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It took one trip to Las Vegas early in the season for the San Jose Sharks to realize that the fast start to the season for the expansion Golden Knights was no fluke.

So it should come as little surprise to the Sharks that they have to get past Vegas in the second round of the playoffs starting Thursday night to reach the Western Conference final for the fourth time in the past nine seasons.

”I remember playing them in November and walking in and going http://www.officialblackhawksproshop.com/authentic-adidas-artem-anisimov-jersey , `This isn’t a mirage. These guys are for real,”’ Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. ”Their game was real, the way they came at you, the tenacity they played with, the depth they have. That opinion for me hasn’t changed in any of the games we played them, and it went back as far as November when we played them early. Great test for us.”

The Golden Knights brought relentless speed to a Pacific Division that had been known in recent years for heavy teams that thrived on wearing down opponents with physical play.

The group of castoffs raced past the rest of the division for 109 points in the regular season and then swept a Los Angeles Kings team that always seemed to be a step behind in the first round of the playoffs.

”We played them a couple of times early and you figured out this team is for real and will be tough for years to come,” Sharks defenseman Justin Braun said. ”They have great speed and the coach has them going hard. We’re going to have to match that every shift.”

The Sharks have embraced the league’s transition to a faster game in recent years, making it a priority following a loss in the Stanley Cup Final to Pittsburgh two years ago.

The transformation really took hold this season after top-line center Joe Thornton went out with a knee injury in January and the Sharks acquired Evander Kane and Eric Fehr the following month, adding both speed and depth to the forward group that should test the unproven Golden Knights.

”I would assume it’ll be a bit more fast-paced a bit, maybe a little more open hockey,” Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”I think LA was a team that played well defensively, but they don’t create as much offensively. With these guys we’re going to have to do a little more up and down.”

Here are some other things to watch in this series:

GOALIE SHOWDOWN

The series features a matchup of two of the NHL’s hottest goalies. Fleury allowed just three goals in a first-round sweep, leading the league with a .977 save percentage and 0.65 goals against average. San Jose’s Martin Jones was nearly as stingy, allowing four goals against Anaheim for a .970 save percentage and 1.0 GAA. Jones’ career .931 save percentage is third best ever among goalies with at least 20 playoff games.

SPECIAL TEAMS

One of the few things Vegas didn’t do well in the first round was capitalize on power plays Womens Deryk Engelland Jersey , scoring on just 1 of 12 chances after converting on 21.4 percent in the regular season. The Sharks were among the best penalty killers all season, ranking second at 84.8 percent. San Jose’s power play has been a bit of a roller coaster this season, struggling early and late but thriving for a stretch in the middle of the year. The Sharks were 6 for 20 in the opening round.

”It does become more important as the playoffs go on that you win the special teams battle,” DeBoer said. ”Both teams take a lot of pride in those areas so it should be a good test.”

BIG BURNS

The Sharks rely heavily on defenseman Brent Burns‘ big shot to generate offense. He had nine shots and a goal in Game 1 of the last round before the Ducks seemed to put extra emphasis on shutting him down. Vegas figures to do the same.

”When he’s on the ice, you got to pay special attention to him,” coach Gerard Gallant said. ”The wingers can’t fall asleep up high and let him go down the backdoor and give him a lot of shots to the net. That’s what they do, they focus on getting pucks to the net.”

LONG BREAK

Both teams figure to be well-rested for this series after sweeping the first round. San Jose will have seven full days since beating Anaheim, while Vegas has had eight days off since finishing off Los Angeles. This marks just the second time in the past 22 years that teams will meet in the playoffs after sweeping the previous round.

JUMBO JOE

The Sharks will once again start the series without star center Thornton, who has been out since Jan. 23 with a knee injury. DeBoer ruled Thornton out for at least Game 1 and there is no timeline for when he will be ready to return.



AP freelancer W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed to this report.




Boot camp took on new meaning this week for military service members.

Participants got to train at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey like NFL stars for a day as part of “USAA’s Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp.” They performed drills similar to those used by NFL coaches to evaluate talent, under the watchful eye of Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins.

“Members of my family have served in the military, so I respect the simple impact that saying ‘thank you’ can have, and that’s what USAA’s Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp is all about,” Dawkins said. “It was great to get onto the field and help coach military members through drills that I did as a player.”

