatness of Chris Paul’s past with his 33/17 performance, we saw how Andrew Bynum can alter the play of any game when he’s healthy, and we saw Kobe go HAM with a dunk over Emeka Okafor that brought us back to when Kobe had all of his hops 5 years ago.

It also showed that the team to beat is still the L.A. Lakers. Despite the problems of game 1 the Lakers dominated 4 of the next 5 with their size and defense even without a dominant offensive output from Kobe or anyone. The West is still theirs especially now that…

…San Antonio is gone thanks to the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies. How great was this series as a fan?

Memphis didn’t even have Rudy Gay, arguably their best player, and still mashed on San Antonio like they were ants. Zach Randolph has gone from an NBA outcast to the leader of a team of young lions that are making lots of noise and looking for respect.

The Grizzlies were animals in this series. Tony Allen brought some of that Boston toughness out, Mike Conley looked like an all world point guard and Marc Gasol looked like the Gasol that plays in L.A. only a lot tougher.

Zach Randolph and The Grizzlies are having a good time in these playoffs

They pounded the smaller and older Spurs and except for an aberration of game 5 where Gary Neal hit a game tying 3 with no time left, the Grizzlies were the better team all series long.

As great as the Grizzlies and their crowd were, you have to wonder about the future of the Spurs.

This has to be the end of a great run form one the leagues best franchises of the last 12 years. Tim Duncan is getting older, Manu Ginobli is breaking down and the Spurs have no real front line depth to battle with any team in the Western Conference. This might have been the last of the Spurs dynasty and if so then the shift of power in the Western Conference has already begun to shift.

As we shift to the NHL and the Nashville and Anaheim series there were three things about this series I hated. 1. I was thinking that these two would meet in the West Finals because no one team could stop the Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf line, 2. Because no one was going to score on Pekka Rinne and 3. Because they were the two hottest teams going into the playoffs.

And of course I loved the series, well, except Bobby Ryan trying cut someone’s foot in half with his skate.

It was a seesaw battle that showed the each team’s strength at its best form, and that every game was intriguing.

The MVP’s of the series were Jordin Tootoo for the Preds who was a monster by setting up the game-winning goals in games 5 & 6 and by just being a pest and getting under Anaheim’s skin all series long, and Teemu Selanne who scored 6 goals and kept Anaheim in each game if the series… and he’s 40.

(Side note: people think I’m crazy for picking Nashville to go to the Stanley Cup Finals but why not? They have arguably the best goaltender in the playoffs in Rinne, the best defense lead by Shea Weber, and even though they don’t score a lot of goals they score them when they need to. I’ve seen weirder things happen, but a hockey team from Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals? It could happen.)

The Predators in the Finals... why not?

If you want another reason as to why I still will never pick the San Jose Sharks to win a Stanley Cup then look at their series versus the L.A. Kings:

Game 1: back and forth battle between two very good teams ending with Joe Pavelski winning the game for the Sharks in OT.

Game 2: L.A. embarrasses them 4-0. Unacceptable.

Game 3: L.A. jumps out to another 4-0 lead, Antti Niemi gets pulled, L.A. has the win in the bag and somehow San Jose ties it at 5 at the end of the second period and win 6-5 in OT. Gutsy but still, how do give up 8 straight goals in the playoffs?

Game 4: they dominate the Kings and roll 6-3. Impressive.

Game 5: Kings jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on the road and win 3-1. Terrible.

Game 6: The Sharks overcome a raucous crowd and another OT to win in L.A. and clinch the series.

You call them gutsy I call them soft. Until the Sharks consistently beat teams in the manner that they should I will not take them seriously as a Cup contender. Period.

But none of these series NHL or NBA matched the Vancouver Canucks-Chicago Blackhawks. Vancouver was the leagues best team in the regular season with the leagues top offense and was a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. However in the last two postseason’s the Blackhawks owned them in the playoffs.

This was Vancouver’s main nemesis, the number one roadblock to the Cup even though it was a first round matchup. The Canucks had to slay this dragon to reach its destination and through three games it looked like it was easy as 1,2,3.

Then game 4 happened, 7-2 Blackhawks. Ok no problem. They don’t want to lose at home, sort of a last gasp effort no biggie. Then game 5 happened, 5-0 Hawks… in Vancouver. Uh-oh.

Panic spread, Alain Vineault sat Roberto Luongo for game 6 in Chicago, which was the biggest knee jerk reaction I had ever seen a coach make to two bad losses. I mean the guy won you 38 games during the season, why pull him just because of two games?

Game 6 was played on pins and needled by the Canucks. Sure they led 2-1 and 3-2 but they looked tense all game long. It seemed like the pressure to close out was getting to them. Then when Cory Schneider injured his groin during Michael Frolik’s game-tying penalty shot things got real tense. Luongo came in and did a decent job in relief… until overtime when he allowed Ben Smith to grab a rebound off of a Marian Hossa shot to send the series to a game 7.

