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5 Keys: San Jose Sharks, Game 3

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE - The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins play Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Sharks trail the best-of-7 series 2-0.

Here are 5 keys for the Sharks in Game 3:


The Sharks have yet to play with a lead in the Cup Final. They fell behind 2-0 in the first period of Game 1 and had to work hard just to pull even by the end of the second before losing 3-2 on Nick Bonino's goal with 2:33 remaining in the third. In a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 2, San Jose was able to make it through the first period tied 0-0, but fell behind on Phil Kessel's goal 8:20 into the second and again had to chase the game until Justin Braun tied it with 4:05 left in regulation.

Scoring an early goal would feed the energy of a crowd excited for the first Cup Final game in San Jose, but any kind of lead would help the Sharks settle into their puck possession game and put some pressure on the Penguins for a change.

The Sharks are 10-3 when scoring first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 7-1 at home.

"Especially at home, to get that first goal has been big for us," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said. "We seem to find our game then and get some momentum. Then, everyone starts playing the way we encourage and want to play, as opposed to just kind of letting the time go by."


Against the Penguins' speed and pressure, moving the puck quickly out of the defensive zone and up ice is essential. The Sharks haven't done that well enough and the Penguins have repeatedly forced them into poor passes and turnovers that led to counterattack scoring chances.

The Sharks did a better job in the third period of Game 2 and generated some offensive zone time and scoring chances as a result.

"They're a swarm team," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "They get down there, they collapse hard, so [with] one, two plays, if you can get out of there, it creates a little bit of space and you can move in a little bit. If they get us pinned in [the defensive zone] and take away that movement, then it's probably in their favor. So, try to play fast, win a battle or two."


Having the backing of a vocal crowd for the first time in the series will help, but the Sharks also have to do their part to utilize the advantages of playing at home, where they are 7-2 in the playoffs. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer didn't do a lot to get or get away from certain matchups on the road. Having the last change at home will give him an opportunity to dictate more.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic practically begged Friday to play more against Sidney Crosby's line. DeBoer also can get Pavelski and Joe Thornton away from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and partner Brian Dumoulin, which might help those two produce after they were held scoreless in the first two games.

"You get the matchups you want and we've used that throughout this playoff to our advantage," Thornton said. "We've been really good at home this postseason, so we're looking to continue that tomorrow."


Tomas Hertl was one of the Sharks' best skaters in Game 2 after scoring a power-play goal in Game 1. But he did not practice Friday after appearing to injure his left leg on a hit from Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist in the third period of Game 2. Wearing a warmup suit, Hertl skated briefly before the start of practice and then left the ice.

DeBoer explained Hertl's absence as "maintenance" and said Hertl was dealing with "a little something." When asked about Hertl's availability for Game 3, DeBoer dodged the question and said, "We'll make all lineup decisions day of game." If Hertl (six goals, five assists in the playoffs) is unable to play, that would be a big loss for the Sharks when they're already struggling to score.


Through the first two games, the Sharks have had three power plays and scored on one of them. That one goal raised their postseason conversion rate to 27.7 percent and emphasizes their need to draw more power-play opportunities.

The problem is the Penguins don't take a lot of penalties because they have the puck so much. They were shorthanded 13 times total in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning and have faced one power play in five of their past eight games.

Eighteen of the Sharks' 66 playoff goals (27.3 percent) have come on the man-advantage, so that's a significant chunk of their offense that is being limited.

"We're not playing with the puck enough," Shark center Logan Couture said. "We're not forcing them to play in their zone tired, and that's when penalties usually happen, at the end of long shifts. That's when hooking, slashing and holding happens. It's up to us as players to force them to play defensive."

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

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