Pittsburgh Penguins have everything to gain, San Jose Sharks have nothing to lose in Game 5

ByScott Burnside ESPN logo
Thursday, June 9, 2016

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Grandparents, girlfriends, wives, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, childhood friends, anyone with connections to the Pittsburgh Penguins are arriving en masse with the anticipation -- nay, fervent hope -- that the Stanley Cup will be awarded at the Consol Energy Center on Thursday night and that they will join the celebration.

Outside those in the inner circle of players and staff, the city is in a state of delayed delirium in anticipation of what would be the first-ever Stanley Cup won on home ice here in Pittsburgh, to go with their three won on the road.

None of this is being presumptive. Sure, the Penguins are up 3-1, but the same kind of last-minute travel plans are made by family and friends of teams on the verge of winning a Stanley Cup every year. It has always been so, just as the arrival of the Cup in Pittsburgh on Wednesday is part of the routine at this juncture of the playoffs.

For the San Jose Sharks, their task in the face of all this anticipation and planning is simple: rain on the parade.

Heading into Game 5 at 8 p.m. Thursday, you can trot out all the stats that you want, fancy or plain.

  • The Sharks have never led at any point during any game of the Stanley Cup finals.
  • The Sharks' four big stars -- Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Logan Couture -- have yet to score in the series.
  • And Pittsburgh is a tidy 9-3 at home in these playoffs and has a lineup that boasts 16 different goal scorers.

None of that really matters because it comes down to this: The Pittsburgh Penguins have everything to gain and the San Jose Sharks have nothing to lose.

The attitude of both teams seemed to reflect this idea and the notion that Game 5 represents what should be an epic tilt, no matter how it turns out.

The Penguins had a vigorous workout at their practice facility Wednesday and then spoke of understanding the focus that will be required to win what would be the final game of the season.

"I think you're excited for the game," said captain Sidney Crosby, who was injured during Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, when the Penguins last won a championship.

"You know you've got a great opportunity, but as much as that's the case, I think you have to fall back to your routine and just do the right things to get the result you want.

"I think we've done a really good job of that this year, especially through the playoffs -- after a loss, after a win, just kind of turn the page and get ready for the next one. Having that strong mentality, I think that's probably more important now."

For Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen and Evgeni Malkin, they have experience to draw on in preparing for a moment like Thursday night, each having won a Stanley Cup.

For rookies Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary and goaltender Matt Murray, as well as all the other players who are looking for their first ring, well, the hours might drag a bit between now and then.

"Yeah, it's hard not to think about it," offered Sheary, who scored the overtime winner in Game 2 and whose entourage will include his grandfather and fiancé.

"I mean, realistically there's a lot going around that brings it up a lot and brings attention to it. But as much as you can, you've got to kind of just think of it as another game. We're one win away but it's still a lot of work to do. It's not done yet. So I think we just have to keep the right mindset throughout."

For the Penguins, perhaps that's the greatest challenge: actually getting to the game itself what with all the extraneous parts of preparing for a possible clinching game. Many players admitted that perhaps sleep will be difficult to come by Wednesday night or during a normal pregame nap Thursday afternoon.

"You're human," said defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who has emerged as a top-four defender in a breakout spring. "You've got to think about it, but I mean, mentally, you can't already have that in your head that it's a guarantee. We have nothing guaranteed. We've got to keep working and keep playing our best hockey, and we've got to get better throughout this series like we have in the past ones."

The Sharks, meanwhile, appeared loose and at ease with their role in this evolving drama.

As coach Pete DeBoer noted, it was pretty much business as usual at the Sharks' skate Wednesday, with guys seemingly enjoying what could be their last full workout of the season.

"Burnsy [Brent Burns] was an ass out there and clowning around," DeBoer quipped.

DeBoer admitted he was relieved to see his players bring that mindset to the rink.

"Because you never know, given the circumstances," he acknowledged.

"I think [the series is] closer than it feels," the coach added. "And we've got to give ourselves an opportunity, that if they stumble, we're going to jump on it."

Many of his players were part of a team that blew a 3-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in 2014.

"We have some guys that vividly remember that," DeBoer said. "They know how quickly a win can turn the momentum."

No one shoulders as big a burden heading into Game 5 as Pavelski, the Sharks' captain who hasn't scored and who had just four shots before coming up with a five-shot performance in the Sharks' 3-1 loss in Game 4.

"We're still right here," Pavelski said. "If we can find a way to win this game, it definitely breathes a little more life into us. This group has always had a lot of fun playing, regardless of the situation. We think we've still got a push."

And so we head to Game 5, with the families gathering and the Stanley Cup being prepared if circumstances dictate an appearance, and the Sharks will do everything they can to make sure it is all for naught.

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