Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sharks have time to erase Game 1's costly first period

May 30, 2016
Pittsburgh Penguins' Nick Bonino (13) fires the puck past San Jose Sharks' Paul Martin (7) and Martin Jones (31) to score the winning goal in the third period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)
Nick Bonino scores the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)
PITTSBURGH -- The anticipation was gripping. The lights were bright. The noise was loud. Yellow laundry was being twirled in the air by 18,596 yellow laundry twirlers. And the entire hockey world was looking over the Sharks' shoulders to see if the teal was for real.
So maybe it's no surprise that when they showed up for their first Stanley Cup Final game ever here, the Sharks played . . . like it was their first Stanley Cup Final game ever.

Very shaky at the start. Much better as the game progressed. And then not quite sharp enough at the end, the victim of a possible bad-luck breakdown -- and ultimately a 3-2 loser.

Thus, the Sharks begin their quest for the Cup down one game in the best-of-seven, with the next faceoff coming up Wednesday

"We had some spurts here and there," said Sharks' coach Pete DeBoer. "But they played their game for longer stretches than we did tonight. That's what happens. You don't deserve to win when you don't outplay the other team."
The focus now will be on whether the Sharks can respond the way they did in the Western Conference finals, when they lost Game 1 to the St. Louis Blues in a similar fashion -- on the road, poor start but better finish despite the defeat -- and then wound up winning four of the next five games to take the series. Is a repeat possible?

"There's nothing that I saw tonight that I'm going out of here thinking we can't come out and compete and play much better on our end," DeBoer said. "They're a good team. It's the two best teams in the league . . . I think part of it is us fixing our execution. We've been pretty good about that throughout the playoff trail of getting that stuff fixed."
True. But the Penguins are not the same team as the St. Louis Blues in one important respect: Pittsburgh has wheels galore. Their forwards are here and gone before you can say "here and gone."

This caused big problems for the Sharks in Monday's first period. For a while, you wondered if the beloved Los Tiburones were going to be left in Penguin dust. During those opening minutes, you'd have thought the Sharks were the slowest and most careless team in four time zones. The Penguins shot out of their dressing room like a shook-up can of Iron City beer that someone popped open and sprayed all over Consul Energy Center.
And the Sharks?
"We stood around and watched," DeBoer said.
Pittsburgh outshot the Sharks, 15-4, while they were doing that first-period spectating. The Penguins kept crossing the blue line with speed and unloading. But the Sharks scrambled enough defensively to stave off a goal and the scoreboard stayed at 0-0 until shortly after a Pittsburgh power play nine minutes into the game. This allowed the Penguins to gain momentum and not long after, they scored twice in a little more than a minute to take a 2-0 lead.
"We knew they were going to start fast," said the Sharks' Joe Thornton said. "And they did. I think that early power play got them going and they were just jumping."
During a mid-game television interview, DeBoer hinted that the Sharks had been nervous out of the gate, which created the first-period issues. DeBoer backed away from that a bit in his postgame news conference when someone asked if the Sharks had been struck by the Stanley Cup jitters.
"I don't know," DeBoer said. "You know, guys are dialed in, they want to play well. Everyone's heart is in the right place. It's something. Is it us traveling? Emotional letdown after the last game? Other than the travel, they (the Penguins) are dealing with the same things. They were better than us. We've got to fix that."
Sharks centerman Logan Couture, always the biggest truth-teller in the Sharks room, was far more blunt.
"We obviously weren't prepared to go," Couture said. "I don't need to say that. You saw it yourself. It was ugly."
Fortunately, between the first and second period, the Shark players managed to calm themselves (probably with DeBoer's verbal guidance) and the second period was entirely different. The Sharks managed the puck better, drew a power play that led to a goal by Tomas Hertl, and then tied the score at 2-2 on a beautiful wraparound by Patrick Marleau.
The third swayed more back and forth -- but the Sharks missed their best chances and the Penguins seized the one that mattered. Defenseman Brent Burns had his stick knocked out of his hand by a Pittsburgh shot and eventually the puck made its way to the Penguins' Nick Bonino in a soft spot behind the Sharks' Paul Martin. With 2:33 left in the game, Pittsburgh took the 3-2 lead and rode it home.
"We'll respond," Thornton promised.
To do so, the Sharks have some problems to fix. The line centered by rookie Chris Tierney struggled all night to defend or control most of the Pittsburgh lines it faced, especially the one centered by Evgeni Malkin. Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' top center, was the presence you'd expect him to be.
What else? Bonino, the winning goal scorer, was a 2007 Sharks draft choice that was traded away in 2009 and may be at least be slightly motivated to show his former team what it missed. Bonino still has the jersey given him by the Sharks on draft day hanging in his closet, as a reminder.
The Penguins are a handful. But if the Sharks can do what they did against Nashville and St. Louis -- gain more puck control (as happened in the second period) and wear down Pittsburgh's defenseman over a long series, the result may be the same as it was in the first few playoff rounds.
If so, then Monday's first period -- which is essentially what cost the Sharks' the game -- will be a blip on the radar. It would be a shame if this Stanley Cup hinged on one team standing around and watching during the first period of the first game. Can't see that being the case. If the Sharks are the better team, they still have plenty of time to prove it.
The best time to start would be Wednesday night.
Read Mark Purdy's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/purdy. Contact him atmpurdy@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.

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