The Pittsburgh Penguins face the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
When Penguins’ defenseman Trevor Daley went down in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a broken ankle, many thought the void left by the veteran would be too much for the team to overcome. And after a dreadful defensive performance in Game 5’s overtime loss, it seemed that way.
For Game 5, coach Mike Sullivan went with the defensive pairings of Ollie Maatta–Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin–Ben Lovejoy and the rotation of Ian Cole, Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot. Sullivan also sat Conor Sheary for a now healthy Beau Bennett. The Penguins looked out of sync for much of the game and they were now on the brink of elimination. It was back to the drawing for Sullivan.
But like he has done all season, the Penguins’ coach found the winning formula. With their backs against the wall in Game 6, Sullivan went back to his previous pairing of Dumoulin-Letang and put Maatta with Lovejoy. Pouliot and Bennett were out of the lineup after struggling in Game 5. Baby face assassin Sheary was back on the first line with Crosby and Hornqvist.
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Since then the team has not looked back. The Penguins’ defense shut down the Lightning, limiting their feisty attack to 34 combined shots on goal in Games 6 and 7. Matched with the clutch play of rookie Bryan Rust, the Pens were able to complete the comeback sending them back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Coming into the Finals, so-called hockey experts across the country wrote off the Penguins against the San Jose Sharks. Many said the defensemen of the Penguins would not be able stop the big fast attack of the Western Conference champs. Through the first two games of this series, those experts are eating their words.
The Sharks have yet to figure out the pressuring fore check of the Pens. Their offensive attack cannot get on track especially Joe Pavelski who remains pointless after scoring 13 goals coming into the series. But with the Sharks backed into a corner, don’t expect this team to go quietly.
I would not be surprised if this series is tied 2-2 when the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 5. This will only delay the agony for San Jose. There is no way the Penguins will drop four of their next five even if momentum is in the Sharks favor after Game 4.
Look for the Pens to continue their franchise trend of raising the cup on the road. They will close out the Sharks in Game 6 back in the Bay Area. If that is the case, Pittsburgh will have to wait again for a team to win a professional championship at home. The last time was in 1960 by the Pirates.