The San Jose Sharks face the unenviable task of having to avoid elimination on the road in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night in Pitssburgh.
The Penguins took a 3-1 lead in the series on Monday night when they won Game 4 in San Jose, 3-1.
The Sharks have been a very good road team this year, especially in the playoffs. They won three games in Los Angeles to beat the Kings in the first round, and two in St. Louis in the Conference Finals.
In this series, the Penguins won the first two games in Pittsburgh with a late goal in Game 1 and in overtime in Game 2.
DeBoer said of their strong play on the road giving the Sharks some reason for belief going into Thursday, and taking it as just one game,
“Well, I think you hit it right on the head. It’s one game. We want to win one game and get a Game 6 back here at home. I think we would be comfortable in that spot that we could get it to go seven.
“Short‑term we’ve got to go in and win one road game. We’ve been the best road team in the league all year. It’s not going to be easy.
Yeah, I think our game has grown through the series. We cleaned some things up. We limited their shots last game from earlier in the series. I thought every game we’ve created a little bit more chances to score. 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. That’s something that we have to get fixed.
The Sharks have never led in the series, as their one win, in Game 3, came on a goal in sudden-death overtime.
Sharks Head Coach Pete DeBoer said of possibly looking to juggle things up early instead of waiting to try to get a lead, “Well, I don’t know if switching the lines up is the answer to getting the lead. We’ve shortened the bench the last two games because we’ve been behind.
“It’s not ideal. Catches up to you, especially when you’re this deep into the playoffs and have played as many games as we have and logged as many miles as we have. It’s been more out of necessity.
“There’s a saying that you dance with the girl you brought to the dance. I think that’s going to probably be our approach here going forward.”
DeBoer said of their good start in Game 4, and there being something that hasn’t been there to get a lead that he can put his finger on, “I liked our start. I liked our first 10 minutes. Thought we got off and got going. We had a couple good looks early, Thornton and Pavelski had a two‑on‑one early, Murray made a save.
I think we’ve got to find a way to stick one of those in early and put them in the spot where they’re chasing the game a little bit, which we haven’t done yet.”
A lot of Sharks players on Monday night were talking about the need to just play with that same desperation they had in the third period in the first. On if he sees it that way, DeBoer said, “Yeah, you know, I mean, that’s easy to say. I’ve said all along, there’s another team playing with the same level of desperation, too. You’re not going to get 60 minutes of that. I liked our start. I thought we sagged after they scored a little bit, which is natural, especially after the second goal.
“We found a way to get it back in the third, get going in the right direction. They’re also sitting on a lead, so they’re sitting back a little bit. There’s a lot of factors that play into it a little bit. I think the desperation level on both teams is as high as it can get. Everyone understands we’re in the Stanley Cup Finals. I don’t think you can manufacture more desperation than what everybody is playing with. I think for us it’s more execution right now. We’ve got to find a way to get out in front here earlier in the game and make them chase a little bit.”
The Sharks logged the most travel of any NHL team this year, especially in the playoffs. DeBoer said of guys feeling that right now, “That’s a good question. I don’t know. I mean, that’s a reality of what we deal with. The one thing about the guys here is they’ve never used it as an excuse. You never hear that as an excuse.
Coming out here as a first‑year coach, I thought I would hear that from these guys. I think they’ve been doing it for so long, it’s a part of life and playing out here. They refuse to use it as an excuse. So I’m not going to. It didn’t stop L.A. from winning multiple Cups. We’ve got to find a way.
DeBoer said of there being anything in particular from his experience with the Devils in 2012, when they won a Game 4 in Los Angeles to avoid elimination, that he’s drawing on here in this window before the next game to help your guys’ mental capacity, “Yeah, I mean, I remember with the Devils, we were in a 3‑0 hole, which is a worse situation. Everyone was writing us off. We took the approach of, Why not us? I don’t care what the record book says, that only one or two teams have come back from this situation, whatever those numbers are. Why can’t we be the first team to do it?
It starts with one game. I think that’s the approach we’re going to take.
DeBoer said of what he’s seen from Pittsburgh’s defense that has made them a bit vexing for your team’s offensive attack so far, “Well, I mean, they get back quickly. They just get the puck out of their own end as quickly as possible up to their forwards. There’s nothing fancy about it.
“Not afraid to rim it, to throw it out, to flip it out. They’re not looking to make cute plays. They’re just looking to get it out of their own zone as quickly as possible.
“You’ve got to have a combination of aggressiveness and patience when you’re playing a team like that. It can get frustrating at some points because you work hard to get in there, you know, they’re just throwing it out past you again.
“I think as the series has gone on, we’ve got better at finding that combination of aggressiveness and patience to try and turn some of those over. I thought last night we probably did as good a job as we have in the series of doing that.”
Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski have been relatively quiet in this series. DeBoer said of how he thinks he can get the two of them going and how that will help them get back in the series, “Well, I think they had some good looks last night. I thought every game they’ve found a way to create a little bit more.
“But, you know, there is no magic answer. They get a ton of attention. I think our support group has to take a little bit of pressure off them. We got a goal from Melker Karlsson last night. We got to find a way to get some from some other people, too. We’ve got to draw a few more power plays, which usually creates some offense for those guys.
“There’s some things we can do. But I can tell you their effort, the things that they’ve done that have made them successful through the first three rounds of the playoffs haven’t changed going into this round.
“You have to give Pittsburgh some credit for the job they’ve done on them. The stars on both sides would tell you there’s not a lot of room out there.”