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Sharks' Wingels thorn to opponents

Fourth-line forward making presence felt in San Jose

by Eric Gilmore / Correspondent

SAN JOSE -- When San Jose Sharks fourth-line forward Tommy Wingels gets on the ice, he goes hard whistle-to-whistle, chasing pucks and hitting any foe in sight.

If he happens to get under the skin of an opposing player, well, so much the better.

That's what happened early in the second period of San Jose's 6-3 victory in Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final. The Sharks trailed 2-1 when Wingels checked Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk along the sideboards. Shattenkirk, who didn't see Wingels coming, retaliated and drew a roughing penalty, and each player got five minutes for fighting at 2:38.

San Jose went on a power play, and Joel Ward scored at 4:37.

"I try to play hard and within the whistles," Wingels said. "That's my a player. Finish checks when they're there. Maybe irritate guys on the forecheck by finishing checks and then getting under their skin. Just trying to play hard and within the whistles."

Wingels leads the Sharks with 58 hits in the postseason and ranks tied for seventh in the NHL. He helped the Sharks to a 6-3, series-clinching victory against the Blues in Game 6 that put them into their first Stanley Cup Final.

Wingels had 203 hits in the regular season, 29th in the NHL and more than any Sharks player except defenseman Roman Polak (303), who came to San Jose from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the NHL Trade Deadline.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Wingels buries wrist shot past Elliott

"He works hard whistle-to-whistle," Sharks center Chris Tierney said of Wingels. "He's going to get in there, get in your face and play a hard-nosed game. I think that frustrates guys sometimes with a guy who just keeps coming and coming. He'll get inside and he'll be physical on you. He'll try to take pucks from you and just swarm you all the time. I think that sometimes gets under guys' skin."

With his relentless, aggressive style of play, Wingels has a knack for drawing penalties. Early in the second period of Game 6, Blues forward Scottie Upshall went to the penalty box for high-sticking Wingels, and the Sharks went on a power play for four minutes.

Wingels has played 300 regular-season NHL games, all for the Sharks, and 39 playoff games. He was a healthy scratch for Games 5 and 6 of the second round against the Nashville Predators but returned to the lineup for Game 7, replacing injured Matt Nieto, and has played seven straight games.

"The game slipped a little bit," Wingels said, "and when it does, you may find yourself out of the lineup. It's a competitive team here and you've got to play your best night in and night out."

Tierney said Wingels returned to the lineup with extra jump in his game.

"Whenever you're out of the lineup and come back, in you want to prove you should be in there full time," Tierney said. "He's been playing really well for us. He's been hungry on pucks. He's been skating, he's been hitting, he's been taking pucks hard to the net, drawing penalties, everything he needs to do. It was pretty easy to see he was going to do that. He's a pretty determined and hungry guy. There's no surprise there."

Wingels, who has a plus-4 rating in the playoffs, has two goals, including the game-winner in a 4-0 victory against St. Louis in Game 2. He scored from the slot at 2:07 of the first period.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has relied heavily on all four lines throughout the regular season and playoffs. Wingels, skating with center Nick Spaling and left wing Dainius Zubrus, has helped make San Jose's fourth line one DeBoer can rely on.

Wingels said the fourth line's role is more than being physical.

"Good defensively, good forechecking," he said. "Chip in a goal here and there. It's no different than any other line. I think our four lines here are all on the same page and that's playing the right way, it's getting pucks deep, it's playing fast, forechecking hard, it's winning battles.

"Do we maybe get less scoring chances than some of the other lines? Probably. But we got to make the best of the opportunities we do get."

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