The San Jose Sharks had no excuses after dropping a close Game 1 of the Cup final. They know they need to be better. What lessons can they use to win Game 2?
PITTSBURGH – You’d swear the San Jose Sharks were hung over. That was the mood Tuesday during their skate at the CONSOL Energy Center. They were docile, regretful, almost groggy, still feeling the effects of Monday night.
And it’s hard to blame them. The Penguins put a hurt on them in Game 1. The score was close at 3-2, but Pittsburgh controlled the play and had San Jose back on its heels in the first and third periods, registering 33 shots in those two frames combined. The Sharks thoughtfully surveyed the wreckage Tuesday as they looked forward to Game 2. When one reporter spoke to defenseman Brent Burns about watching Game 1, Burns cut him off.
“In the first, we kind of watched it, too,” Burns said.
So what must San Jose do differently in Game 2? What can it learn from Game 1? Here are five lessons the Sharks can apply to even up the Stanley Cup final.
1. Rely on previous (losing) Stanley Cup final experience. Seriously
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer and left winger Dainius Zubrus find themselves in familiar territory. Just four years ago, they were both New Jersey Devils. They lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final to the Los Angeles Kings, fell back on their heels an ended up down 3-0 in that series. The Devils didn’t win, but they battled back to win Game 4 and 5. They displayed resolve under DeBoer’s watch, and he knows what to expect now. He also realizes the 2012 final and 2016 final are different animals.
“There’s always lessons you can take,” DeBoer said. “Two totally different circumstances. Game 1, thinking back to that New Jersey final with L.A., we were the home team. I thought we played an excellent game Ended up losing in overtime 2-1. Jonathan Quick was probably the difference in that game. We’re on the road this time. The home team played a better game than us. We didn’t find a way to get rewarded. The good news was we still had a chance right until the last five minutes to win that game. I think we’ll be better tomorrow.”
Zubrus also played in the 1997 Stanley Cup final with the Philadelphia Flyers. Detroit swept them that year, and Zubrus fell behind in 2012 3-0 to the Kings, so he lost his first seven games of the Stanley Cup final play. He’s 2-8 overall. But Zubrus also felt Game 1 of the 2016 final was different from 2012. And it’s not the predictable answer. He said he feels worse about the state of affairs this time around.
“I can go a long time ago, almost 20 years,” he said. “A few years back with New Jersey, those two games at home where we lost in overtime, it could’ve gone either way. But this is a little bit different. Yesterday we were far from what our game needs to look like and needs to be. We realize that. In New Jersey, we played well enough to win those games. Yesterday we didn’t. We know that.”
Goaltender Martin Jones rode shotgun with all-world netminder Jonathan Quick during the Kings’ second Cup run in 2014 and had some vicarious experience to soak up.
“Watching him throughout the playoffs, he competes on everything,” Jones said. “That’s the biggest thing you can take away when you watch him play. Other than that, I don’t know, just from him or the group, it’s just managing a long playoff run, all the distractions and things that go along with that.”
2. Draw inspiration from Justin Braun’s heavy heart
Former NHLer Tom Lysiak passed away Monday following a battle with leukemia. Lysiak happened to be the father in law of Sharks blueliner Justin Braun, who gutted out Game 1 with his internal flag flying at half mast. His resiliency did not go unnoticed among his peers.
“As a teammate you don’t like to see anybody go through that, but he handled it like a professional,” said Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. “He showed up and played well. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. It’s one of those areas that you’re never prepared for. Our thoughts are always with them and their families.”
DeBoer echoed that sentiment Tuesday, voicing his appreciation for Braun’s dedication. Braun has made arrangements to pay his respects to Lysiak’s memory following Game 2, DeBoer explained.
Intangibles may not matter as much as cold, hard data, but they carry some weight. The Penguins won Game 1 with a lot of shots, but also with a lot of adrenaline, feeding off a raucous home crowd. Braun has clearly inspired his teammates, so maybe a “win it for Justin” mentality buoys them in Game 2.
3. Move the puck quicker in their zone
It’s well established what the Penguins do better than anyone in the NHL: get pucks deep and use their speed to win foot races in their opponent’s zone, then pepper the net. Mike Sullivan spoke after Game 1 about wanting his guys making plays behind San Jose’s blueliners instead of in front of them. The Sharks know what they’re dealing with now, and they understand the best way to counter it. Zubrus said Tuesday the key was to speed up their own play, not just try to limit Pittsburgh’s speed. Moving the puck faster out of their end can tilt the ice back in San Jose’s favor and give the Penguins forwards less time to breathe down the Sharks’ necks.
4. Remember, they’ve been down before
The hot stat of the past 24 hours: San Jose is 5-1 in the 2016 playoffs following a defeat. They don’t seem to scare easily. Game 1’s loss in the Western Conference final versus the St. Louis Blues is a natural comparison, but perhaps Game 4 is better. San Jose got blown out 6-3 in its own building. Martin Jones was pulled. The Sharks responded by winning Game 5 on the road and Game 6 at home to close out the series. Talk about killer instinct.
5. Don’t make excuses
The most common thread Tuesday: accountability. The Sharks didn’t spend the afternoon lamenting bad bounces or insisting they were the better team in Game 1. De Boer infamously bashed the officiating after Game 1 of the St. Louis series but said nothing of the sort this time around. He focused the crosshairs squarely on his own team. One reporter asked if (a) DeBoer was satisfied with the number of shots his team generated and (b) who he’d like to see shoot the puck more. His response:
“Two parts: No, and everybody. I want everybody to get more shots. No, we weren’t happy with the number of shots. We weren’t happy with the quality of shots. We weren’t happy with the guys who didn’t get enough shots. We didn’t do enough to win the game. We’ve got to fix that.”
It bodes well that this team isn’t finger pointing. It’s looking in the mirror and demanding more of itself. It would thus be a shock if we didn’t see the best version of the Sharks show up to battle the Penguins in Game 2.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin