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Winning Play: Both sides of Brent Burns

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Nov 23, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (88) warms up prior to the game against the Vancouver Canucks at SAP Center at San Jose. Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t remember the play,” Brent Burns admitted, when asked about preventing a potential Anaheim Ducks’ odd-man rush during the shift before he notched his game-winner.

San Jose Sharks coach Pete DeBoer, however, definitely noticed: “Yeah. He’s not that Brent Burns who needs a veteran guy to be playing with him everyday.”

This was the play in question, game tied 2-2 late, both sides suffering from possible post-holiday sloppiness:

Lukas Radil (52) found the trailer, Joe Thornton (19). Thornton dropped it back to Radim Simek (51) coming from behind. Simek cocked to fire, but Brandon Montour (26) sticked it away at the last second. Four Sharks were caught on the wrong side of the puck.

Montour was poised to spring a 2-on-1 for the Ducks, with Nick Ritchie (37) and Ondrej Kase (25) attacking Burns (88).

However, Montour’s pass missed hitting Ritchie in stride, instead going into the winger’s feet.

This is where Burns stepped up with an accurate aggressive defensive read. What was clear-cut Anaheim possession had become a possible 50-50 puck. As Ritchie tried to find it, the 6-foot-5 Burns closed the gap and used his long stick to poke the puck away, taking advantage of his opponent’s brief vulnerability.

“His gap, the way that he’s worked on his gap control in the time I’ve been here, has been night and day,” acknowledged DeBoer. “That really sets up his defensive game. He’s got such a good stick and good feet. He’s a hard guy to get around.”

Burns batted the popped-up puck forward. From there, Timo Meier (28) dumped it back in, dousing the Ducks’ rally. Just a minute later, Burns put the Sharks ahead for good.

In the space of a little more than a minute, Burns showed the best of his overall game, turning a potential Anaheim odd-man rush into a Ducks’ deficit.

“I’m counted on to be good all-around,” noted Burns. “To be good in both zones.”

Like his fellow blueliner, Erik Karlsson, Burns has a reputation for being a defensive liability. Like Karlsson, Burns has weaknesses on the other side of the puck, but he’s also genuinely strong in some key defensive areas. As DeBoer mentioned, Burns owns a disruptive stick, which he uses to full effect with aggressive gap control. There’s a reason why, besides his offensive prowess, The Point believed Burns to be a Norris-worthy defenseman at the quarter mark of the season:

Brent Burns continues doing Brent Burns things – impacting the game at a high rate in all areas... Defensively, he continues to have one of the most active sticks in the league, ranking 2nd in blocked passes and stick checks.

Burns — like Karlsson — is best judged not by an isolated mistake or two, but by the balance of his entire impact on a game.

After Burns’s 1,000th game, DeBoer applauded the veteran’s underappreciated growth, “He’s at a different level than he was even a couple years ago defensively.”