PITTSBURGH -- It’s a bleak situation the Sharks find themselves in, down three games to one to the Penguins headed into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center.
But, there’s at least one positive recent experience that the Sharks can draw upon as they attempt to prevent commissioner Gary Bettman from handing over the silver chalice to Sidney Crosby at center ice later on Thursday.
When facing elimination this postseason, the Sharks won Game 7 against Nashville in the second round. Further, it was perhaps the best game of their playoff run, as they smoked the Predators at SAP Center, 5-0. Five different players scored, the Sharks went 2-for-3 on the power play, and Martin Jones stopped all 20 shots he saw.
“It seems when this team has been tested all year, everybody has responded,” Joe Thornton said. “I assume it’s going to be the same tonight.”
Coach Pete DeBoer reflected back on that game on May 12, too, and said: “I think any time you get in a situation when your back is against the wall, you always wonder what the response of your group is going to be. That for me said a lot about our group. … I expect the same thing here tonight.”
As has been mentioned repeatedly over the last few days, the Sharks are desperate to play with a lead. They have yet to actually do that, while the Penguins haven’t trailed since Game 5 of their seven-game Eastern Conference Final win over Tampa Bay.
They’ll surely be dealing with a hostile environment, as the hometown fans will be noisily pining for Pittsburgh to clinch a pro sports championship at home for the first time since Bill Mazeroski’s home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.
“I think the first 10 minutes are obviously huge,” Nick Spaling said. “We want to come out flying, we want to dictate the game, but at the same time we want to make sure we’re sticking with it for the whole game today.”
DeBoer is obviously hopeful the Sharks open the scoring for the first time, but if they don’t, “we can't just back the bus up and head home.”
“We want to play with a lead and put them in a position where they're playing from behind. We haven't done that yet. So that's the goal.”
Indications are that DeBoer will stick with his same lines and lineup for Game 5, as the coach confirmed that Tomas Hertl would miss his third straight game with a reported knee injury.
In the previous two games, DeBoer has been forced to limit the minutes of guys like Tommy Wingels, Dainius Zubrus and Matt Nieto, while the third defense pair of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak has experienced some rough moments.
They’ll all be in as the club tries to stave of elimination.
“I think there’s a confidence in this group, and I think that shows that,” Spaling said. “I think everybody in here knows this group can get it done. That’s something that we believe, and we know we’re going to do that tonight.”
Wingels said: “[DeBoer] believes this is the right group. The guys in this room believe this is the group that can win. … Whether it’s the way the game goes, or the matchups he wants, or the flow of the game that reduces guys’ minutes -- that is what it is. But I think he feels that this is the right lineup.”
The Sharks know they have to go back to San Jose regardless of the outcome. They’d like nothing more than to bring the Penguins -- and the large media contingent -- back with them.
“I think our group's whole motivation is to make all you guys get back on a plane and go back to San Jose again,” DeBoer joked on Thursday morning. “That's everybody's goal. I know it's mine (laughter).
“We know the spot we're in. We know what everybody is saying. We’ve just got to go out there and play our best game. I know we'll do that.”