SAN JOSE - Sometimes one win or even one play can turn a series around.
That's what the San Jose Sharks are hoping will happen in this Stanley Cup Final.
The Sharks have their feet under them after pulling out a 3-2 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 at SAP Center on Saturday. They can even the best-of-7 series at 2-2 with another win in Game 4 here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), but they know things could easily look a lot different.
The Penguins were less than 12 minutes from taking a commanding 3-0 series lead before Joel Ward scored the tying goal Saturday at the instant a four-minute Sharks power play expired. Rookie Joonas Donskoi scored the winner 12:18 into overtime and, suddenly, the Sharks were back in the series.
"It's a big turnaround," Ward said Sunday. "It could have gone the other way if we would have lost. It would have been a tough hole, but now with the win here it gets us back in the ballgame pretty good and we have another opportunity at home to even up the series."
Feeling their play has improved with each game, the Sharks hope to take the next step in Game 4. A good way to start would be playing with a lead.
The only time they have led all series is when Donskoi's winning goal went in off the side of Penguins goaltender Matt Murray's mask to end Game 3.
"It's a lot easier playing with the lead than when you're chasing the game the entire time," Sharks center Logan Couture said.
It feels like the Sharks have been chasing the speedy Penguins all series mostly because they have. On the positive side, San Jose has demonstrated an ability to come back again and again.
In Game 1, the Sharks erased a 2-0 deficit before losing 3-2. In a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 2, they trailed 1-0 until Braun scored with 4:05 left.
In Game 3, the Sharks trailed 1-0 and 2-1 despite dictating play and generating more offensive zone time than they had in the first two games. Undeterred, they answered with the tying goal twice.
Then, they finally found a way to score the next goal and, perhaps, cleared a mental hurdle in the process.
"Whether it's mental or whatever, it's just an important win at a crucial time," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "That's one. There's no time to take a breath. There's another game here coming up that is just as important."
That was part of the message for the Sharks on Sunday. They won a game and that's good, but that's all it was - one win. Ward's and Donskoi's heroics can only have more meaning if the Sharks follow up with another win Monday.
Otherwise, they'll head back to Pittsburgh for a Game 5 on Thursday trailing 3-1 in the series with the Penguins one win away from raising the Stanley Cup.
"They're going to respond," Couture said. "They're going to bring probably their best game. Any time you lose, you want to come to the rink the next day and be better. That's what we expect from them."
Although the Sharks earned their win Saturday, they feel there's plenty of room for them to improve too. That was a topic of discussion in their meeting Sunday.
"We just said we can keep getting better," said center Chris Tierney, who assisted on Donskoi's overtime goal. "We can execute a little better on our breakouts in zone, holding onto pucks more, create more O-zone time. We still have another level we think we can get to, and that's a positive for our team."
The Sharks know they're going to need to reach that next level if they're going to win this series and the Stanley Cup. They might have to do it without forward Tomas Hertl, who remains day-to-day because of a lower-body injury.
Getting more shots through to Murray would help after the Penguins blocked 38 attempts in Game 3. Coach Peter DeBoer believes the Sharks also can do a better job of limiting the number of shots the Penguins get.
They had 42 on Saturday, compared to 26 for the Sharks.
"I think both teams are going to raise their level next game," DeBoer said. "It's a critical game. It's one of those crossroad type games, I think, so I anticipate both teams to come out [hard]. I think it should be the best game of the series. I think every game's gotten a little bit better and I think the next one will be the best one so far."
by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer