PITTSBURGH – The opportunity was there for the Sharks to steal Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Justin Braun’s third period wrist shot somehow snuck through Matt Murray and off of the inside of the post with four minutes to go in regulation, setting up overtime, where San Jose was probably due for another fortunate bounce after dropping its first three in extra time.
Conor Sheary’s goal just 2:35 into the fourth period, though, ended any thought of the Sharks escaping CONSOL Energy Center with the series tied 1-1. In reality, being down two-games-to-none is exactly what they deserve, as the Penguins have simply been the better team for the majority of the series so far.
Pittsburgh has won two out of three periods – and Wednesday's brief overtime – in each of the first two games, a pair of slim victories: 3-2 in Game 1, and 2-1 on Thursday.
The Sharks just can’t seem to find a way to slow down the Penguins long enough to have sustained pressure, or success. The Penguins led just 1-0 after the second period, but it felt like more. At one point San Jose went more than 11 minutes without a shot on goal, and was getting outshot 23-11 after 40 minutes.
“They just don’t stop coming,” Braun said.
Other than Tomas Hertl, who hit a pair of posts, none of the Sharks’ forwards was generating much of anything through two. That prompted Pete DeBoer to shuffle up his lines, moving Patrick Marleau back to the third line center for the first time since Game 4 of the second round against Nashville. Marleau spent the majority of the second half of the year in that spot.
The result was a much more effective Sharks squad, leading to the eventual Braun goal. Joel Ward, who was bumped up to the second line in Marleau’s place, had a couple good chances at the end of regulation while digging around for a loose puck, but the second goal never came.
Still, perhaps they found something that works better headed into Game 3, essentially a must-win back at SAP Center on Saturday.
“For whatever reason, it got us going a little bit,” Joe Pavelski said of the shuffling. “We played better, and it’s a period we were going in desperate. It was good to see the guys get one there and force that overtime. We really felt like it was going to be our turn.”
It wasn’t, and the Sharks are now 0-4 in overtime in the playoffs. Marc-Edouard Vlasic wasn’t concerned about that disturbing trend, though, saying that it’s not a trend at all.
“In overtime it can go either way. Just hasn’t gone our way,” Vlasic said. “You can turn stats any way you want them.”
The biggest blunder of the night came on the Penguins’ first goal by Phil Kessel. Roman Polak’s turnover led directly to the score, while his partner, Brenden Dillon, also had a chance to get the puck out of the zone before Kessel converted at 8:20 of the second period.
The Sharks’ third defense pair in particular seems to be having trouble dealing with Pittsburgh’s fleetness afoot, but DeBoer wasn’t burying anyone post game. Far from it.
“The problem is, if you're not scoring, every mistake you make potentially costs you the game,” he said. “You can't put those things under a microscope this time of year.
“You have two teams that are playing really tight hockey. One mistake changes the game. You're not going to play mistake-free.”
Still, the Sharks are going to have to avoid those kinds of errors, and be much better with the puck, if they want any chance at capturing the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup. They’ll try and do what Nashville did to them in the second round, winning games three and four at home after dropping the first pair on the road.
“Game 1 was decided in the last two minutes. Tonight is an overtime game,” DeBoer said. “I think we'll hold off on the funeral. We have a lot of hockey left to play.”