PITTSBURGH – It was a lively, loose group at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday, despite the daunting task the Sharks face ahead of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.
The practice was a mandatory one, and everyone seemed to be enjoying himself. During one drill, center Chris Tierney scored three straight goals off odd-man rushes, and after finishing off the third, the whole team started hooting and hollering in celebration.
You wouldn’t know they were just one loss away from elimination in the biggest playoff series of most of their lives.
“This group is like that every day, all year. I'm glad that I saw that today,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “You're never sure, considering the circumstances. I would have been worried had they come in quiet or dragging a little bit.”
What was the biggest sign for DeBoer?
“Burnzie was an ass out there, running around (laughter). It was business as usual.”
Joe Pavelski said: “This group has always had a lot of fun playing, regardless of the situation. We think we’ve still got a push.”
During the Sharks’ first round series against Los Angeles, DeBoer avoided all talk about the Sharks’ blown lead in the first round in 2014. Now, though, the coach is freely referencing that series to serve as a reminder to his team that overcoming a 3-1 hole is not unreasonable.
Of the 19 skaters the Sharks have used in the playoffs, 10 of them were on that 2014 club that experienced the lowest point in franchise history.
“We have some guys that vividly remember that,” DeBoer said. “They know how quickly a win can turn the momentum.”
The Penguins, too, have blown a big lead before, and recently. The same year the Sharks were doing their thing in 2014, Pittsburgh surrendered a 3-1 lead to the Rangers in the second round.
Paul Martin was on the Pittsburgh blue line back then.
“Every team is different, but there is that ‘OK, there goes one game and they have some momentum and they’re pushing and getting better,’” Martin said.
“Once you get that first win, which obviously is the most important and the biggest ... a lot can happen from there.”
The atmosphere for Game 5 could be a difficult one for the Sharks. Pittsburgh will be trying to capture its first Stanley Cup since 2009, and first at home, as their three prior wins have all been clinched on the road. In fact, no Pittsburgh team has secured a championship at home since the 1960 Pirates.
The Sharks would like nothing more than to ruin the party, but Joel Ward indicated they’re approaching it like just another game.
“We’re [just] worried about just getting the job done and going back home,” Ward said. “We’re not worrying about all the hoopla going on, and what they’ve got going on from their building standpoint. It’s going to be a loud place, for sure. … Just another game we’ve got to go out and execute.”
The Sharks forward lines looked the same for practice as they did at the start of games three and four, meaning Melker Karlsson was back on the Pavelski-Joe Thornton line, and Patrick Marleau skated on the left wing of the Logan Couture line with Joonas Donskoi.
There was no sign of forward Tomas Hertl, who is still termed as “day-to-day,” according to DeBoer.
“In Czech I’ve heard that means out for the season, but I’m not a translator,” joked DeBoer, referring to a report from earlier in the week that said Hertl would not return with a knee injury.
Seems the coach is just as loose as the players.