PITTSBURGH – Perhaps the best number that demonstrates the Sharks’ playoff success is this: In 18 playoff games, San Jose is outscoring its opponents by a more than two-to-one margin in the third period, 29-14.
The team’s ability to consistently roll four lines and three defense pairs has likely played a role in that regard, as everyone remains fresh from the opening puck drop to the final horn.
“To have six D and manage the minutes like that, I think it helps in the long run,” Paul Martin said on Monday, hours before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Still, the Penguins are easily the best offense the Sharks will face so far in the postseason, averaging 3.22 goals-per-game in eliminating the Rangers, Capitals and Lightning. They’re fast, they’re skilled, and they can score in bunches.
The Sharks’ third defense pair of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak has played admirably in the playoffs, and each is averaging more than 15 minutes a night. But they’ve also had a tendency to play in their end for some stretches, as reflected by their shot attempt percentage. Polak checks in at 44.0 percent, while Dillon is a team-low 42.3 percent. They are also the only two Sharks players with a minus rating.
Whether the Sharks shorten their bench on the defensive side against the Penguins, especially on the road, will be something to monitor in Game 1. But don’t expect it, according to coach Pete DeBoer.
“We're not changing anything from what got us here,” DeBoer said, emphatically. “Regardless of who we're playing or the schedule, what point in the season we're at, we're going to play the same way we've played the entire year and the entire playoffs.”
DeBoer’s trust in his entire bench, of course, has worked very well so far.
“I think it’s something that when someone has confidence in you, that confidence in yourself grows, too,” Dillon said. “We’ve talked before each series, it's all of us making sure we’re doing our best to bring what we can.”
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DeBoer is making his second trip to the Stanley Cup Final, losing with New Jersey in 2012. He’s used the phrase “business as usual” countless times throughout the current run, and said it again on Monday when asked how he’s going to approach the team before many of them play in their first ever game in the final round.
“I think our approach all along has been business as usual,” he said. “Even at the different points of adversity, facing elimination [in Game 7] against Nashville, we didn't change. There was no magic speeches. There was no big line combination changes or roster changes or changes to our system.
“There's a belief in what we do and the people we have. We're going to keep rolling that out until someone hands us a Cup or tells us to go home.”
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Martin, of course, was a part of the Penguins last season, the final year of his five-year run in black and gold. He offered his take on what’s changed with their style of play under coach Mike Sullivan, who was hired on December 12 to replace Mike Johnston.
“I think Sullivan is playing a little more up-tempo then maybe they were with Johnston, as far as the defensive part of the game,” Martin said.
The Sharks and Penguins haven’t seen one another since Dec. 1. Since then, the Penguins added a number of players to their roster that have contributed, especially up front. San Jose was without an injured Logan Couture for both games.
“We haven’t seen a lot of these guys. I’m sure they haven’t seen a lot of us,” Dillon said. “It will be interesting to see how the first period, period-and-a-half goes. I think at the end of the day we’ve got to stick to what’s made us successful in this postseason, and just keep rolling with it.”
Sullivan said the Penguins’ coaching staff spends the majority of its time on its own game, but added: “Certainly when you play a team like San Jose, that we haven't seen in a while, we spent more time trying to familiarize ourselves with their tendencies.”
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Matt Nieto remains out for Game 1, while Pittsburgh's Nick Bonino - who didn't skate for the past few days after blocking a shot in Game 7 against Tampa Bay - is expected to play.