PITTSBURGH -- There were shadows under Justin Braun's eyes, deep smudges of tawny brown. There was no telling where they had come from, from the physical torment of 80 regular-season games and 20 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, from the disappointment and frustration of going down 2-0 in the Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins, from the personal loss that stung him and his family in the morning before Game 1.
It likely was all three. It had been a difficult week, a wrenching week, and Braun seemed tired, drained as midnight neared Wednesday, with the prospect of a flight Thursday not to San Jose with his teammates, where the Sharks will begin preparations for what they hope is a series-salvaging Game 3, but to Atlanta.
Braun will be flying to Atlanta to join his wife, Jessie Lysiak Braun, and his family for the funeral of his father-in-law, Tom Lysiak, who died Monday of leukemia. He was 63. Lysiak played 13 seasons for the Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks after being selected with the second pick in the 1973 NHL Draft.
The defenseman's family had supported his need to remain in Pittsburgh for these three days, while his team faced the Penguins in the biggest games he might ever play. They understood. But it was not easy. Not in the least.
"It's been tough," Braun said after Pittsburgh won 2-1 at 2:35 of overtime in Game 2 at Consol Energy Center to take that 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final. "You want to be with your family at this time. They're very understanding. They've been supportive of me staying here for these couple games. Fortunately, tomorrow I'll get a chance to spend some time with them."
In the meantime, he had tried his best to keep his mind where it needed to be, even as that was an impossible task. He used the rink as refuge, his teammates as family, the games as focus.
And then, with the Sharks down by a goal and the time running out in Game 2, Braun found the puck on his stick just beyond the right faceoff circle. The puck slashed through traffic, through seven bodies, and Braun's arms lifted, not exactly toward the ceiling in triumph. They reached out for his teammates, who enveloped him.
He didn't even know in that first moment that it was he who had scored, though his smile said it didn't matter if the goal was his, if it was tipped, if he got a point, even though it was the first goal he had scored in this postseason.
"For sure, it was [extra special]," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "Everyone knows what the situation was. It's pretty cool to see it go in. It gave us a shot right there, it gave us a little energy. We felt like it was going to be our night. It ended up not being."
It was not, exactly, for Braun either. His moment of exultation was tempered by his presence on the ice in overtime when Conor Sheary shot the puck between Braun's legs and past goaltender Martin Jones for the game-winner.
But for that moment, at least, with 4:05 left in the third period in a game that was now tied at 1-1, Braun had lifted the Sharks in the way that they had lifted him.
"Hockey's always been a good escape," Braun said. "It doesn't matter what you've got going on in your life. But yeah, it's tough. But I think the support of the guys around here have been great, the support of the family has been great. So I've been able to do that."
Had they said anything, his teammates? Done anything?
"Just, they feel my pain," he said. "Very happy for me staying and pushing through it. They appreciate that, I think. … The guys are good around here. They build you up. They're brothers. They've been good to me. They've been keeping my spirits high."
Still, it has not been simple. He has not seen his wife since the death of her father. She has been in Atlanta. He has been in Pittsburgh.
But his plan is to go there, finally, on Thursday, arriving in time for the funeral, in time to spend the day with his family, grieving, before getting back on a plane Thursday night to rejoin his other family, the Sharks, back in San Jose ahead of Game 3 at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
He will there to mourn the life of a man he remembered like this, pondering his best memories, his best moments: "Probably just hanging out in his shop, watching golf, talking about hunting and fishing. He loves spending time out there and cooking. Just that smile, that wit, was always great."
by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer