SAN JOSE – The history isn’t encouraging. Of that, there is no doubt.
Since the Stanley Cup Final became a best-of-seven, 32 teams have fallen behind three-games-to-one, which is the hole the Sharks find themselves in after four games against Pittsburgh. Only one, the 1942 Maple Leafs, was able to compete the comeback.
“We've got to find a way here,” coach Pete DeBoer said on Tuesday, shortly before his team’s charter back to the Steel City. “We're out of time.”
Although they dropped the first two games of the series in Pittsburgh, DeBoer expressed confidence that the Sharks could go into Consol Energy Center on Thursday and bring the series back to San Jose. The Sharks led the NHL with 28 road wins in the regular season, and are 5-6 there in the playoffs.
To do that, though, some things will have to change.
DeBoer has been forced to essentially play just three forward lines in the second half of games three and four. Considering the Sharks have now played 104 games between the regular season and playoffs, that’s not a great way to keep the energy tanks full, a requirement against the speedy Penguins.
DeBoer indicated he’ll revert back to his original lines for the start of Game 5 in Pittsburgh, even though the team has seemingly gotten better scoring chances when he’s made some changes, including giving shifts to Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski top line when looking for offense. The Sharks have yet to play with a lead, winning Game 3 in overtime.
“I don't know if switching the lines up is the answer to getting the lead,” DeBoer said. “We've shortened the bench the last two games because we've been behind. It's not ideal. Catches up to you, especially when you're this deep into the playoffs and have played as many games as we have and logged as many miles as we have. It's been more out of necessity.
“There's a saying that you dance with the girl you brought to the dance. I think that's going to probably be our approach here going forward.”
[RATTO: Back to drawing board: Sharks out of time to assert themselves]
The Sharks also need their star players to start producing. They’ve been close – Couture hit a post in Game 3 on a two-on-one, Pavelski had five shots on goal and several good looks in Game 4, and Thornton nearly powered home a slap shot during a two-on-one early on Monday, but those players – and defenseman Brent Burns, who may be struggling with the puck and his decision making more than anyone else on the team right now – have to find a way to get on the board. None has a goal yet.
DeBoer credited the Penguins and goalie Matt Murray for keeping those key guys quiet rather than attributing it to San Jose’s players “gripping their sticks too tight.”
When asked specifically about Thornton and Pavelski, the latter of which has no points through four games, DeBoer said: “There is no magic answer. They get a ton of attention. I think our support group has to take a little bit of pressure off them. We got a goal from Melker Karlsson [Monday] night. We’ve got to find a way to get some from some other people, too. We've got to draw a few more power plays, which usually creates some offense for those guys.
“There's some things we can do. But I can tell you their effort, the things that they've done that have made them successful through the first three rounds of the playoffs [hasn’t] changed going into this round.”
[KURZ: Rewind: Pavelski, Sharks not finding a way against Penguins]
The results, though, have. And now, DeBoer is tasked with doing something no NHL team has done in 74 years.
“We want to win one game and get a Game 6 back here at home,” he said. “I think we would be comfortable in that spot that we could get it to go seven.”
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After disputing a report on Monday that Tomas Hertl was done for the season with a knee injury, DeBoer left open the possibility that the 22-year-old forward could return for Game 5.
“Improvement every day that I've seen him. Hopeful, yes. I term him as day-to-day.
“This time of year, guys find an inner strength and play with injuries. That's just what these guys do at this level. I'm not ruling him out for any games.”
Hertl has missed the last two games.