SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks have waited 25 years to host a game in the Stanley Cup Final. When it finally arrives at SAP Center on Saturday, home-ice advantage will never have been more important to them.
After losing Games 1 and 2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center, the Sharks hope their fans' pent up emotion gives them a boost in Game 3 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"It's very meaningful to the people here," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday. "I think I saw the emotion after we won the Western Conference, that night and the days following before we left for Pittsburgh. It's important to the people here.
"Obviously we're not coming home under the best circumstances, but we also know we're a tough out. We're going to be a tough team to beat at home, I think. Pittsburgh showed you that on the road. I think them being at home and the home crowd definitely made it a tough environment for us on the road, and we want to do the same to them. Return the favor."
The Sharks struggled at home during the regular season, going 18-20-3, but they regained their home-ice edge during the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are 7-2 at SAP Center. That includes a series-clinching 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and a 5-0 victory against the Nashville Predators in Game 7 of the second round.
San Jose lost Game 1 at Pittsburgh 3-2 on Monday and Game 2 2-1 in overtime on Wednesday.
DeBoer told his players to "tune out the noise" going into Game 3.
"There's a lot of noise," he said. "People are going to tell you how well Pittsburgh's playing, how poorly you're playing, how you have no chance to win. So we need to tune all that out and make sure we're ready for Game 3. That's the only thing that matters right now.
"I think we got better. We have to keep building our game. Our Game 2 was better than our Game 1 and I'm sure our Game 3 is going to be better than 1 and 2 were."
Trailing 1-0 in Game 2, DeBoer shuffled his bottom three lines at the start of the third period, and the Sharks tied it with 4:05 left when defenseman Justin Braun scored. Forward Joel Ward, who moved from the third line to the second with center Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi, provided a screen for Braun's shot.
"I haven't decided if we're going to start where we ended last game," DeBoer said. "I liked the response we got in the third period. We were better. It gave us a little bit of a jolt. One of the combinations found a way to get a goal. I thought the other combinations started to look a little bit more dangerous. But we'll see. I'm going to take the next day here and a practice day and we'll come up with some answers. I don't have a final decision on that yet."
At the start of the third period, Patrick Marleau moved from left wing on the second line to center on the third line and skated between Matt Nieto and Melker Karlsson, who moved up from the fourth line. Third-line center Chris Tierney dropped to the fourth line with Nick Spaling and Tommy Wingels.
But midway through the third, Tierney replaced Nieto on the third line. Nieto, Spaling and Wingels didn't get on the ice for the final 9-plus minutes of the third period and all of overtime, which lasted 2:35 before Conor Sheary scored for Pittsburgh.
Nieto, one of San Jose's fastest skaters, was in the lineup for the first time after missing eight games with an upper-body injury; he replaced Dainius Zubrus.
"I thought [Matt] gave us some really good energy early and then, like a guy who's been out for a month, I thought as the game wore on the reality of being out that long settled in on him a little," DeBoer said. "But we've got another day off today and another day of practice tomorrow, so I'm anticipating that he'll be fine for next game."
The question is whether the Sharks, with their fans' support, will be good enough to defeat the Penguins at home.
"I think from a compete point we're right there," DeBoer said. "Again, we've got to find a few longer stretches where we can control the play a little bit more. There's a few things we can do differently. You also have to get your head wrapped around it that Pittsburgh, with their numbers and the way they've played from the second half of the season on, you're not going to dominate a team like that for long stretches.
"You've got to be comfortable taking the opportunities you get and the swings of momentum you get and you've got to make sure you cash in on them. And I think right now we've got to do a little bit better job of that."