By Steve Silverman
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It has all been about glory and redemption for the San Jose Sharks this spring. They took out the Los Angeles Kings in five games, outlasted the Nashville Predators in seven, and vanquished the the St. Louis Blues in six.
They entered the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins knowing they fully belonged.
However, there is a feeling of desperation in the locker room as the Sharks prepare for Saturday night’s Game 3 at home. Not only are they down 0-2, they have been outplayed significantly.
The scoreboard says they have dropped a pair of one-goal games, and that’s not a huge psychological hurdle. However, the Penguins controlled the action in both games, by a wide margin.
The Pens have controlled the puck and forced the Sharks to chase the game. The only reason San Jose did not lose either game by more than a goal was because of the outstanding play of goalie Martin Jones.
Jones couldn’t stop a wide-open Nick Bonino from scoring the winning goal late in Game 1, or Conor Sheary from ripping home the winner early in overtime of Game 2, but he has kept Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from scoring, even though both have had numerous opportunities.
The Sharks have played well during the postseason at the SAP Center in San Jose — better known as the Shark Tank, going 7-2 after winning just 18 games at home in the regular season.
They have asserted themselves because their Big Three of Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Logan Couture took turns carrying the team at various points on the road to the Final.
Burns may be the most dangerous of the three. The defenseman is a bit of a different drummer off the ice, as he combines a full Stanley Cup beard with a man-bun hair style. He also features his own brand of fashion, as he is likely to arrive at the game in a plaid suit or some other kind of eye-catching outfit that makes observers look at him three or four times before finally looking away.
His unconventional ways continue once he hits the ice, where he is big, bold and aggressive. The aggression comes from his tendency to carry the puck from one end of the ice to the other and play a dynamic offensive game.
Burns is a remarkable gunner. Once he establishes position in the offensive zone, he has a shoot-first, pass-second mentality that is rare for a defenseman. He has launched 187 shots so far during the postseason, and 67 have found their way on net. Burns has scored six goals and also has 16 assists.
Pavelski has found the back of the net 13 times on 107 shots on net. Couture is the leading scorer in the playoffs with eight goals and 18 assists, and he has taken 105 shots.
Throughout the playoffs, the Sharks have also gotten tremendous support from Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joel Ward and Tomas Hertl.
That depth will be crucial in Game 3, according to Pavelski.
“You always want more,” Pavelski said after practice Friday. “You want to create a few more chances and produce a little bit. If it doesn’t come, you’ve got to play solid and just keep working. Keep trying to put pucks into spots, winning battles and making some plays and looking for a break. We’ve been a depth team all year. We’ve relied on four lines and that’s going to need to carry us. And, then we need to find a goal or two.”
The Penguins have gotten the job done s far with speed and precision. They have been able to attack the Sharks from beneath the goal line, and that’s just what head coach Mike Sullivan wants to see from his team as it goes on the road for the first time in this series.
As well as the Penguins played at home, they have won nothing yet. Winning the first two games is a big advantage, but the Sharks can put their signature on this series by asserting themselves in their own building as they have all spring.
If they can do that in Game 3 and again on Monday night in Game 4, they will go back to Pittsburgh with the momentum they need to take the series away from the Penguins.
This series is not over yet. In fact, it may just be getting started.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy