3 reasons why the Sharks will finally succeed in the playoffs

Stop us if you've heard this before: The San Jose Sharks have the look of a team capable of going on a long playoff run.

This has not been an uncommon sentiment over, oh, the past decade or so, as the Bay Area squad has been one of the most successful regular season teams since the lost 2004-05 season, with a pair of Western Conference finals appearances to their credit.

However, the Sharks entered into a state of complete disarray following a calamitous first-round collapse in a 2014 series against Los Angeles, and failed to even qualify for the playoffs last season, with cornerstone centers Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau seemingly destined to be jettisoned in favor of building around a younger core.

But lo and behold, the Sharks have just kept swimming, and appear well poised to take a serious bite out of the competition this spring.

Here's why.

Formidable goaltending tandem

The Sharks demonstrated great faith in Martin Jones by coughing up a 2016 first-round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly to the Boston Bruins to secure the services of the up-and-coming netminder.

That appears to have been well placed, as the 26-year-old has risen to the occasion in his first season as a starter at the NHL level.

In a savvy pre-deadline move, general manager Doug Wilson looked Toronto's way and reeled James Reimer into the fold. While his role is expected to be supportive, he's played well enough early on in his tenure with the Sharks to warrant starts down the stretch and possibly in the playoffs.

Player GP Record Sv% GAA SO
Martin Jones 59 35-19-4 .919 2.26 5
James Reimer 4 3-1-0 .952 1.27 2

Don't forget Reimer is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, giving him all the motivation in the world to make good on this opportunity with the Sharks, especially as the member of this tandem who brings playoff experience to the mix.

Jumbo Joe's as good as ever

At age 36, Joe Thornton remains a force to be reckoned with.

Sitting second in assists (52) and eighth in total points (70) through 72 games, Thornton performing basically on par with his career average of 0.98 points per game. Throw in his 50 penalty minutes and a wicked beard, and he's showing off the kind of bite that has made him one of the game's premiere centers.

One could argue that Thornton already boasts a Hall of Fame worthy resume, with a Stanley Cup being the major team award still missing. With one year remaining on his contract, this could be Thornton's last best chance to with in San Jose, and we have to think he'll do everything he can to make good on it.

Don't believe the "too laid back to win" knock on his playoff performance; his 82 points in 97 postseason games as a Shark belie that myth.

Young blood complementing veteran experience

The Sharks' roster features only seven players over the age of 30, all of whom have experienced their fair share of playoff battles and, let's face it, failure.

Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns have been around for the bulk of San Jose's disappointments, while Joel Ward got a taste of it in recent years in Washington and Paul Martin joined Pittsburgh after the 2009 run to the Cup.

The last of the over-30 crowd, Dainius Zubrus, went to the final with New Jersey in 2012, a team coached by Sharks' current bench boss, Pete DeBoer.

These veterans, motivated as they may be to shake off the past, have the benefit of playing with some fresh young talent in San Jose this season, a healthy Logan Couture - still only 26 - certainly not least among them.

Make no mistake, this team is led by Thornton, Pavelski, and Burns, a trio that ranks 8-9-10 in league scoring. But it's the likes of Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi, Chris Tierney, Matt Nieto, and Melker Karlsson that are infusing the forward ranks with an extra boost, giving San Jose a fourth-ranked 211 goals to date.

It's not rocket science, at the end of the day. Heading into Monday's action, the Sharks had the NHL's third-best goal differential (plus-29), behind only Washington and Los Angeles. If Jones and/or Reimer can keep the puck out of the net enough to allow the revamped offense to do its thing, the Sharks could be a surprise team to come out of the West.

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VIDEO: Flyers’ Manning goes upstairs, off the bar for 1st NHL goal

It took parts of four seasons, but Brandon Manning is on the board, scoring his first NHL goal Monday.

And based on the quality of his shot, it was probably worth the wait.

The Philadelphia Flyers' defenseman went upstairs from the circle, glove side, off the post and in. Beautiful.

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Nylander on Sweden’s radar for World Championships

William Nylander may get to represent his country again this season.

After suffering a concussion in the first period of his first game at the World Junior Hockey Championship in December, the Toronto Maple Leafs' prized prospect could represent Sweden at the World Championships, writes Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

Sweden head coach Par Marts is actually in Toronto to watch Nylander play Monday, and didn't hide the fact.

"The main reason is William, that's for sure," Marts said.

"It's important to see them live. You can't just watch TV or listen to what other people say. I think that's important for me; I must see them in action, that's the key."

Nylander picked up two assists Monday, giving him three goals and three assists in 12 games. Marts knows the kind of skill the youngster brings.

"He's a guy that makes a difference in the game. He's a good scorer, he can make penalty shots and stuff like that and he's really good on (the) power play. Very good offense, so that's what I like about him."

The worlds run May 6-22 in Russia, and Nylander being 19 won't factor into the decision, Marts said.

If Sweden does want Nylander, a discussion will have to be had with general manager Lou Lamoriello. The Maple Leafs have plans for Nylander once the NHL season ends - he's expected to go back down to the AHL's Toronto Marlies and compete for a Calder Cup.

The Marlies are the AHL's best team and have already clinched a playoff spot.

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Sabres ink Hudson Fasching to entry-level deal

The Buffalo Sabres have signed college standout Hudson Fasching to an entry-level contract, the club announced Monday night.

Fasching's spent the last three seasons with the University of Minnesota, and 2015-16 has been his most productive. He has 20 goals and 18 assists in 37 games.

Inside Look: #Gophers forward @hfasching22 signs with the @buffalosabres earlier today.

A photo posted by Minnesota Golden Gopher Hockey (@gophermhockey) on

Sabres general manager Tim Murray said about Fasching in the club's statement:

Hudson showed us the kind of player he can be during his college career and we are pleased to sign him. We believe he has the potential to be an effective NHL player and wanted to bring him in as soon as possible.

Fasching stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 216 pounds. He's 20 years old, and was originally a fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2013. The Sabres acquired Fasching in a trade, and he'll forego his senior season for - hopefully - a career in the NHL.

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VIDEO: Rangers’ Zuccarello goes bar down while falling to ice

Mats Zuccarello deserves an extra point for style on this one.

The New York Rangers center somehow managed to rip a perfect shot past Al Montoya of the Florida Panthers while falling to the ice.

The goal was Zuccarello's 23rd of the season.

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Islanders’ Tavares suits up in 500th game

Time flies.

John Tavares, only 25 years old, suits up in his 500th NHL game on Monday night, all having come with the New York Islanders, the club that drafted him first overall in 2009.

With 457 points to his name, Tavares is most impressed that he's been able to reach the milestone so soon.

"I take a lot of pride in being able to be healthy," Tavares told NHL.com's Cory Wright. "It didn't take a lot of time to get to 500. One knee injury that kept me out a significant amount of time. Other than that, I've been able to take care of myself and be ready to play each and every night. That's something I've put a lot of work into."

Tavares' numbers are slightly down this season, after better than point-per-game campaigns in 2013-14 (when he missed 23 games) and 2014-15. But his effort hasn't wavered, and it's his drive that's always set him apart. Tavares isn't flash. He's a very skilled player, but he works harder than most with his talent.

"He's just more vocal," head coach Jack Capuano said about Tavares' growth as a player and a person. "He always leads by example on and off the ice with his work ethic. He's quiet that way, but people understand the way he works and how he carries himself. He's become more vocal and he's not afraid. That comes with maturity too. He's learned a lot. Doug (Weight) was only here for a year, but Mark Streit was a pretty good captain, so you learn from those guys."

Tavares came into the league as an 18-year-old, straight out of junior, scoring 24 goals in his rookie season. He was named the Islanders' 14th captain in franchise history in September 2013. He's only played in 13 playoff games, and has yet to win a round, and his goal over the next 500 games is to change that.

"It's something you're proud of," Tavares said of the milestone. "It means you're getting older, but still hopefully a long way to go and I want to build on the first 500."

He should get a chance this spring, as the Islanders, currently on a three-game losing streak, are in playoff position, holding down the first wild-card spot in the East heading into play Monday night.

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Rangers salute Jaromir Jagr for latest milestone

Of Jaromir Jagr's 1,857 career points heading into Monday's game in New York, 319 were recorded in 277 games with the Rangers from 2004-08.

Jagr recently passed Gordie Howe for third on the NHL's all-time points list, and he was properly saluted by the Blueshirts and their fans as his Florida Panthers visited Madison Square Garden.

The 44-year-old trails only Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in total points, both of whom also suited up for the Rangers.

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Flames’ Gaudreau can’t receive offer sheet as restricted free agent

Good news for the Calgary Flames, who could use some.

Johnny Gaudreau, the club's best player and a restricted free agent this summer, can't receive an offer sheet from another club, TSN's Bob McKenzie revealed on "Insider Trading" on Monday.

According to article 10.2.C in the collective bargaining agreement, Gaudreau doesn't have enough experience - fewer than three years - to be offer sheeted.

Gaudreau's in his third season, but only played one game in 2013-14. He'll turn 23 in August and has 152 games to his name, and 136 points.

Sean Monahan, another restricted free agent of the Flames, who will turn 22 in October, is finishing his third full season in the NHL. He can be offer sheeted, but as McKenzie notes in "Insider Trading," if an offer sheet does come his way, the Flames will undoubtedly match.

Monahan has 55 points this season. He and Gaudreau are the club's foundation up front for years to come.

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