San Jose has won their only elimination game of these playoffs as they hope to fend off elimination in Pittsburgh tonight.
Is it the beginning of the end or the start of the unthinkable?
That question will be answered later tonight at Consol Energy Center as the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins square off in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final as team teal looks to fend off the celebration in the Steel City.
San Jose wants to prolong this series, and if they’re going to do so, they must bring their best effort against a Penguins team that has shut them down for the most part.
The Sharks have faced elimination on just one other occasion throughout this playoff run and that was in Game 7 against the Nashville Predators. Team teal came out with a dominating performance on that night and will need a similar such effort to send this series back to the Bay Area.
For what it’s worth, the Sharks have a 5-1 record in games 5-7 of these playoffs and have outscored opponents by a 30-13 margin (via Pete Jensen of NHL.com). Hopefully, they can build off that trend tonight.
Players to Watch
Sharks: Brent Burns. Except for maybe Joe Pavelski, nobody epitomizes the frustration of San Jose in the Stanley Cup Final more than Burns, who was simply dominant prior to this series. Burns has seen shot after shot of his blocked by the Penguins, while their speed has caused problems for him in the defensive zone. Team teal needs Burns, who has just two assists thus far, to rediscover his confidence when he was creating offensive chance after chance in helping San Jose reach this point. Burns must have a big effort as the Sharks need more from their top guys.
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Penguins: Kris Letang. Heading into the series, one key storyline was the matchup between Burns and Letang. So far, it’s been advantage Letang who’s been fantastic in leading a make-shift group of blue-liners to one win away from the Stanley Cup. Letang has been a stalwart, averaging more than 29 minutes of ice time per game to go along with three assists. He’s been a major reason why the Sharks haven’t generated a consistent offensive attack and why guys like Pavelski and Joe Thornton have been held in check.
Keys to the Game
1. Start Fast
It’s been beaten to death over the past couple of days, but San Jose needs a quick start to help them settle into the game as quickly as possible. Pittsburgh will likely go for the knockout blow early, feeding off the energy from the charged up crowd.
The Sharks must weather the storm in the early going and find a way to get that first goal. Team teal might look like a different group if they can finally take a lead against this Penguins squad.
San Jose hasn’t exactly lit up the opening frame thus far, averaging just six shots per game in first 20 minutes of action. That has to change if the Sharks want to extend this series past tonight.
2. Get The Power Play Going
Heading into this series, San Jose’s power play was viewed as the most dynamic unit in the postseason. They had destroyed the opposition with 17 goals in 63 attempts in running through the Western Conference.
However, after scoring their opening goal of this series with the man advantage, the Sharks have gone 0-for-7, including some misfires in critical situations.
While there haven’t been many opportunities, San Jose has to capitalize when a power play chance comes their way. It’s one way they can build some confidence and momentum with so many guys pressing at the moment.
3. Do Whatever It Takes
As the Sharks official Twitter account points out, it’s up to San Jose to thwart any celebration plans for Pittsburgh.
Team teal has to dig deep and find any way to have one more goal on the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounds. San Jose has been a resilient group all year long and must prove that again tonight. Lay it all on the line and see where the chips may fall at the end.
The Sharks will be heading back to the Bay Area regardless of the outcome; might as well make it for a hockey game on Sunday night.