Don’t start engraving Lord Stanley’s Cup just yet. Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins took a commanding lead in the Stanley Cup Finals after beating the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in overtime on Wednesday night, but the Sharks are viewing a 2-0 series deficit as more of a roadblock than a steep cliff. It won’t be easy. But it has happened before.
The last time a team came back from being down two games to none in the final was in 2011 when the Boston Bruins beat the Canucks in seven games after dropping the first two in Vancouver. It happened in 2009 too, but it hadn’t happened before then since 1971. That ’09 team to make history? The Pittsburgh Penguins. Five current Penguins were a part of that team seven years ago, so you can guess what captain Sidney Crosby is telling his teammates as they board a cross-country flight to game three: “Foot on the pedal boys. We can’t let that happen to us.”
The Sharks will try to shake a couple of really close games in Pittsburgh and reset their focus. San Jose only scored a combined three goals in the first two games: production that looks very un-Shark like. They came into hockey’s final series leading the NHL with 63 playoff goals scored, five more than Pittsburgh. They also have the postseason’s top point scorer in Logan Couture, (26. Seven more than Pittsburgh’s leader Phil Kessel) and the top goal scorer in captain Joe Pavelski (13. Three more than Kessel.)
So what happened? You can certainly point to some tough bounces, or “puck luck” in hockey talk. The Sharks hit an unofficial four posts in game two before Justin Braun’s goal finally found mesh after naturally ringing the pipe once more. Don’t expect many Sharks players to use this as an excuse as the Penguins also had some close calls, but it is certainly worth mentioning.
The Sharks also brought the most feared power play unit in the game to Pittsburgh and came away with just one goal on the man advantage. The best and perhaps only way to stop this power play is too simple: Can’t take any penalties. The Penguins had to kill off three power plays in game one and only one in game two. Throughout this postseason the Sharks have tried to keep tough games close, knowing that they will get a chance with the man advantage later, but the Penguins never gave them that chance. They had great discipline, something that is remarkable to see for two teams that play as fast as these two do. Seriously, the puck in this series is as hard to follow as an episode of Downton Abbey, although the excitement level is a little bit different.
Yes, the Sharks are facing a huge uphill battle, but they can’t look at the big picture right now. They need to break this series down into segments, and then break it down even more. They need to win two games at home, but they also need to get game three so they can play at least one more in the Consol Energy Center. They need to win the first period of game three. They need to win every faceoff, loose puck, and big hit in the first period of game three.
It has been a long and exciting road for the Sharks to get to this point. They are not even close to being ready to quit. So put that engraver away. There is still a lot of hockey left to be played.