In addition to active duty participants, military veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project took part.

“It was very competitive Wayne Simmonds Jersey ,” said Senior Airman Brandon Castillo, one of the participants. “We had different branches out there today and everybody was itching to go. We all wanted to compete and put up the best scores we could for all of the drills.”

The seventh such boot camp is part of the military appreciation events that USAA and the NFL have created.

RING BEARERS

The eight inductees in the 2018 class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will receive their rings during special halftime ceremonies this season.

First up in the second week of the season will be Packers guard Jerry Kramer on Sept. 16 when Green Bay faces Minnesota.

The next night, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher gets his when Chicago plays Seattle.

A week later, it will be Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis when Baltimore takes on Denver. Three weeks later, Robert Brazile, an outstanding linebacker for the Houston Oilers — the forerunner of the Titans — will be honored when Tennessee plays Baltimore.

Eagles and Broncos safety Brian Dawkins will be next up on Oct. 21 during the Eagles-Panthers game. On Nov. 1, Terrell Owens, who didn’t show for the inductions in Canton, Ohio, gets his ring as the 49ers play the Raiders in a Thursday night game.

Finally, former general manager Bobby Beathard will be honored when Washington takes on Houston in Week 12, and Vikings receiver Randy moss gets his ring on Nov. 25 during a Packers-Vikings matchup.

The Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence is set in 14-karat gold with a total diamond weight of 1¾ karats.

URLACHER APPROVES

Count Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher among those thrilled to see the Chicago Bears swing a blockbuster trade with the Oakland Raiders for two-time All-Pro Khalil Mack.

He was “ecstatic” to see his former team land one of the league’s best defensive players. And he was “shocked” the Raiders would trade Mack.

“I love it,” Urlacher said this week. “They want to win now. I feel like they feel they have the people in place to win now. The NFC is a tough conference. The NFC North is a tough division. But you look at that roster on the Bears, they match up with everybody in that division.”

Urlacher was promoting FanDuel’s weekly Gridiron Pick’em contest Womens Will Butcher Jersey , where users select the winners of each game for a chance at a share of a $10,000 prize pool. They can also play alongside him this week.

Mack’s arrival capped a busy offseason for a team with four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North. But Chicago’s defense ranked 10th overall last season. And the Bears added one of the league’s best players.

They paid a high price, sending two first-round picks to Oakland as part of the deal. They also gave their new star a six-year, $141 million extension that guarantees $90 million and makes him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.

“To give up two first-round picks is really, in my opinion, minor for the kind of player they got,” Urlacher said. “Last year, the Bears were a top 10 defense. Now, you add him to the mix, it’s gonna be even better.”

Urlacher said having Mack should create more opportunities for Leonard Floyd on the other side at outside linebacker. He also thinks the trade will benefit Mitchell Trubisky and the offense. And he dismissed the idea that there will be more pressure on the young quarterback with the Bears in a win-now mode.

“You’re supposed to win every year,” Urlacher said. “Your mindset should be we have to win right now, every single season. The pressure shouldn’t change based on that.”

MULLET MAN

Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is keeping his mullet for the season, adding a new look to what he hopes is a resurgent time in his career.

Eifert was limited to two games last season because of another back injury that required surgery. During his latest rehab, he decided to let his hair down. He made it through training camp without physical problem Sonny Milano Jersey , and he’s going to let the hair hang out of the back of his helmet starting with a game Sunday at Indianapolis.

He has no plans for getting a haircut.

“I’m just kind of rolling with it,” Eifert said. “It kind of started as — not really a joke, just a ha-ha thing. It’s taken a lot of work getting through the awkward stages of it, but it’s turned out pretty good.”

The Bengals signed Eifert, their first-round pick in 2013, to a one-year deal for 2018 that’s loaded with incentives. He’s been limited to 24 games in the past four seasons because of back, elbow, shoulder and ankle injuries as well as a concussion. The Bengals limited him to 14 plays in the preseason to keep him healthy, although that’s not a concern for Eifert.

“I feel like every injury has been somewhat of a fluke thing,” he said. “That’s not even a Womens Washington Redskins Jerseys


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