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Sharks 4th liners help team advance to 2nd round
By JOSH DUBOW
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Eric Fehr and Marcus Sorensen spent most of the season toiling in the AHL, just waiting for their chance.
That opportunity has arrived in the playoffs for San Jose and those two fourth-line forwards are a major reason why the Sharks swept Anaheim to advance to a second-round series against Vegas.
Fehr scored one goal while anchoring the fourth line and Sorensen had three as San Jose's bottom group of forwards that also includes Melker Karlsson matched the scoring output of the entire Anaheim team in the series.
"It's awesome to see," top-line forward Evander Kane said. "It really gives a big spark to our group when you see those guys go out there and play in the offensive zone, create scoring chances and score goals. That really adds to our group. It takes pressure off us as top players to know all four lines can score."
The deadline addition of Kane provided the Sharks a major spark down the stretch but a lower-profile deal a week earlier for Fehr was also key to San Jose's success.
Fehr stepped right in as San Jose's fourth-line center, giving coach Peter DeBoer the confidence to roll four lines and keep his top players fresh. It was a surprising development since Fehr's career looked to be nearing its end after 12 seasons when he cleared waivers for Toronto back in November and got loaned to Anaheim's AHL affiliate in San Diego.
He remained there hoping to return to the playoffs where he helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup against the Sharks two years ago. His opportunity came when the Sharks dealt a 2020 seventh-round pick for him.
"That's what kept me playing, the chance to come in here and play some playoff hockey," he said. "That's the best time of the year. This is what you play for."
While Fehr is on the back end of his career, Sorensen should be ascending. He was expected to make the team out of training camp after playing well in the postseason last year against Edmonton.
But Sorensen was beaten out by Barclay Goodrow and spent most of the season in the minors or as a healthy scratch before playing the final five games of the regular season after Goodrow broke a finger.
Sorensen showed enough there for DeBoer to have confidence to use him in the playoffs and the move paid off with him scoring goals in the final three games of the sweep.
"I think he's a player who enjoys playing at this time of the year," teammate Logan Couture said. "He plays a hard game but this is probably the best hockey I've seen him play, at least the NHL level because he's making a difference every shift."
The Sharks aren't alone in getting key contributions from fourth liners, whether it's two goals from Colorado's Gabriel Bourque, a key empty-net goal from Nashville's Ryan Hartman, strong overall play from Washington fourth-line center Jay Beagle, or Boston's Sean Kuraly chipping in with a goal and two assists.
After missing the opener with an upper-body injury, Beagle scored a goal in Game 2 against Columbus and has won 71 percent of his faceoffs in his three games in the series after Washington lost nine of 10 defensive-zone draws late in a Game 1 loss.
"Especially this time of year, Beags is an all-in guy, a true pro, a buy that will give up his body to make a difference," coach Barry Trotz said. "For me, it's a mentality. There's other guys that can probably kill (penalties) as well as Jay, but he pulls people in the fight. And when it comes to the penalty kill unit, he has a lot of pride, and he'll pull the other guys in."
The Wild got no goals or assists from some of their most skilled forwards, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, one reason they lost to Winnipeg in five games.. But their fourth line was a valuable asset, providing more than just a couple of token checks before retreating to the bench. Daniel Winnik (one assist), Joel Eriksson Ek (one assist) and Marcus Foligno (one goal) gave the Wild plenty of productive shifts against the Jets.
"It's a really tough job for a big man to sit on the bench and come out with a lot of energy," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Every big guy that I've had has always said, `I've got to get into it. I've got to get into it. I can't sit.'"
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell and Teresa Walker contributed to this report.
More AP NHL: www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Updated April 21, 2018