Throughout the entire Stanley Cup Finals, the San Jose Sharks have been unable to bust out of an offensive slump. They did so in the first period, scoring three goals including two in the first three minutes, and went on to take Game 5 4-2 and keep their season alive. The Penguins now lead the series 3-2 and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals returns to San Jose Sunday night.
What was once a tight, relatively low-scoring series saw both teams explode for five goals in the first period alone. Though perhaps a little late in these finals, the Sharks showed why they ranked fourth in the NHL this season in goals per game to start the first period.
Sharks forward Logan Couture picked up the slack for the Sharks, netting a goal and two assists in the first period. He now has 29 points in these playoffs, tied for fourth most by a single player in the playoffs since 1997.
Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, the jack-of-all-trades in this game, opened the scoring when he pulled the puck out from behind the net and threw a shot short side that somehow got by Penguins goalie Matt Murray at 1:04 of the first period to drain the energy from the CONSOL Energy Center. It was the Sharks’ first lead of the entire finals.
Not to be outdone, Couture redirected a Justin Braun shot from the point at 2:53. Once again, the Penguins defense allowed the Sharks optimal positioning in front of their net.
The momentum quickly swung back in favour of the Penguins as Evgeni Malkin, who himself directed possession like a man possessed tonight, had his shot bounce off Justin Braun’s skate find the back of the net. Twenty two seconds later a Nick Bonino wrist shot bounced off Carl Hagelin past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones and we had the fastest four goals from both teams combined to start a Stanley Cup Finals game.
Finally, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was unable to handle Sharks forward Melker Karlsson’s shot from the slot at 14:47. Couture’s incredible no-look pass found Karlsson and the Sharks headed into the locker room with another lead.
Momentum is a funny thing, though. It then took the Sharks nearly six minutes to register their first shot of the second period. The Penguins dominated possession and scoring chances through the period, outshooting the Sharks 17 to 8. Jones had to stand on his head and protect the lead, making numerous quality stops including a save-of-the-series candidate off a Nick Bonino backhand.
As the Penguins’ relentless pressure kept up in the third period, Jones rose to the occasion and essentially saved the Sharks’ season. While the first period was certainly one of the most entertaining of these playoffs, Jones and his steady hand put on a clinic as the game wore on. The tremendous first period his Sharks had built eventually disappeared and the Sharks that we’ve become accustomed to these finals, with offensive chances few and far between, returned. Jones stopped 44 of 46 shots for the win.
Sharks forward Joe Pavelski added an empty-net tally, his first of the series, to ice the game.
The largest crowd to ever fit inside the CONSOL Energy Center (18,680) left disappointed, as did thousands and thousands more packed in the surroundings blocks outside the arena
With the win, the Sharks have amassed 34 regular and playoff road wins this season, which sets a new NHL record. Though momentum is now in the Sharks’ favour, a more complete performance through 60 minutes will be needed to eventually get to Game 7 and grab that elusive 35th road win, and the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.