Monday, June 6, 2016

Weekend report: We have a series

Facing the prospect of falling behind 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks rallied back to win Saturday's Game 3 in overtime. As per hockey bylaws, we are now legally obligated to inform you that we have ourselves a series.

And that's good news; given the quality of the teams involved and the roads they've travelled to get here, you'd hate to have seen this series over early. And it almost certainly would have been over with a Penguins win. With apologies to Sharks fans having flashbacks to that series, a 3-0 deficit would have been game over—nobody is beating these Penguins in four straight games with the Cup in the building.

So that overtime really did feel like sudden death for the Sharks. And they'll live to fight another day thanks to Joonas Donskoi's winner, called here in typically understated tones by the Finnish broadcast.

And so, yes, we have ourselves a series, although exactly how much of one remains to be seen. Despite the one-goal margins, the three games so far have been shockingly one-sided, with the Penguins dominating for long stretches, while the Sharks have only looked like the team that rolled through the Western Conference for short bursts. Even in Saturday's loss, the Penguins could make a good case that they were the better team, and they still haven't trailed for a second of the series.

Maybe Donskoi's winner is the turning point, the moment that flips the switch and restores the Sharks to what we expected them to be. Or maybe it's just prolonging the inevitable. The story of the series so far has been the Penguins' speed; they seem to be just a half-step ahead of the Sharks at every turn, and it's added up to having the puck on their stick for most of the final. The shot clock isn't everything, but the Penguins are dominating it to a historical degree. And the way this has all played out has to scare you if you're a Sharks fan. After all, you can fix a lot of problems with smart game-planning and better matchups, but speed is speed.

Still, the Sharks are alive, and we have a series. Peter DeBoer and company have their work cut out for them if the series is going to be more than five games long, but thanks to Donskoi, they have a chance.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Matthew Tkachuk—The NHL combine wrapped up over the weekend, meaning we're officially into that part of the draft lead up where we hear about stocks rising and falling. And nobody seems to be rising more than Tkachuk, the London Knights power forward and son of former NHL star Keith.

For months, the draft has been viewed as having a clear Big Three of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi in that order, followed by about a half dozen players in the second tier who could go anywhere. But after scoring the Memorial Cup-winning goal last week, Tkachuk seems to have moved to the top of that group, and may even be pushing Puljujarvi for the third spot.

That's obviously good news for him. But it's great news for the Oilers, who seemed like the draft lottery's big losers after dropping down to No. 4 That pick soars in value if the Big Three becomes a Big Four. And given that the team is reportedly looking to trade the pick, the bidding could get very interesting over the next few weeks.

4. Donskoi's goal going in off Matt Murray's face—Seriously, we're all just going to pretend that didn't happen? After the game, I read glowing reports of how Donskoi had skillfully picked the top corner. If he picked anything, it was Murray's left nostril. Still a nice shot, still a clutch goal, but don't show me a Stanley Cup OT winner pinging off a goaltender's cranium and then expect me to unsee it.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

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