Penguins-Sharks Preview

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The way to San Jose isn't the road the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to take to the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins wanted to wrap this up tidily and neatly on home ice two days ago, claim the Cup for their own without further ado and start planning their victory parade.

The San Jose Sharks spoiled all that by winning Game 5 in Pittsburgh and now, with Game 6 on their home ice Sunday night, they hope to chart these finals on an entirely different path -- one that might conclude with the Cup's final destination not so quite predetermined as it appeared to be a few days ago.

Only one of the 32 previous teams that trailed 3-1 in the finals rallied to claim pro hockey's biggest prize -- and that occurred 74 years ago.

But now that the Sharks have won in Pittsburgh, with nearly 19,000 fans in the Penguins' arena waiting to celebrate a Cup clinching, and twice that many waiting outside, they see no reason why they can't win there again.

But forcing a Game 7 -- one that no team that once had a seemingly unbeatable 3-1 lead wants to play -- will be no more a done deal for the Sharks than Game 5 was for the Penguins back in Pittsburgh.

The Sharks still are facing a team that is getting scoring from four lines and is forcing its way into their defensive zone to take far more shots than the Sharks themselves are getting.

The Penguins, despite their 4-2 loss in Game 5 that spoiled what was being called the victory party of the century in Pittsburgh, still have reason to be optimistic they will win the Cup for the second time in seven years.

Even if it takes a game or two more than they wanted.

"If we play like this (in Game 6), we can win the game," forward Patric Hornqvist said.

Game after game, the Penguins are forcing much of the offensive zone play. They are getting scoring from all four lines. They still don't have a goal from Sidney Crosby, who has only one goal in his last 15 finals games -- even if it seems the next one appears imminent almost nightly.

They are finally getting the consistent scoring from one-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin that they lacked earlier in the playoffs.

"We have to continue to stay in the right frame of mind," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "This team has had success all year, specifically in the playoffs, because of their focus and attention to detail, trying to play to our identity."

But the Sharks, despite trailing 2-0 and 3-1 in these finals, finally seemed to find in Game 5 the (game) they displayed in the first three rounds.

Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski all scored -- as they did consistently in the Western Conference finals, but had not done against Pittsburgh.

No wonder coach Peter DeBoer said Saturday that rah-rah speeches and pep talks aren't needed with his group -- players like Patrick Marleau, who have waited 18 years to play for the Cup.

"These guys don't need to be inspired to play," DeBoer said. "These guys are in the Stanley Cup finals. "There's no speech I'm going to give Patty Marleau and (make him) understand the situation and make him play harder. That's for movies and Sunday football, for sure, when you're playing 11 or 12 games a year.

"We're playing our 105th game. I'm just trying to get our game on the right track."

The Sharks are getting the kind of steal-a-game goaltending from Martin Jones -- with his 44 saves in Game 5 -- that can decide a finals.

San Jose is employing a physicality that was missing earlier in the series. And the desperation level that coaches and players love to talk about when hockey is played in June is becoming increasingly evident, with every game potentially their last.

The Sharks also know that if they can force a Game 7, even one that's played 2,400 miles or so from the Shark Tank, anything can happen -- not all of them good for the home team.

"We know we haven't scored many goals in the series, and it's why we were down 3-1," Couture said. "But we didn't want the season to end."

But there's also this to consider.

The Penguins won the 1991 Stanley Cup on the road. They won the 1992 Stanley Cup on the road. They won the 2009 Stanley Cup on the road. And now, in the one year where it seemed so likely they would finally win it on home ice, they can win again on the road.

And avoid the Game 7 that can decide the fate of an entire season, an entire franchise in a single night.