SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Sharks can take at least one positive out of losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh.
Despite being severely outplayed for almost the entire two games, the Sharks still managed to lose by only one goal with the game-winner coming in the final three minutes of Game 1 and in overtime in Game 2.
If the Sharks can somehow neutralize Pittsburgh’s decided edge in speed and get back to playing the style of play that got them this far for the first time ever they might be able to get back into the series when it shifts to San Jose for Game 3 tonight (5 p.m., NBCSN).
“In the playoffs, things are magnified so much,” Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said Friday. “You lose a game and it’s a close game you think about a big opportunity that you let slide away. But when you go over the film and watch the games, it’s right there for us. We got better from Game 1. Game 2 was a lot better. We haven’t played our best hockey yet.”
The odds facing the Sharks are daunting. Of the 49 teams that have taken a 2-0 lead since the final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, 44 have won the Cup. Teams winning the first two games at home have won 33 of 36 series.
But the Penguins know better than to start planning any parades. Two of those three teams to rally after losing the first two games on the road have done it in the past seven years, including Pittsburgh itself in 2009 against Detroit. Boston also overcame a 2-0 deficit to Vancouver in 2011.
“We’ve talked about it,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who played on that 2009 team. “You expect a really desperate hockey team. They’re only focused on winning one game. All their energy and everything is toward just tomorrow night. We’ve all been in situations where you put all that energy and all that focus toward one game and you know they will be at their best.”
Outside of a strong second period in the opener and a good push late in regulation in Game 2 when San Jose tied the game and nearly scored the go-ahead goal, the Penguins have been the better team.
They have a 71-48 edge in shots on goal, considerably more dangerous scoring chances and have forced the Sharks defense into the kinds of mistakes they didn’t make the first three rounds.
“They’ve done a good job keeping the puck in their zone, using their forecheck and making it tough on us,” defenseman Justin Braun said. “We’ve had a little trouble sustaining pressure. We’ve been one and out. They’ve had a couple of chances. That’s been a big difference.”
With Pittsburgh also doing a good job staying out of the penalty box, San Jose’s potent power play has had only three chances through two games and delivered one of the team’s three goals.
The Sharks say those lack of chances have been more about their play then the calls by officials.
“We’re not giving ourselves that opportunity,” center Logan Couture said.
“We’re not playing with the puck enough. We’re not forcing them to play in their zone tired. That’s when penalties usually happen, at the end of long shifts. It’s up to us as players to force them to play in their zone.”
The Sharks did generate more chances when coach Peter DeBoer shuffled his lines in the third period of Game 2, dropping Patrick Marleau from second-line wing to third-line center and moving Joel Ward up to the second line.
He switched them back for practice but did not say how he would utilize his lines in Game 3. Top-line winger Tomas Hertl also missed practice on Friday for what DeBoer described as “maintenance” but he didn’t commit to Hertl playing Saturday.
One change that will happen is the shift in venues. Pittsburgh last played out of the Eastern Time Zone on Jan. 18 in St. Louis and hasn’t been to the West Coast since Dec. 6 in Anaheim before Mike Sullivan took over as coach.
The Sharks will have last change and a loud crowd behind them for the first Stanley Cup Final game ever in San Jose.
“We expect a really hard start and a good team,” Penguins forward Nick Bonino said. “These last two games have been decided very late, each one. They’re a great team. They’re going to come out really hard and we’ll have to match that.”