Here are five keys for the Penguins going into Game 5:
1. STAY FOCUSED
Think how you would feel if you were close to fulfilling a lifetime goal, or if you were on the verge of doing it again when critics everywhere said you wouldn't be able to. Think about how you would feel knowing the trophy you have worked tirelessly for could be in the building, only yours for the taking.
Imagine how that could tempt you to look ahead. That temptation is what the Penguins are trying to ward off now.
"You can't fool yourself and say, 'This is just another game,' " center Matt Cullen said.
It isn't, but they are trying to tell themselves it is, because that's how they keep their routine and stay focused. They can embrace the moment, realize what they're chasing, but have to ignore what would be a natural instinct and focus solely on the task at hand.
"The trick of the whole thing is nothing is done yet," Cullen said. "We haven't done anything yet other than give ourselves a good opportunity."
2. FAST START
Every team at every level wants to get off to a quick start, to score first, to play with the lead. Of course, it's magnified when that first goal eventually could lead to a Stanley Cup championship. It doesn't mean a team is doomed if it doesn't score first. It just helps, obviously.
But there's a bigger reason for why getting off to a fast start and scoring first matters to the Penguins in Game 5. For starters, the Sharks have not played with a lead yet in this series. Another deficit and it might be hard, if not impossible, to avoid the woe-is-me line of thinking.
In addition, the Penguins already have planted the seed of doubt in the Sharks' minds by taking a 3-1 lead in the series, and especially by dominating at Consol Energy Center in Games 1 and 2. The seed likely will start to sprout if the Penguins take the lead again in Game 5.
"That's been huge for us and I think it's going to be even bigger [Thursday]," right wing Patric Hornqvist said. "Obviously, we want to get the first goal, but get the start we want. If we can get them on their heels in the first 10 minutes, that can carry the momentum for a long time. That's going to be our key going into the game."
3. CROSBY'S MATCHUPS
Sidney Crosby inarguably was the best player on the ice in Games 1 and 2, when the Penguins had the favorable matchups as the home team and coach Mike Sullivan could get him away from the Sharks defense pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun.
At 5-on-5, Crosby played a total of 14:55 against Vlasic and 15:58 against Braun in Games 1 and 2, according to War-on-Ice.com.
Crosby was good, although not nearly as dominant, in Games 3 and 4, when the Sharks had the last-change advantage being the home team and coach Peter DeBoer could get Vlasic and Braun on the ice against Crosby often.
Again at 5-on-5, Crosby faced Vlasic for 27:52 and Braun for 25:43 in Games 3 and 4, according to War-on-Ice.com.
The Penguins are back home for Game 5, so Sullivan will try to keep Crosby away from Vlasic and Braun, meaning his chances of being as dominant as he was in Games 1 and 2 should go up.
It's not that Crosby can't win the matchup against Vlasic and Braun, but his night becomes just a little bit easier if he doesn't have to face the Sharks' top shutdown defense pair all game.
"We're not going to be overly concerned about who they put on the ice," Sullivan said. "We'll look for the matches that we think our advantageous to our team, and I know Sid will be a handful regardless of who he plays against."
4. KEEP THE BLOCK PARTY GOING
The Penguins have blocked 93 shots in the Stanley Cup Final, an average of 23.3 per game, including 38 in Game 3. Center Nick Bonino alone has 18 blocks. Pittsburgh averaged 16.4 blocks per game in the first three rounds, up from 13.3 per game in the regular season.
The Penguins have become a shot-blocking team in the Cup Final because the Sharks offense is built around getting the puck up to the point and getting the shot through for a tip or a deflection in front. They are typically excellent at doing just that.
They haven't been in this series because the Penguins haven't let them, a big reason why Sharks center Joe Pavelski doesn't have a goal and why defenseman Brent Burns has two assists and no goals.
In Game 4, in fact, it started to look as if Burns were hesitant to shoot because the Penguins were aggressively filling the lanes to block his shot. It's fair to wonder now if the Penguins are in Burns' head when he gets the puck, and maybe that's why he is hesitant to shoot.
He had 17 shot attempts in Game 3, of which 12 were blocked. He had nine shot attempts in Game 4, of which five were blocked. He has had 25 of his shot attempts blocked in the series.
"They're a team that really likes to get a lot of pucks on there and create havoc net-front with tips, rebounds, second chances at the net, so denying those pucks down there is crucial," Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said. "It's not something where we say it's our only concern throughout the course of this, blocking shots, but it's certainly an added benefit."
5. DON'T SIT BACK
If the Penguins have been guilty of anything in this series (and this is nitpicking), it's sitting back ever so slightly when they have gotten the lead.
They blew a 2-0 lead in Game 1 before Bonino scored with 2:33 left in the third period to win it 3-2. They led 1-0 in Game 2, but needed overtime to win 2-1. They had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in Game 3, but lost 3-2 in overtime. They were closing to losing a 2-0 lead in Game 4.
The best thing they can do in Game 5 is attack, relentlessly and regardless of the score. Maybe they should adjust if they have a two-goal lead midway through the third period, but that's it. The Sharks have shown in this series that they don't just go away. They definitely won't Thursday.
"They are not going to hand it to us," defenseman Kris Letang said. "They're in the Final for a reason. We have to bring our best game."