PITTSBURGH – Those of you out there expecting the San Jose Sharks to curl up into the fetal position and roll over because they lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final may be a little disappointed. Because as they’ve proved through the first three rounds of the playoffs, these are not your father’s San Jose Sharks.
There were not a lot of long faces in the Sharks room – unless you measure it by the length of their beards – despite the fact they dropped Game 1 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins because of a bad start and an unfortunate finish. Expect the Sharks to come back strongly in Game 2, the same way they did in the Western Conference final after losing Game 1 to the St. Louis Blues.
“We could have won that game,” said defenseman Brent Burns. “We had a couple of good chances in the third and we know we didn’t play our best. We’re not laying down. I don’t think we feel too bad.” When asked what kind of response he expects the Sharks to have in Game 2, Burns answered succinctly, “A good one. Pretty simple, huh?”
Burns was actually a little giddy after the game, which is a good sign for the Sharks. On the other side of the dressing room, Joe Thornton was composed and measured. That certainly was not the way the Sharks looked for the first 20 minutes of the game in which they fell behind 2-0 and were beaten to almost every puck. And when they did have the puck, they almost immediately turned it over and fell victim to the Penguins counterattack. The Sharks talked prior to the series about taking away the Penguins’ time and space, then gave it away like it was Halloween candy. There was a sense the Penguins were going to steamroll the Sharks out of the building with their speed in the first, but the Sharks did an outstanding job of regrouping and getting back into the game.
“We didn’t play our game in the first period,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “We stood around and watched.”
Rather than giving the puck up at the blueline, the Sharks started to do what they should have been doing against the Penguins in the first period – getting pucks in deeper into the Penguins’ zone and using their size to get it back and keep possession. They also did a better job of getting to the Penguins’ net and put pressure on rookie goalie Matt Murray. But just three shot attempts from each of Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau simply isn’t going to cut it for the Sharks. And as good as Martin Jones has been in these playoffs and as good as he was in Game 1, giving up 40 shots a game is not a very good recipe for victory. The Sharks actually had one more shot attempt than the Penguins did on the evening, so the possession game was actually pretty close.
“We’ll respond,” Thornton said. “Yeah, we’ve done it all post-season, so we’ll forget about this in 10 minutes and then be ready for Game 2. (Penguins goalie Matt Murray) is a big boy, but there will be some holes. We’ve just got to open them up a little bit.”
The sense in the Sharks room was that they gagged up the first period and could have won the game if they had responded better to the energy the Penguins showed after feeding off a raucous crowd. The Sharks also know they have a 5-1 record after losses in these playoffs and have outscored their opponents by a 26-10 margin in games they’ve played after losses.
So much was made of the Penguins speed going into the series and they came exactly as advertised. It was clearly too much for the Sharks to handle early in the game when the Penguins dictated the tempo of the game. The Sharks managed to reverse the tide by playing a better puck-possession game in the second and dealing with the Penguins speed much better. But, according to Burns, it had nothing to do with a case of the yips.
"If they say it's a normal game, they're lying to you," Burns said. "I think it's pretty cool at the end of the day to be at this level, playing in the Cup final."