Sharks skate to survive in pressure-filled Game 6
Peter DeBoer has never been one for inspirational speeches, so it’s a good thing the Sharks don’t need one.
Down 3-2 of the Stanley Cup Final entering Game 6 on Sunday, the Sharks know they need to beat the Penguins at home to stay alive and force a seventh game in Pittsburgh.
It’s been a while since DeBoer has had to whip one out of the “win one for the Gipper” toolbox, and he doesn’t plan on doing it now:
“We’ve got a veteran group. I don’t think these guys need to be inspired to play in the Stanley Cup Final. Some of them have waited 18 years. There’s no speech I’m going to give Patty Marleau that’s going to make him understand the situation and play harder. [Speeches are] for movies and Sunday football.”
But the Sharks also want to play a better game than they did in Game 5, when they were outshot 46-22 by the Penguins and bailed out by a spectacular 44-save performance from Martin Jones.
Defenseman Justin Braun lamented how many shots got through to his goaltender:
“They tried to get a lot of pucks to the net and we’re allowing them through. We’ve got to do a better job from the D-men out, blocking shots, getting in the lanes.”
Jones could pull off a similar performance in Game 6, but the Sharks know they can’t lean on their goaltender so heavily.
Joe Pavelski said:
“We’ve liked our chances with [Jones] all postseason. We can play a little better in front of him and give him a little more support.”
It would be a welcome sight for Jones, who has faced high-octane pressure all series. The Sharks have led for just 133 seconds of the series. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead less than three minutes into the first period of Game 5, but promptly allowed two goals before the first TV timeout.
When asked whether playing with the lead helped, Logan Couture remarked:
“I want to say it did, but then the lead was gone in a minute and a half.”
It didn’t bite them, as Melker Karlsson’s goal later on in the period and Jones’ heroics salvaged the Sharks’ season.
But for how long? The Sharks have largely failed to find an answer to the Penguins’ superior speed and puck possession.
One quick fix to that would be shoring up the power play, which is just 1-of-10 in the series and has had few opportunities.
Head coach Peter DeBoer said:
“There are penalties out there. They’re letting the teams play. We’ve got to attack more holes and find a way to draw some more penalties to get in our rhythm. When we’re getting power plays, we usually work our way into it. When we’re getting one or two a game, it’s tough.”
To wit, the Sharks’ last power play goal came in Game 1, and only once (Game 3) did they have more than two opportunities on the man advantage.
Power plays not only help create prime scoring chances, but they also dramatically increase puck possession and can have a carry-over effect. But the Sharks have not been able to out-quick the Penguins and force them into penalties.
“They’ve been good killing penalties and creating pressure. We’re taking too much time with the puck. I don’t think we’ve been playing as quick as we can.”
Pavelski concurred, adding:
“Power play can turn in a hurry. We can be a little bit cleaner. We can get a few more pucks back … There’s only a couple of opportunities a night out there right now. You never know when they’re going to come. You’ve got to be ready when they do come. We need to execute a little bit quicker.”
So far, the Sharks’ lone victories in this series have come in overtime in Game 3 — a game that could have gone either way until the very end — and a much-closer-than-the-score-indicated Game 5 when the Penguins had more than twice the amount of shots.
It’s no surprise that Evgeni Malkin called the Sharks “a little bit lucky.” To an extent, they have been.
But a win is a win, and the Sharks are in position to set up a do-or-die Game 7. They can also take solace in the fact that the Penguins have blown 3-1 series leads in two of the last five seasons and the psychological effect of not closing a team out.
Braun described how it might feel like in the other locker room:
“The longer it goes, you just feel that pressure. You’ve got to get it done. When it doesn’t happen, it creates a little frustration. ‘We could have been done with this days ago, and we’re still going.’ That gets in your head a little bit.”
With a win on Sunday, the Sharks could turn what’s now a migraine for Penguins into a major headache.