By Steve Silverman
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On the surface, there’s no reason in the world the San Jose Sharks can’t still make a series of the Stanley Cup Final.
Down three games to one and in danger of getting knocked out by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Western Conference champions are one win away from sending the series back to San Jose.
A win on home ice at that point would send the series to a seventh game.
It all seems doable, and Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer certainly was talking exactly that way on Tuesday at the team’s practice session.
“I thought every game, we created a little bit more chances to score,” DeBoer said. “I think our big guys have gotten more shots off and more looks as the series has gone on. We’re doing some good stuff, but you can’t change the fact that we’ve played behind the entire series, and that’s something that we have to get fixed.”
Sounds good, but guess what? It’s simply not going to happen.
The Sharks have been outskated, outhustled and outplayed in all four games in the series. They have not had the lead at any point in any of the games. They managed to win Game 3 at the Shark Tank because they got a late tying goal from Joel Ward, aka “Mr. Clutch,” and then Joonas Donskoi won the game with a tremendous shot in overtime.
But prior to Ward’s goal, the Sharks had been outplayed by a wide margin, just as they had in the first two games.
The Penguins are making the Sharks work for every inch of ice they get and completing a simple pass has proven quite challenging. Trying to string two or three of them together has been almost impossible.
The Penguins are succeeding because head coach Mike Sullivan has four lines that are producing and a defense crew that has excelled at getting the puck out of its own end quickly and decisively.
On the other hand, the Sharks look like they are out of gas. They badly need leadership from Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns, but they are simply not getting it.
Pavelski has been the leading goal scorer throughout the playoffs, but Penguins goalie Matt Murray has his number. Burns had been dynamic from the blue line through the first three series, but has looked desperate in the Final. He has winged his shot towards goal 10 times or more each game, but most have been either off-line of blocked before getting anywhere near Murray.
Couture has not looked like the player who remains the leading postseason scorer with 26 points. He has not had the quickness or follow-through that he had in earlier games.
And then there’s Joe Thornton. The playoffs were supposed to be all about his redemption.
Thornton has had a stellar regular-season career since the Boston Bruins made him the No. 1 draft pick in 1997, and he has a well-earned reputation as one of the best passers in the game.
But when it comes to playoff hockey, Thornton has always been way too passive. That’s what ruined him in Boston and that reputation has dogged him throughout his run in San Jose.
There are many Thornton defenders, but in their heart of hearts, they know that Joe shies away at the biggest moments and the last thing he wants to do is go to the front of the net and take the punishment needed to pay the prices so goals can be scored.
Anyone want to argue?
Some might say that “Jumbo Joe” doesn’t have that kind of game. However, he’s a 6-foot-4, 225-pound man who could use his considerable hind quarters to box out opponents. His style may be finesse-oriented, but he would have a much better reputation if he would go to the front of the net and stay there every once in a while.
Don’t expect that to happen in Game 5, as the Sharks’ season is likely to end.
In theory, the Sharks could steal the road game and send the series back to the Shark Tank. However, they don’t have the same kind of speed, skill or will as the Penguins, and that’s why it’s not going to happen.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy