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Sharks' Burns deserves praise at both ends

Known for beard and offense, veteran shows he can defend, too, entering Game 2 against Penguins

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL /

PITTSBURGH - Brent Burns' first thought was, "Oh rats!"

Except the second word wasn't rats. Those are what the San Jose Sharks defenseman feeds his pet snakes. But you get the idea.

A shot by teammate Dainius Zubrus hit Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy in front of the net and ricocheted out toward center ice. Speedy Penguins forward Carl Hagelin got the jump on Burns and reached the puck first.

"It was a weird bounce," Burns said Tuesday of the play late in the first period of the Sharks' 3-2 loss in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday. "Actually, I didn't even see it. I just saw him start skating and I said, 'Oh God. I don't know why he's doing that.' Then, I saw it behind us."

Video: Burns spoke with media

Hagelin is one of the fastest players in the NHL and, with a two-step lead on Burns, it appeared he'd have a sure breakaway. But, Burns didn't give up.

"It's one of those things that you kind of just turn the legs on, I guess, and start skating," he said.

Burns somehow got close enough to Hagelin to reach from behind with his stick and lift Hagelin's stick as he was preparing to shoot. Burns then swiped the puck away, picking Hagelin's pocket.

"Not many can catch [Hagelin]," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "He might have got Hagelin at the end of a shift, because I'm not even sure flat out if he could [catch him]. It shows you what an athlete Burnsy is and the speed he's got."

Burns' hustle prevented a high-quality scoring chance for Hagelin in a game in which the Sharks were already trailing 2-0. They would push back and tie the game in the second period before Nick Bonino's goal with 2:33 remaining in the third gave the Penguins the Game 1 win.

The Sharks will look to rebound in Game 2 on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Burns assisted on both Tomas Hertl's power-play goal that began the Sharks' comeback in Game 1 and Patrick Marleau's tying goal, giving him 22 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (six goals, 16 assists) and tying him for ninth among defensemen in a single postseason.

But he was on the ice for the winning goal and lost his stick blocking an initial shot from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. That left him helpless to stop Letang's pass out of the right corner to Bonino in front for the game-winner.

Video: Thornton spoke with media

No one on the Sharks blamed Burns for that. Although some outside San Jose still question Burns' defense, the Sharks are well past that after watching him play this season.

"Defensively, he's been excellent all year," DeBoer said. "I had this guy at the world championships last year, best defenseman of the tournament both ends of the ice. I've seen that all year from him. There's been no issue defensively. The only people that really talk about it are [the media]. In our room and within our group, he's been outstanding both ends."

Burns was recognized for his play at both ends this season by being voted one of the three finalists, along with Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, for the Norris Trophy, which is presented to the NHL's top defenseman.

"It's a huge honor when you get mentioned among those guys," Burns said. "There's a lot of great players than can be up for that."

Burns, who set Sharks records for defensemen with 27 goals, 48 assists and 75 points this season, still gets more attention for his offense, lengthy beard and collection of exotic animals, but has come a long way with his play in his own end. Although being paired this season with the steady Paul Martin has helped, Martin says the Burns deserved all the credit.

"He always had a rap as not being able to play well defensively, but I don't believe that," Martin said. "This year, he's really shown that he's a solid, one of the best two-way defensemen in the league, if not the best, as far as being able to put up points and play defense on his own. So I was impressed. You always hear things coming in about what type of player he is, so I think he's really set himself apart from most elite players in the league, being able to do both."

Video: Condensed Game: Sharks @ Penguins

The Sharks moved Burns up to forward for two seasons, playing him at times on a line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. He scored 22 goals in 69 games as a wing in 2013-14, but his preference was always to play defense and he was switched back in 2014-15.

"I've always seen myself as a better D-man than forward," he said. "When you get to play with a guy like [Thornton] and [Pavelski], you better not [stink]. You're playing with two great players and we had great chemistry, so it was a lot of fun. But, I think I can help the team more as a D-man than as a forward."

Being voted a Norris finalist this season seems to back that up.

"Probably, I guess," Burns said. "That's why I play 'D.' I enjoy shutting guys down and playing against guys and frustrating guys. I didn't move back to 'D' to score more goals. That's the fun part."

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