February 28, 2017 By Paul Gackle

Sharks Top Maple Leafs, Add ‘Critical’ Piece For Playoff Run

SAN JOSE — Help is on the way, but the Sharks didn’t need it to squeak out a crucial win on Tuesday.

On a night when the Sharks (37-18-7) swung a deal to bolster their forward depth by acquiring Danish wingman Jannik Hansen from the Vancouver Canucks, the team summoned the grit and determination of their newest player, digging in deep with a late goal to top the Toronto Maple Leafs (28-21-13) 2-1 at the SAP Center.

The Sharks obtained Hansen during the second period of Tuesday’s game by sending their 2014 first-round draft pick, Nikolay Goldobin, and a 2017 conditional fourth-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks.

“He was right at the top of our list when we started compiling the characteristics of what we felt we needed,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, referring to Hansen. “A guy that played both ways, had speed, could kill penalties, could chip in some goals, could play with good players, had a long history in the playoffs and knew the Western Conference.”

“All those boxes checked.”

As excitement about the trade filled up the Sharks hashtag feed on Twitter, the team broke a 1-1 tie with the Maple Leafs at the 18:36 mark of the third thanks to a Herculean effort from Patrick Marleau and a Deadwood Dick-like shot from Tomas Hertl.

Marleau started the play by using his body to protect the puck and fend off both Mitch Marner and Matt Hunwick along the boards. Then, he slapped a backhand pass over to Tomas Hertl, who sniped the top-left corner from the left faceoff dot with Marner screening goalie Frederik Andersen in front.

“We outlasted them,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “It was pretty rewarding with how the game was played tonight.”

The Maple Leafs opened the scoring at 6:41 of the second when rookie center Austin Matthews notched his 31st goal of the season on the power play. Matthews beat goalie Martin Jones on his glove side from the slot after William Nylander skated through Chris Tierney in the neutral zone, avoided a hip check from Brent Burns at the blue line and hit Josh Leivo in the right circle, setting up the tic-tac-goal.

But the Sharks responded less than six minutes later when Brenden Dillon blasted a slapshot into the top shelf from just above the right circle, capping off a strong forechecking shift from the top line and capitalizing on a pretty cross-ice feed from Kevin Labanc.

“Burnzie (Burns) always hogs all the shots, so it’s nice to get one,” Dillon said.

Pavelski iced the game for the Sharks with 23 seconds left in regulation, scoring his 21st goal of the season into an empty net.

But the night belonged to the Sharks front office, which added a versatile piece to the Sharks forward roster by snagging Hansen at a relatively-low cost.

Although Hansen is notorious for his in-your-face style of play, which fits well with playoff hockey, he also possesses speed, defensive awareness and an ability score goals around the net.

In 565 games, Hansen has potted 105 goals, including a career high of 22 in 67 games last season. The 30-year-old forward also posted a plus-16 rating last year on a team that finished second-to-last in the Western Conference and iced just two players who posted plus ratings with more than 45 games played.

“He’s a pretty straight-forward guy,” said forward Mikkel Boedker, who was childhood friends with Hansen growing up in Denmark.

“He’s going to lay it in and just make sure he does the right things. (He) skates well and battles hard. He’s a versatile guy and a good guy that’s going to help us.”

Although Hansen is a gritty, physical player, he’s also fast, so he can keep up with speedy teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, unlike defenseman Roman Polak, whom the team acquired at the trade deadline last season before getting exposed in the Stanley Cup Final.

“He’s quick. We’ve played against him a lot here,” alternate captain Logan Couture said. “He’s got outside speed, he can jump through the middle, and on a team that likes to use our speed like we do, chip pucks and chase them through the neutral zone, he’s going to help.”

Hansen also joins the team with a boatload of playoff experience, having suited up for 64 playoff games with the Canucks.

DeBoer said it’s “critical” to have character players like Hansen on the roster in the playoffs.

“There’s nowhere to hide, especially out here, especially in our division,” he said. “You look at the potential trail through the Western Conference, this is going to be a really tough road and we’re going to need some gritty-character guys to add to the grit and character we already have in the room.”