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Stanley Cup Final

Top players on Sharks under microscope

San Jose needs more from leaders Pavelski, Thornton in Cup Final

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

SAN JOSE - It's two games into the Stanley Cup Final and once again the focus is on San Jose Sharks forwards Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.

Not that it was ever off Pavelski and Thornton, but the storyline had changed to them finally breaking through and helping the Sharks reach the Cup Final for the first time in their 25-year history. After the Sharks combined for three goals and never led in losing Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-7 series to the Pittsburgh Penguins, it's clear they need more from all of their players, particularly their best ones, in Game 3 on Saturday at SAP Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"You always want more," Pavelski said after practice Friday. "You want to create a few more chances and produce a little bit. If it doesn't come, you've got to play solid and just keep working. Keep trying to put pucks into spots, winning battles and making some plays and looking for a break. We've been a depth team all year. We've relied on four lines and that's going to need to carry us. And, then we need to find a goal or two."

Video: Practice 6/3: Thornton

Another goal or two could have made a significant difference for the Sharks in the two games in Pittsburgh. They lost twice on late goals, including a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 2 on Wednesday.

Pavelski continues to lead all players with 13 goals and ranks second in the League, behind teammate Logan Couture, with 22 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But he was held off the scoresheet in the first two games against the Penguins. After averaging 3.39 shots on goal per game in the first three rounds, he had three total in the first two games of the Cup Final, including one in Game 2.

Thornton ranks sixth in the NHL with 18 points and is third in assists with 15, but was also held scoreless in the first two games. Although the Sharks' top line of Tomas Hertl, Pavelski and Thornton had some moments in Game 2, most of them were generated by Hertl, who hit the post twice.

Hertl, who scored a power-play goal in Game 1, has been one of the Sharks' best skaters in the first two games, but he missed practice Friday with what Sharks coach Peter DeBoer called "a little something." If Hertl is unable to play Saturday, that would put even more pressure on Pavelski and Thornton.

"I think this whole postseason it's been all 20 guys," Thornton said. "If all 20 play good, we win and when all 20 guys don't, we lose. … Yeah, the so-called first and second lines can be better, but I think we probably all can do a bit more."

Coaches often talk about their best players needing to be their best players for the team to win. The Sharks and the Penguins are no different.

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Jones makes save on Malkin's nifty shot

Sidney Crosby was superb for the Penguins in the first two games, getting two assists, including one on Conor Sheary's overtime winner in Game 2. But Evgeni Malkin has no points in the series and has one goal in his past 14 games.

There's little talk about Malkin's struggles because others such as Phil Kessel, Bryan Rust, Nick Bonino and Sheary have been scoring big goals. So far, the Sharks' depth players haven't picked up the slack in the same way, so what Pavelski and Thornton aren't doing stands out more.

"In general, they're always going to have that," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said. "I don't know if Sid and [Malkin] have any points. I think it's just one of those things it gets magnified a bit [in the playoffs], but if anyone puts pressure on them, it's themselves to help the team and produce and be effective. They want more, too. They expect more of themselves, which we all do, at this point of the series."

Although Patrick Marleau has faced similar critiques during his 18 seasons with the Sharks, he at least scored a goal in Game 1. Couture has assisted on two of the Sharks' three goals in the series, so it's hard to point the finger of blame at him, but he probably needs to elevate his game as well.

Most of it comes down to the Sharks not having the puck enough because they've had to work so hard to get it out of their end against the Penguins' relentless pressure. Pavelski's line generated sustained offensive zone pressure at times in Game 2, but the Penguins were able to keep them to the outside for the most part, other than Hertl's scoring chances.

As the home team, the Sharks will have the last line change. Maybe DeBoer will use that to get Pavelski's line away from Letang and defense partner Brian Dumoulin. Letang was on the ice for a significant portion of 25 of Pavelski's 28 shifts in Game 2.

"It's not time to get frustrated by any means," Pavelski said. "You've got to keep working. They're a good team, they're fast, they defend well. You know it's not going to feel like you're all over them very often. There's going to be some flows going both ways and you've got to be ready for your chances and you just keep playing. We had some looks the other night. We have to find a way to score goals and keep getting those looks."

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