SAN JOSE - The San Jose Sharks had played with their fingers on the ledge, clinging. They were slipping, the Pittsburgh Penguins pushing and the Sharks defense wilting.
But San Jose never quite let go, never quite fell off, those fingernails just preventing the disaster of losing Game 5 and seeing their dream of the Stanley Cup end.
They were, perhaps, a little bit lucky. The Penguins were, perhaps, a little bit unlucky. That goes for Game 5. That goes for this series, a Stanley Cup Final that could easily be over, with the Penguins getting set for a victory parade and the Sharks off to play golf.
But it isn't over, with the teams readying for Game 6 at SAP Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). By the grace of Martin Jones and Melker Karlsson and Phil Kessel hitting each post, the Sharks are still here. So yes, one could say that luck has been on their side, given the way they've played. And, by the corollary, that luck hasn't been there for the Penguins.
Video: Postgame 6/9: Burns, Couture, Jones
"This is one of those situations where we feel like we did enough good things to win, but I don't think we made sure," Penguins center Matt Cullen said. "I think we have a group here that can make sure. And if we play the way that we can for 60 [minutes], we'll feel really good about what happens.
"But I think we have to have that little bit of pissed off attitude and go after it and take it."
Pissed off because it was there for them and they missed it, because they had every opportunity to win Game 5 and they didn't, because they probably should have finished this off. Pissed off because, for the most part, they have been the vastly better of the two teams still playing this season.
So have they gotten the short end of the stick?
"I'm sure you could probably look at it like that, but I think that we take the approach more that we feel like it's in our control and that if we bring our best 60-minute game that we'll end up on the right side," Cullen said. "It's the Stanley Cup Final and you know that you're going to need your best game to win and while it was pretty good, it wasn't enough.
"You can look at good fortune or bad breaks or whatever, but it doesn't matter, ultimately, and bottom line is we get a second shot at this and we don't want to miss it."
It's something that the Sharks know too, that they have not been good enough, that the Penguins have been better, that they need to take what they have not entirely earned.
"It's kind of been that theme through most of this series, though, where we've improved in one area and we haven't been able to do the job in another area," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said. "I think we've slowly put pieces together of our game that we'd like to see, but we haven't been able to do the whole thing."
Video: SJSJ@PIT, Gm5: Pavelski scores empty-net goal
So yes, it's a minor miracle that they have at least one and maybe as many as two games left to their season. Still, for them, the glass is half-full. Sure, they haven't played particularly well. But somehow, it's 3-2 with the next game here, just the way it would be if each team had stayed on schedule winning at home, with the Sharks having the ability to tie the series on Sunday.
"We're here," Martin said. "We're still in it."
So, it seems, positivity wins out.
"Here we are five games into it and haven't played our best yet," Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "I don't think we've seen a full 60-minute effort from our crew, which you want to take the positives out of it. We won two out of five games and [three] of those games were one-goal games and overtime [in Game 2 and 3]."
It's been that close, at least on the scoreboard. It has not been that close in terms of the play from the Sharks and the Penguins. It's hard to find long stretches where San Jose has out-played Pittsburgh, other than the first 10 minutes of Game 5. There haven't been many.
On the other hand, it's easy to find those same stretches where the Penguins have dominated the Sharks. After two games, it even looked as if there could be a chance for a Pittsburgh sweep. But when that was approaching, the Sharks pulled out Game 3. And when they were on the doorstep of being eliminated, they pulled out Game 5.
Video: Practice 6/11: Pavelski
They are still in this, as Martin said. They are in a position that, had it been put to them in training camp, they would have taken without a second thought, without a doubt, no matter what. So yes, it is easy for them to be positive about their position, given the situation. It is easy for them to look at that half-full glass and mentally add an extra inch or two of liquid. As Dillon said, "I think we'd take that any day of the week."
"And," he said, "with us not even playing at our best yet. I think that's an optimistic thing for this group, that when we do get everybody on board, when we get a full 20 guys for a 60-minute effort, it'd be amazing to see what the series would be at. But we are what we are. We can't be looking back at past games. We can only look at [Sunday] and try to earn a Game 7."
Whether they'd earned the Game 6 or not.