The Pittsburgh Penguins hold a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals as the series shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4.
I desperately wanted to write about how the Penguins are on the brink of their fourth Stanley Cup and second in the last seven years. About how the ‘C’ on the sweater of their unquestioned leader, a guy who so many hockey pundits had declared finished earlier in the year but is now playing every bit like the best in the game, could very well stand for ‘Conn Smythe’ in a few days – unless he gets edged out by his “third-line” teammate, another player that so many of the hockey know-it-alls declared bust-worthily unproductive this season. About how a goalie barely old enough to order a drink could soon be cemented in NHL lore for leading his team to drink from its most prized trophy.
I really wanted to write one of those feel-good pieces about how one of the most remarkable half-season transformations in hockey history is only two victories from coming to fruition.
But not quite yet. There is still plenty of work to be done for these Penguins.
As the Stanley Cup Finals shift to the west coast for Games 3 and 4 the Pens could potentially close out the series, giving writers everywhere the chance to write about all of the aforementioned storylines. But to do that, they’d need to win both games in San Jose – a place where they’ve won a grand total of one in the previous nineteen years.
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True, the Penguins can claim the Stanley Cup without winning a road game, such is the benefit of home-ice advantage. But nobody inside or out of the Pittsburgh locker room would say that another 7-game classic is the preferred route after having largely outplayed, and barely outscored, the Sharks through the first two games.
So to finish off this series and give the City of Pittsburgh it’s fourth major professional sports championship in the last ten years, the Pens would be best served to win at least one of the next two at the SAP center. Even though their lone victory at San Jose since the mid-‘90s just happened to be in their most recent contest, a positive aspect of a rather negative streak, grabbing another in the “Shark tank” won’t be easy.
San Jose is 7-1 at home in these playoffs, and having been a tough opponent in Pittsburgh, is sure to be even more difficult facing adversity and playing in front of their home crowd. Key to grabbing a win in Game 3 for the Pens will be their ability to weather the early storm. Taking away the feeling of being able to “hit the reset button” for San Jose by not allowing an early goal and controlling the tempo of the game, much as they did in the first period of Game 1, will be huge for Pittsburgh.
So too will be getting continued production from the now t-shirt and sandwich-worthy HBK line. The Pens’ third combination has been the NHL’s best throughout the playoffs, producing Nick Bonino’s game winner late in Game 1 and Phil Kessel’s score in the second period of Game 2.
Coach Mike Sullivan has done a masterful job of getting his club to execute how and when needed during his time behind the Pens bench, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t be just as well-prepared for Saturday’s game. Having the opportunity to move within 60 minutes of seeing their names etched on the Stanley Cup will certainly help in the motivation department.
If the Pens stick to their same strategy – capitalize on their unworldly speed to create scoring opportunities and control the pace of the game, they stand to put themselves in position to claim at least a split in northern California.
Then I’ll be able to hammer out that article about Lord Stanley waiting in the wings.