After falling down 2-0 in the series, the Sharks have the opportunity to make it a best-of-three scenario with a win Monday night, but again must do it without Tomas Hertl.
While the San Jose Sharks faced a hole to climb out of after falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins simply did what they were supposed to do – protect home ice. Tonight, the Sharks have the chance to take Game 4 and do the same in equaling this series at two games apiece.
Once again, San Jose will be forced to work without top-line forward Tomas Hertl, who will miss a second consecutive game. The absence of the 22 year-old Czech is a big loss to overcome, but the Sharks proved Saturday night they can win without him, as Melker Karlsson did a fine job filling in his position on the top line.
Obviously, this is an in important game, however more so for the Sharks than the Penguins. They are faced with either winning tonight and tying up this series at two and a legitimate chance to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, or losing and falling behind 3-1, which would be a near-insurmountable task to come back from against this Penguins team.
Head coach Pete DeBoer needs to figure out what to do with Tommy Wingels and Dainius Zubrus, who struggled in Game 3 and were essentially absent from the lineup in the overtime frame. He will likely start with the same lines, but don’t be surprised if he shuffles around those bottom six forwards for Game 4.
The Sharks blue-line group has been good for the most part of the series, especially against the Pens’ two most notable lines – Sidney Crosby’s line with Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary and their ‘HBK’ line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel. If Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic can keep up their defensive work and add in something offensively, as Braun has scoring two goals in the series, that would be an added bonus.
Brent Burns fired shot after shot on Penguins goalie Matt Murray Saturday night – most of which had no chance to reach the net – as Pittsburgh did a tremendous job of getting bodies in front of pucks, blocking 38 shots in Game 3. It’s okay if the Norris Trophy finalist fires a healthy amount of shots, but he needs to be in better scoring positions or find a way to get his lethal shot through to the net.
Overall, this series has not been dominated by either side. Each game has been decided by one goal and in the final minutes. The Sharks can continue to do what their doing in their defensive zone, but their defensemen need to be a little more careful when puck-handling in the neutral zone, as they have been made a few notable puck-handling issues in the series.
A little maintenance here and there will help, but if the Sharks play like they did in Game 3 they will have a good chance of going back to the Steel City with the series knotted up at 2-2. That isn’t an easy ask though, especially without a player as important as Hertl.