The Sharks aren’t out of the woods just yet.
There’s more than just historic weight, road-ice disadvantage and an 0-for-2 start to the series that San Jose will have to overcome to recover their fleeting chance at a Stanley Cup; there’s a Pittsburgh Penguins squad that has bested them for the bulk of their three match-ups.
Game 4 is clearly colossal for San Jose. A loss in Game 3 would have lessened the importance of Monday’s tilt, reduced it to a sheepish attempt at avoiding a sweep. Instead, Game 4 has been amplified above its must-win predecessors.
The Sharks were finally able to establish the lengthy zone presence that has defined their playoff run in Game 3. Whether they can replicate this and give themselves enough time to get in front of the net while raining shots from the point will continue to matter. All three of their scores came from distance, including Joonas Donskoi’s geometric marvel in overtime.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said:
“It certainly is a big part of their offense, is their cycle game. They use the points a lot and look for those wrist shots or half-slappers. They’re looking for deflections and they use their size. That’s a big part of how they generate offense.”
The Pens seemed prepared for the weather, and navigated efficiently through San Jose’s hydra of screens to prevent shots in Game 3. Even so, their 38 blocks were probably an anomaly, especially so when factoring in the 12 against the Sharks’ top marksman in Brent Burns.
Joel Ward said:
“If you’re playing in the offensive zone and they’re blocking shots then you’re getting opportunities. So just keep firing away. It’s a positive sign to know we’re getting those chances and forcing them to make blocks.
Speaking of anomalies, defenseman Justin Braun’s pair of scores in Games 2 and 3 — his first in back-to-back games during his entire career — couldn’t have come at a better time. Braun’s goals were huge, but the way he and linemate Marc-Edouard Vlasic shut down Sidney Crosby was the more promising aspect of his performance looking forward. It’s the typical Sharks scorers that need to come alive.
While Joe Thornton continues to deliver pinpoint assists with some kind of Looney Toons-puck magnet hidden in his beard, Joe Pavelski has been kept off the score sheet entirely. Pavelski remains the post-season leader in goals with 13, and Logan Couture — also scoreless in the series — is the next Sharks behind him with 8.
“They’ve done a good job, and I passed on a few shot recently that maybe I haven’t earlier. (I need to) get back to the shooting mindset a little bit. I’m not worried because we’re creating chances. It just that end result hasn’t been there, that shot hasn’t finalized.”
It’s safer than the security line at SAP Center to say San Jose won’t get far in this series with out some magic from their two top goal scorers of the playoffs, no matter how many times Joel Ward swoops down from the proverbial rafters to save the day.
The Sharks take on Pittsburgh at 5 p.m. Monday before traveling back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday.