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Penguins far better team in Games 1 and 2

Pittsburgh dominating Stanley Cup Final despite two one-goal victories

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- It isn't as close as it looks.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' 2-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final came in overtime Wednesday, after the winning goal in their 3-2 victory in Game 1 Monday came with 2:33 left in the third period.

The teams have played two one-goal games fought to frantic, anxious endings. The Sharks hit a goal post or crossbar four times Wednesday; the Penguins struck iron three times. An inch or two here, a bounce there, and it could have been different. Instead of the Penguins leading the best-of-7 series 2-0, it could be tied 1-1. The Sharks could be leading 2-0.

"It could have gone either way in both games," Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.

The Sharks have to lean on that and the fact they're going home, where they are 7-2 at SAP Center in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and their fans will be fired up for the first Cup Final games in San Jose in the franchise's 25-year history. Game 3 is Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: Peter DeBoer speaks with the media following Game 2

"I think we'll hold off on the funeral," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.

Of course. But let's be honest: The Penguins wore black the first two games.

They have been the better team, the much better team at times. If the Sharks don't adjust, if the Sharks don't improve markedly, the Penguins won't just win the Cup for the first time since 2009 and the fourth time in franchise history. They will win it quickly.

The Penguins have used their speed to dominate the Sharks for long stretches, outshooting them over two games 71-48. When the Sharks have had the puck, the Penguins have swarmed them and forced turnovers. When the Penguins have had the puck, they have raced into open ice, making plays on the rush or chipping the puck past the San Jose defensemen, making them turn and skate. Often the Sharks have thrown it ahead haphazardly to ease the pressure, only to have the Penguins grab the puck and come at them again.

"It's tiring," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "It wears on people. I've seen that throughout the course of this playoffs with some of our opponents. I think that's one of the strengths of our group. When we establish the puck-pursuit game like we have, it makes it hard on our opponents. We become a much more difficult team to play against."

Video: Sullivan on Crosby's play, 2-1 OT win in Game 2

The Sharks have gotten to their game for stretches, using their size advantage to grind in the offensive zone and sustain possession. But especially in Game 2, they struggled to translate it into shot attempts, let alone shots on goal. They couldn't get the puck off the wall and into the middle enough. The Penguins used body and stick positioning to keep them to the outside.

"They are so strong down low," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "They're huge. They can make plays. We have concentrated on trying to go stick on puck. We're not going to be able to knock them off pucks. We have to do everything we can to disrupt their playmaking. We've got to continue to try to do that."

That vaunted San Jose power play? It has had only three opportunities in the series.

The Sharks went 1-for-2 in Game 1, and the goal gave them much-needed momentum early in the second period after they had been outshot 15-4 and outscored 2-0 in the first. The Sharks went 0-for-1 in Game 2. Their lone chance came when Penguins defenseman Ian Cole took an offensive-zone interference penalty in the second period. The Penguins have been disciplined, but the Sharks also haven't been dictating the play enough to force the Penguins into bad positions to take penalties in their defensive zone.

"Could we have had more [power plays]? Absolutely," Vlasic said. "Did we deserve more? I don't know. It's not for me to decide. We just got to capitalize on the one or two opportunities we're going to get every night."

Video: Braun scores with heavy heart in Game 2 loss to Pens

DeBoer made some adjustments in the third period of Game 2, moving Joel Ward up to the second line, moving Patrick Marleau to the third. It seemed to spark the Sharks. Defenseman Justin Braun scored the tying goal with 4:05 left in regulation, assisted by Ward and center Logan Couture.

In San Jose, DeBoer will have the last change too. Perhaps he can maneuver the matchups to boost his stars, who have gone from hot to cold, and take heat off his bottom six forwards and his third defensive pair. Sharks defenseman Roman Polak committed an ugly turnover that led to the Penguins' first goal, and he and partner Brenden Dillon struggled all night.

But the odds are against the Sharks. Forty-nine teams have taken a 2-0 series lead since the Cup Final went to a best-of-7 format in 1939. Forty-four of them have won the Cup. Thirty-six home teams have swept Games 1 and 2 of the Cup Final. Thirty-three have won the Cup.

On the ice, in the series, the Penguins have the Sharks on their heels.

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