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Sharks so far, yet so close

Thanks mostly to goaltender Jones, San Jose can tie Stanley Cup Final with Game 6 win against Penguins

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks would like to think they have the momentum and the pressure is on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With a 4-2 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on Thursday, the Sharks cut their series deficit to 3-2. Win Game 6 at SAP Center in San Jose on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), and they will force a Game 7 on Wednesday back in Pittsburgh, and we all know what can happen in a Game 7.


The problem is they were outplayed badly in Game 5, again, and survived because of goaltender Martin Jones. They still haven't solved the fundamental problems of the Penguins' speed and skill, and unless they do, they might need Jones to steal Games 6 and 7 the way he stole Game 5 to win the first championship in their 25-year history.

The odds are against it.

Jones is the first goaltender since the 1967 expansion to make at least 40 saves in multiple wins in a Stanley Cup Final. He made 40 saves in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 and 44 in Game 5. Is he going to do it two more times? When he has done it only one other time in 123 NHL regular-season and playoff games? It's possible, not probable.

Video: SJSJ@PIT, Gm5: Pavelski scores empty-net goal

The Penguins have been the better team over the course of the series. They have outshot the Sharks 179-120 over five games, registering more than 40 shots three times.

They outshot the Sharks 46-22 and out-attempted them 76-36 in Game 5. No Sharks player had a positive Corsi rating, meaning no San Jose player could say the Sharks had a higher percentage of even-strength shot attempts when he was on the ice. That's domination.

"Yeah, you can't give up that many shots," Sharks forward Chris Tierney said. "They had so many chances where they were in tight or they hit the post or 'Joner' had to make an unbelievable save."

The Sharks have played down the Penguins' totals, saying Pittsburgh likes to "sling it," as if the Penguins have been firing low-percentage shots and shot attempts from the outside all the time. But anyone who has watched the games has seen the Penguins outskate the Sharks for the most part and generate better scoring chances.

Another argument.

"They were different games at home," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said. "We played them differently. They didn't get as many shots. We were able to play a better defensive game. I would expect something similar along those lines like the last couple games at the Shark Tank."

They were different games, in the sense the Sharks had the last line change and controlled the matchups. They were able to put defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic against Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, for instance.

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm5: Sharks, Pens erupt for four early goals

Still, they were outshot 42-26 in Game 3, and although they outshot the Penguins 24-20 in a 3-1 loss in Game 4, that was largely due to the fact the Penguins took a 2-0 lead early in the second period and sat back too much.

The Sharks have to find a way to establish their forecheck, something they haven't done nearly enough through five games. They're supposed to be the type of team that can grind in the offensive zone, wear down the Penguins and never let their speed game get started.

"We can still have the puck a little bit more, forecheck, play with it, be a little heavier maybe down there," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. 

When the Penguins do get going, the Sharks have to do a better job of slowing them through the neutral zone and covering them in the defensive zone.

"Guys were getting on the wrong side of us a few times on rebounds, and 'Joner' bailed us out a few times," said Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, recalling perhaps Jones' best highlight in Game 5, a left-pad save on Penguins center Nick Bonino in the second period. "I know Bonino got on the wrong side of me and had a pretty good chance, and 'Joner' kicked his leg out. We've got to do a better job boxing guys out and taking those chances away."

The forwards have to help, too.

"We've got to check quick," Pavelski said. "We need guys coming back, stopping, really committing to that area and not allowing a lot of second, third opportunities."

If the Sharks don't do it, they might not get a second or third opportunity.

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