NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview Game Six: Pittsburgh vs. San Jose

imageWho would have thought the Sharks could swim fast enough to catch up to the pesky Penguins. Game 5 saw the Sharks score first for the first time in this series and have the lead in the game. It was that paired with the outstanding goaltending of Martin Jones that spoiled Pittsburgh’s long-awaited house party. He literally played the best 60 minutes of hockey of his life.

So now San Jose and their basically unknown guy in net are swimming happily back west for Game 6. So are the Penguins but begrudgingly. The Stanley Cup, too will make the journey. And everyone has Jones to blame who turned aside 44 shots in a 4-2 victory on Thursday night.

Outplayed but not outscored, San Jose heads home with a chance to even the best-of-seven series at 3-3 on Sunday.

“Joner bailed us out tonight,” said San Jose defenseman Justin Braun. “I don’t know, I felt good tonight,” Jones said. “I thought our (defense) did a good job in front of the net and we got a few bounces tonight.”

If, and it’s a BIG IF, the San Jose Sharks come back to win the Stanley Cup taking it away from the Pittsburgh Penguins, everyone will look back at Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final as the game that changed it all, the day the momentum changed.

Many are now thinking Fate has changed her mind and it’s obvious, if the Sharks were in a 3-1 hole heading into Game 5, and on the road to boot, to come back from a deficit like that, naturally they’ve got to win the next game along with the final. It seems destined.

But if you look at the first few games, the Sharks were totally outplayed in the series. Outside of scoring the game-winner in overtime of Game 3, it’s hard to believe they never had a lead in the series until they scored first in Game 5. The first period alone had an onslaught of goals which changed the pace completely. It was like the Sharks woke up.

It was 3-2 at the end of the first period, and that score remained the same until the Sharks got an empty-netter with less than two minutes to go to seal the deal.

All the Sharks players had to do was get the lead, after the second period, goalie Jones took over and locked the door. And shutting it down is an understatement. The kid had an out-of-body experience in net stopping anything and everything that got near him. The last 40 minutes of Game 5 might get them to a Game 7 if he can keep it up at home.

The Penguins basically assaulted Jones with shots all night, outshooting the Sharks 46-22.

Many know that in the playoffs, there is a saying that goes: whichever team has the hottest goalie has the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. Well as of todat, the Sharks officially have the hot goalie. If Jones can continues to be the brick wall he was in Game 5, the Sharks have a chance to come back in this series and win it all. And what a comeback that would be. The reason they have a real chance is that Murray has been inconsistent at his best, while Jones has been a savior.

This combination of Jones’ otherworldly performance and playing on home ice has the Sharks as favourites in Game 6 with the oddsmakers. San Jose is set as a -115 favorite, so if you bet $115 you’ll win $100, whereas the Penguins are at +104 which is surprising.

If Jones can repeat that stellar performance or outdo himself again, the Sharks will likely force a Game 7. But the Penguins have looked under control most of the way for the majority of the series. So if they step on the gas and play the way they have, eventually they will find a way past Jones, but will it be too late to stop a Game 7 from happening?

Hockey fans in general love a Game 7. The Sharks will try to give it to them by putting all they have on the table. They have thankfully found their speed and skill again, to properly match up with the Penguins. So don’t look for the Penguins to clinch the Cup and avoid having to return home for a Game 7. The Sharks are honing in, and going in for the kill in Game 6.

The Sharks stars are getting hot. Logan Couture had a goal and two assists while Brent Burns, Melker Karlsson and captain Joe Pavelski also scored for San Jose, despite being outshot, they held firm after surviving a chaotic opening five minutes. They were able to get the lead in regulation and keep it, and that should give them a whole new level of confidence. They didn’t get to the finals by accident.

“We know we haven’t scored many goals or any in this series and it’s one of the reasons we’re down 3-1,” Couture said, “(but) we didn’t want our season to end.” We don’t want their season to end as of yet either, but they have to win in Game 6 on Sunday night if they want to join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs as only the second team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the final.

“It’s great to bring it back,” Sharks defenceman Justin Braun said of returning home. “We’re just playing for our lives right now.” And play they shall, since on Thursday night, fans learned that the Sharks are totally capable of beating the Penguins and yes, they want to win it just as badly too.

Our Pick: Sharks over Pens, 5-2