PITTSBURGH – It doesn’t matter how the Sharks got here, two measly wins away from capturing their first Stanley Cup.
And you can’t say they didn’t deserve to win Game 5 on Thursday night, either, despite being generally out-skated for most of it. After all, Martin Jones was better than the Penguins’ Matt Murray, and sometimes all a team needs to be successful this time of year is to win the goaltending duel.
But if the Sharks are to complete the comeback and capture hockey’s ultimate prize, they’ll almost certainly have to play better in front of Jones than they have through the first five games. Frankly, they’re a bit fortunate to still be alive.
“It’s great to bring it back [to San Jose for Game 6],” Justin Braun said. “We’re playing for our lives right now, and taking it back home is huge. We’ve got to play better, though. We can’t put that effort out again, giving up  shots [in Game 5]. We have to be a little better in our D zone.”
Joe Pavelski said: “They’re only going to get tougher, so we need to keep getting better, as well.”
Ironically, the Sharks did a much better job in front of Jones in Game 4, a 3-1 loss, than they did in Game 5. San Jose held Pittsburgh to just 20 shots on goal, its lowest total in 24 playoff games.
On Thursday, though, the Penguins not only outshot the Sharks, 46-22, they out-attempted them, 76-36. And that’s happened far too often in the series.
In addition to outshooting the Sharks 160-99 over the first five games, the Penguins have a 146-104 edge in scoring chances and a whopping 64-38 advantage in so-called “high danger” scoring chances, according to war-on-ice.com.
That’s a recipe for disaster, and it’s probably why the Penguins weren’t expressing any panic after they failed to clinch the Stanley Cup in front of their home crowd.
“I mean if you look at our play, I thought it was pretty good,” Sidney Crosby said. “Obviously the start wasn’t great, but I didn’t feel like they had a ton of momentum off the start. They had some shots that found some holes. … Ideally we would have started a little better, but we still had our chances in the game.”
Coach Mike Sullivan said: “I thought we had traffic at the net. We had pucks to the net. There were people there. We had rebound opportunities. We couldn't seem to find that third goal. … But, I give our players a lot of credit. We stayed with it throughout the course of the game.”
If there’s one reason to be encouraged the Sharks will improve this late in the series, though, it’s that they’ve done it throughout their playoff run. Their strongest efforts have come in the Game 5 clincher in the first round against Los Angeles, Game 7 against the Predators, and games five and six versus St. Louis in the Western Conference Final. In those four games, they’ve outscored the opposition a combined 22-5.
They also get to play Game 6 at SAP Center, where they are 8-3 in the playoffs and should get a boost from what will surely be a rabid crowd. Game 7 is a distinct possibility if the Sharks can better handle the Penguins’ attack, which is likely to get turned up even higher.
“We’ll be better because we know they’ll be better,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “We’ll bring a better effort.”
Joe Thornton said: “They’re going to show up for Game 6, and so are we. Both teams are here for a reason.”