PITTSBURGH -- Before the Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks, the hockey experts at ESPN eachpredicted the winner and how many games it would take. Colleagues Scott Burnside (Penguins in six), Craig Custance (Sharks in seven), Pierre LeBrun (Sharks in seven) and myself (Penguins in seven) are all still alive as this series moves to San Jose for Game 6 on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.
After defeating the Penguins in Game 5 on Thursday night on Pittsburgh, the Sharks are feeling good about their game, especially since they played with the lead in that game for the first time in the series. I'm sticking with my original prediction. I think the Sharks will win Game 6 at home to force a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh on June 15.
Here are four reasons this series will go the distance:
Nobody can keep up with Jones: Sharks goaltender Martin Jones was outstanding in Game 5, finishing with 44 saves, which is the most by a netminder in a Stanley Cup finals regulation game -- topping the mark by Johnny Bower, who made 43 for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 in 1967. (Of course, Bower was 42 at the time and Jones is only 26.) Jones has been strong the entire postseason. San Jose wouldn't have gotten to this point without such standout play from its goalie, and that will continue in Game 6.
"He was great," said Sharks' Logan Couture, who scored a goal and added two assists in Game 5. "He made some big-time saves. He's been playing like this for a long time -- regular season, playoffs. A lot of people, unfortunately, don't get to see him, with us being on the West Coast. He's been unbelievable for us."
Meanwhile, Murray's still the man for the Pens: While Jones is getting a lot of the credit for the Sharks, goalie Matt Murray, 22, has been the heartbeat for the Penguins. He has allowed a few iffy goals during the finals, but once he gets settled in, Murray has made the timely saves and given the Penguins a chance to win every game. The idea that Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan would make a goalie change at this point is absurd. Barring injury, there's no way Marc-Andre Fleury sees the net for the Pens. After Game 5, Murray admitted he was a bit nervous.
"Oh yeah, of course," he said. "I'm always nervous to start games. I thought I handled it pretty well. I don't think that affected how I played. I was pretty sharp early. I made a couple good saves, then after the third [goal], I shut it down. I settled in a little bit after the third one. I don't think we're too worried as a group here."
Could those nerves get to him early in Game 6 and the Sharks capitalize again like they did in Game 5?
Burns is on fire: When the Sharks needed him to be at his best, defenseman Brent Burns contributed in every aspect in Game 5. He scored the first goal to give San Jose its first lead of the series. He was jumping into the play and getting physical -- and it was evident his teammates were feeding off that energy. He even got under the skin of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby a few times.
"When he's jumping in the rush, it adds a different dimension to our team," Couture said of Burns. "Obviously everyone knows he's got the shot. When he reads plays, he's able to pinch, use his big body to protect pucks and score goals. It's just the Burnsy that's been with us all playoffs."
Burns' personality and his ability to get a crowd going should pay dividends in Game 6 on home ice.
Sharks will clear another Hertl: Sharks coach Pete DeBoer has doled out a few good lines while his team faces elimination. He hasn't yet uttered the word "adversity," but that's what his team is playing through. The Sharks have been without top-line winger Tomas Hertl, who is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury. If Hertl returns, it could give the Sharks a motivational boost and added offensive punch. Before to suffering his injury in Game 2, the 22-year-old forward had six goals and five assists for 11 points in 20 postseason games.