PITTSBURGH -- The words are painted on the wall in the San Jose Sharks' dressing room. They are stitched on the backs of their ball caps and the hoods of their sweatshirts.
"BREAK THE LINE."
No one wants to discuss their origin or meaning, because they're a team thing. But they go back to the start of the season and the changes the Sharks wanted to make after bottoming out the past two years: blowing a 3-0 series lead and losing in the Western Conference First Round to the Los Angeles Kings, then failing to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 11 years.
When a fisherman hooks a shark, the shark doesn't let the fisherman just reel him in. The shark fights to break the fishing line and live another day.
That's what the Sharks did in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on Thursday. They thrashed and struggled and somehow survived thanks largely to goaltender Martin Jones, even though the Pittsburgh Penguins had them hooked good and deep. They defeated the Penguins 4-2 despite being outshot 46-22, cutting their series deficit to 3-2 and forcing a Game 6 at SAP Center in San Jose on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"You're on the hook," Sharks defenseman Justin Braun said. "You've got to get off. This was it. This was the end-all for the season if we don't pull this one off, so just go to keep that going forward."
Understand the scene in Pittsburgh on Thursday: The city had not witnessed one of its teams win a major-league championship at home since 1960, when the Pirates' Bill Mazeroski hit his legendary bottom-of-the-ninth home run to defeat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series at Forbes Field. The Pirates had won two World Series on the road. The Steelers had won six Super Bowls at neutral sites. The Penguins had won the Stanley Cup in 1991 in Minnesota, 1992 in Chicago and 2009 in Detroit.
Some paid thousands of dollars over face value to get into the building or turned down that kind of cash to keep their tickets. Mazeroski, 79, was in the crowd, waving a Pittsburgh gold rally towel. Thousands of fans got as close as they could, sitting in lawn chairs to watch on a big screen outside, spilling into the street and up the hill. There were so many of them, the Penguins set up another big screen at Market Square downtown. When the teams took the ice, the roar was everything you would expect.
The Sharks did not care one way or the other.
"The motivation was to win," Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "We weren't thinking, 'Ruin their plans.' "
The Sharks had not played with the lead in the first four games. Their lone victory had come in overtime. They took a quick 2-0 lead when defenseman Brent Burns scored at 1:04 and center Logan Couture followed at 2:53, only to give it up again when the Penguins scored twice in a 22-second span: center Evgeni Malkin on the power play at 4:44, forward Carl Hagelin at 5:06.
It was as if they thought they had wriggled free, only to have the Penguins yank back the pole and jerk them right back to where they were.
"It was pretty calm," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said. "Not a lot fazes us. We're persistent, and we knew we had to continue to work for us to be successful. We knew that if we continued the way we started, we'd find ways to get it done."
Two Penguins struck iron on a power play after that. Forward Chris Kunitz hit the left post. Forward Phil Kessel went left post, right post and out. Had one of those shots gone in, an inch here, an inch there, and maybe the Penguins are Stanley Cup champions right now. But neither did, and Sharks center Melker Karlsson gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead at 14:47.
"Obviously you've got your highs and lows in the first period," Sharks forward Chris Tierney said. "You're excited when you get the 2-0 lead, and then you kind of take a step back and got to ramp it up again when they tie it up there. The team doesn't waver too much. I think we're pretty even-keeled. So it was a good job by us just putting that behind us and trying to get the third one and playing on from there."
At that point, no one would have thought Karlsson's goal would have held up as the winner. But in the end the difference was goaltending. The Penguins' Matt Murray faced 21 shots and gave up three goals, including two soft ones. Burns slipped a shot past him on the short side; Karlsson eluded his glove. Jones faced 46 shots and gave up two goals. Some of his 44 saves were spectacular, like the left-pad save he made on Penguins center Nick Bonino on a rebound in the second period.
Asked to name his favorite save, Vlasic said: "My favorite was all 44, because if he doesn't save any of them, it goes in."
In 123 NHL games in the regular season and playoffs, Jones has faced 40 shots or more only five times. He has made more than 44 saves only once: March 7 in a 2-1 overtime win against the Calgary Flames. This was an outstanding performance, but it was also a rarity. As good as Jones is, the Sharks cannot expect to win if they play like that again.
"Your goaltender's going to steal one for you once in a while, and he came up big for us," Tierney said.
So the Stanley Cup did not appear. The Pittsburgh fans went home, and the streets emptied without a party. The teams headed off for Game 6 in San Jose. But make no mistake: The Penguins still have the Sharks hooked.
The line is not broken yet.
by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist