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5 Keys: San Jose Sharks, Game 5

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

PITTSBURGH -- The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins play Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 and can win the Stanley Cup with one more victory.

Here are five keys for the Sharks in Game 5:

1. PLAY WITH A LEAD

This often-repeated key is one the Sharks have yet to accomplish in the series. They have not had a lead in regulation in the series; the only time San Jose led in the Cup Final was after Joonas Donskoi's overtime goal gave them a 3-2 victory in Game 3.

The Penguins haven't had to play from behind in seven consecutive games dating to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. If the Sharks can get the first goal or get ahead at some point, it could change the playing perspective of both teams.

The Sharks are 10-3 when scoring first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and 3-6 when allowing the first goal. The Penguins are 12-3 when scoring first and 3-4 when giving up the first goal.

"We've talked about scoring first," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday. "Obviously, if we don't [Thursday] we can't just back the bus up and head home, but we want to play with a lead and put them in a position where they're playing from behind. We haven't done that yet, so that's the goal."

A goal would also be the best way to diffuse the Penguins' early surge when they look to finish off this series on home ice.

2. KEEP UP THE PRESSURE

After allowing an average of 37.7 shots on goal per game in the first three games, the Sharks held the Penguins to 20 in Game 4. That was partly because the Sharks were better breaking out of their own end, but also because they were more aggressive in the offensive zone with keeping pucks in and pressuring the Penguins into turnovers.

The increased time in the Pittsburgh end can tire the Penguins out and limit the chances they have to use their speed on the counterattack. The next step for the Sharks is to get more shots on goaltender Matt Murray during the attack zone time they generate. They had 24 shots on goal in Game 4 and 20 attempts that were blocked.

"No matter who is on the ice, it's going to take the similar way that we played last game and a commitment to that way," defenseman Paul Martin said.

3. EXTRAORDINARY JOES

This might be the last chance for Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton to break out in their first Cup Final. Pavelski, who leads the League with 13 playoff goals, has no points in the series.

Pavelski showed some signs of life in Game 4 with five shots on goal after having four total in the first three games. He needs to convert some of those chances into goals before it's too late. Thornton's only points in the series were the two assists he had in Game 3.

"I'm just going to try to come out and win my first shift," Thornton said. "That's all I'm going to do."

4. A BIG GAME FROM JONES

Martin Jones was one of the Sharks best players in the first three games (.938 save percentage), but the 26-year-old goaltender needs to play better than he did in a 3-1 loss in Game 4 on Monday (17 saves) for them to have any chance to force a Game 6. The Sharks played well early Monday until Jones left a sloppy rebound that defenseman Ian Cole converted into a goal, putting the Penguins ahead again and deflating the Sharks.

5. SPOIL THE PARTY

The last time a Pittsburgh team captured a major professional sports championship at home was when the Pirates won the 1960 World Series. The Penguins and their fans are hoping that drought ends Thursday.

There can be some pressure that comes with that and the Sharks might be able to take advantage and perhaps plant a seed of doubt that comes with a missed opportunity.

"It's not about ruining [the Penguins'] plans," Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "It's about winning for us."

Conversely, being down 3-1 gives the Sharks a little freedom in that few expect them to come back to win the series, which could help them relax and play their best game.

"The pressure actually gets lifted in situations like this a little bit," DeBoer said. "We know the spot we're in. We know what everybody's saying. We've just got to go out there and play our best game and I know we'll do that."

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

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