Put Vancouver on a suicide watch at that point.

Vancouver-Chicago might’ve been the greatest game 7 in the early stage of the playoffs ever. It was fast paced throughout with Luongo (hey! He’s starting again) and Blackhawks rookie Corey Crawford standing on their head throughout the game. The series looked like it was in the bag for Vancouver as Duncan Keith hooked Alex Burrows for a power play that was surely then end of Chicago’s season. Until Hossa had another shot at Luongo that just missed, but it came right to Jonathan Toews who had a Canuck on his back while he was falling down, and he still put it past Luongo to tie the game.

I still dont believe in San Jose, no matter how mentally tough Joe Thornton and company seem.

Rogers Arena was ghostly quiet. I mean like someone died quiet.

Another overtime, more anxiety and the possibility for more heartbreak. When Burrows took a penalty for holding Keith you could see the Canucks fans beside themselves. Could it really end like this? Could we really lose to this team again and in this manner? Burrows himself must’ve been losing his mind in the penalty box. When that penalty ended you could hear a collective sigh of relief from the 20,000 in attendance.

Two minutes later you could hear joy from those same fans. When Chicago’s Chris Campoli tried to clear the puck form his zone, Burrows pounced on it, moved in and fired a rocket past Crawford that gave Vancouver a 2-1 win and sent Rogers Arena into a frenzy.

The Canucks mobbed Burrows and it looked like they won the Stanley Cup. The demons were gone, the suicide watch was over, Vancouver had finally beaten Chicago.

What a series, what a first round. Can it get any better than this? Can Dallas-L.A., Miami-Boston, Boston-Philadelphia and Detroit-San Jose match the craziness of what we saw in the last two weeks of April?

Hopefully so. As great as round one was, I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the best that these playoffs have to offer just yet.


The Kings Fortunes Come Crashing Down

The Sharks comeback left them jubilated and the Kings stunned.

The Staples Center was rocking, the Los Angeles Kings were on fire, and the San Jose Sharks had no answers. Antti Niemi was pulled, the score was 4-0, and it looked like the Sharks had gone back to their playoff underachieving ways.

In reality they had the Kings right where they wanted them.

The Sharks survived an early barrage of goals by the Kings to score five in the second period and tie the game at five heading into the third period and eventually overtime.

In overtime Devin Setoguchi put the Kings out of their misery with a game-winner that shocked the Kings and left the Staples Center crowd stunned in disbelief.

How did a game that was so one-sided end up turning the other way? Even the Kings don’t know.

The Brad Richardson, Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford line was dominating San Jose scoring two goals and creating a bevy of opportunities for the Kings. Their physicality and energy wore down the Sharks and kept Niemi on his toes to the point that on Richardson’s tally he misplayed the puck that led to the goal.

Once he left the game the fortunes seemed to turn in favor of the Sharks and turn in furious fashion.

All three lines and every big name for the Sharks got involved in the action and turned their level of play up a notch. Patrick Marleau started the fury then came rookie sensation Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski then finally Setoguchi in OT. All in all the Sharks scored 5 goals on 18 shots and found holes in a young and overmatched Kings defense.

Michal Handzus and the Kings were eaily up 2-1 but are now in that hole.

As bad as Jonathan Quick looked from the second period on a lot of the blame has to go on to the shoulders of Drew Doughty who after playing the best game of his playoff career played the worst one.

He was routinely out of position and caught off guard. On the Setoguchi goal Doughty was way out of position and had couldn’t catch up to Setoguchi to even make an attempt on the puck. His poor play along with the lackluster play of Alec Martinez and the rest of the defensemen had as much to do with the Kings losing the game as Marleau, Couture and the Sharks stepping up to win it.

So who does this affect more, the Kings or Sharks?

The postseason ills of the Sharks have been much chronicled. After a terrible game two and first period of game three you could start to see the wheels coming off again for them. However, after such a furious comeback you have to wonder if the least talked about team in the Western Conference can turn this win into a mini run towards the Stanley Cup finals. It would have to start with Niemi playing better in net for them to have a shot, but when you spot a team 4 goals and comeback with ease then that tells you something about how good this team can be when it brings it’s a game.

As for the Kings their youth and inexperience showed its ugly head again. They’ve shown that they can score without the presence of their best scorer Anze Kopitar, but their focus will be a huge question mark heading into the rest of the series. Can a team this young come back from such a devastating defeat? I don’t think so.

I picked them to win the Cup at the beginning of the year but this team clearly isn’t ready yet. Unless Quick, Doughty and others play more consistently they’ll be exiting stage left in the first for the second consecutive year.

The Sharks are up 2-1 with a huge mental advantage going into game 4, quite a change for a team that has been long known for their playoff shortcomings. They have a chance to put the Kings, who are down in the dumps, on their backs for good. After last night’s 6-5 OT victory it looks like they’ll be able to handle that no matter what the Kings throw at them.