The Pens had a chance to bring a championship to the city of Pittsburgh for the first time since 1960 on Thursday in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and while they tried to approach it as just another game, they knew that it wasn’t.
There were definitely nerves heading in, and it showed as the Pens started the game by allowing the Sharks to score twice in the opening 2:53 of play. Though the Pens settled in quickly and played a strong game the rest of the way, the Sharks won 4-2 and forced a Game 6 back in San Jose.
Afterward, head coach Mike Sullivan said his team looked a little bit unsettled during the beginning of the night. And following practice on Saturday at SAP Center, Evgeni Malkin agreed with that assessment.
“Yeah, I think there was too much energy,” he told me. “We were excited to play at home, (we knew) it would be the first Stanley Cup win at home. Lots of noise around the team and I don’t think we played right. We were a little (off) the first five minutes, but after I think for 55 minutes we played great.”
It was a new experience for the guys, and moving forward Matt Cullen believes having gone through it will help them moving forward.
“Having a chance to close it out at home, that’s a completely new emotion,” he said. “There’s a lot that comes with that. For the most part, we played really well. Our start wasn’t what it needed to be and the line is so fine right now, especially when you’re facing a goalie that’s been as hot as (Martin Jones) has. You just can’t afford to give up those opportunities."
“But I think it was a really good experience for us to go through it. All of us as a group and understand that we can do a little bit better job with it.”
Cullen is arguably the most amiable guy on the Penguins’ roster. He’s so kind and courteous to everyone and is just an absolutely fantastic person. But he’s not feeling like Mr. Nice Guy heading into Game 6, and he thinks the whole team needs to have that same mindset.
“We missed our opportunity last game to do it at home, we would have loved to,” he said. “I think we got a little bit pissed off after our start last game,” he said. “I think we need to carry that little bit of a chip on the shoulder next game and go after it. This is one of those situations where we feel like we did enough good things to win, but I don’t think that we made sure. I think we have a group here that can make sure."
“When we play the way we can for 60 (minutes), we feel really good about what happens. But I think we have to have that little bit of a pissed-off attitude and go after it and take it.”
They didn’t take advantage of their first chance. They’re not about to do the same for this one.
“Bottom line is we get a second shot at this and we don’t want to miss it,” he said.
The Pens were happy collectively pleased with their performance in Game 5 – other than the opening few minutes.
The team feels if they can repeat their play in Game 6 that they will find a way to break through and see some results.
However, part of breaking through means breaking through San Jose goaltender Martin Jones. The 26-year-old netminder had the game of his life with a 44-save effort.
“He’s a good goalie but nothing needs to change,” Malkin said. “Maybe fake the shot a little bit, skate in and shoot after. He’s a good goalie but we saw the replay this morning and with 40-plus shots, I think it’s coming.”
Still, the message among the Pens is to keep charging.
“We’ll do the same thing. Get pucks to the net and try to bang a couple in,” said forward Phil Kessel, who hit both posts on one shot during a Pens’ power play in Game 5. “(Jones is) playing really well right now. We just have to find a way to beat him.”
*Crosby on Howe: “When you think of hockey you think of Gordie Howe. The way he played, the way he conducted himself. He is a role model for a lot of people, including myself. I had an opportunity to meet him, and feel very fortunate to have done that.”
*More Crosby on Howe: “When you meet him you don’t know what to say. You just shake his hand because you’re in awe.”
*Matt Murray on the run: “I've never been through a run like this. Every day is a learning experience. Everyday you go through things you hadn’t gone through before, especially at my age. I haven’t done this a whole lot. Every little that happens you can learn from. That’s what I try to do.”
*Sullivan on if there are less distractions on the road: “We’d like to win the next game regardless of where it’s being played. Being on the road it’s just the team. There are less distractions, but I thought our guys did a good job of handling it the right way (for Game 5). It was unfortunate we didn’t get the result. We know this is the most difficult win to get. Our players are well aware of the expectations and heightened intensity that they need to have in order to get this next win. Regardless of where it is, our focus is on that.”