SAN JOSE – Prior to the start of the Stanley Cup Final, scoring the first goal was a strength of the Sharks through series wins against the Kings, Predators and Blues. In 19 games, San Jose took a 1-0 lead in 13 of them, going 10-3 in the process.
Against the Penguins, though, the Sharks have yet to play with a lead, as it’s been Pittsburgh that’s opened the scoring in all three games. Getting that first goal in Game 4 at home would be a welcome change as the Sharks attempt to tie up the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece on Monday.
“Yeah, we'd like the lead,” Pete DeBoer said. “The game plan isn't not to play with the lead. We're trying (laughter).
“For some reason we haven't started well here in the three games as far as scoring. We've got to do that. I'd like to be in that position. I think the game changes at that point.”
The Sharks are 7-2 when leading after the first period, and a perfect 8-0 when up after two in the playoffs.
“If we get the first one, we usually roll pretty good when we get the lead,” Chris Tierney said. “The building will be rocking and momentum will be huge if we can get the first.”
The Sharks, of course, will be attempting to turn the NHL’s final round into a best-of-three. Should they win Game 4, the pressure could shift to the Penguins, who will have two days to think about returning home for Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.
San Jose’s game has gotten incrementally better in each game of the series, spending much more time in the offensive zone in Game 3 than in the first two. It’s up to the Penguins to respond in Game 4.
"You get deeper in the series, the games get more important,” Logan Couture said. “We obviously know what it means. It's either 3-1 or it's 2-2. It's going to be fun to play at home again."
Tierney said: “Our mindset is to win the game, obviously, and put ourselves in the position where the series is tied and we can take the lead in the series. … We don’t want to be going down 3-1. We expect their best effort tonight.”
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Justin Braun has been a focal point of late due to the emotional roller coaster he’s been on after the death of his father-in-law. His subpar Game 1 was cause for concern, too.
But in games two and three, the 29-year-old defenseman has not only scored one goal in each, but he’s been a big part of the reason that Penguins stars like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have yet to register a goal.
“I thought he was excellent [in Game 3], DeBoer said. “With what he's dealt with, I don't know if you can understand the emotion of kind of the last week for him, last couple weeks.
“He's one of those quiet guys that just shows up every day and punches in, does his job. Really we wouldn't be here without him either. He's been exceptional.”
His partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic is no stranger when it comes to getting overlooked, as Braun arguably has throughout the Sharks’ successful season and subsequent playoff run.
“He can skate, he’s got a great stick, can shoot the puck, he’s never out of position, and he’s been flying under the radar even lower than I have,” Vlasic said.
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The SAP Center ice surface has been a topic of discussion for much of the season, including earlier in the year when Couture referred to it as “garbage.” That, and further criticism from DeBoer resulted in large dehumidifiers being installed in February.
Of course, it’s now June, the temperatures in San Jose have been well over 90 degrees. That makes the ice more difficult to manage.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Lovejoy said: “We’re playing hockey in California in June. This is a great atmosphere to play in but the weather outside is 100 degrees. You can’t expect the ice to be like Edmonton in February.
“Ice across the NHL isn’t perfect. We have concerts in these buildings, soccer games, arena football games, it’s part of the deal. We understand it. We’ve been doing it for years. It’s not an excuse, we need to adapt to it.”
Patrick Marleau added on Monday that the SAP Center staff is “trying to do the best they can.”
“When it’s hot out, there’s things you can’t control,” he said. “I guess you can kind of see how the puck bounces sometimes.”