Vancouver Canucks v San Jose Sharks - Game Four

Joe Thornton will be in the Sharks lineup in Game 5, but he can’t win it alone

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While the differences between this year’s playoff run and previous campaigns with San Jose have been exaggerated, Joe Thornton really has been playing tremendous hockey for the Sharks in the 2011 playoffs. He is currently tied for second place in postseason points scoring with 17, already the best playoff output of his impressive NHL career.

Yet one of the underrated elements to his breakthrough is the free feeling that comes with knowing that other players will contribute. While Thornton had some solid linemates (even if some of them flamed out, like Jonathan Cheechoo) over the years, most of the Sharks teams didn’t have much scoring depth beyond his top line.

San Jose is now very strong down the middle thanks to a full season at the NHL level for talented rookie pivot Logan Couture and another solid campaign by Joe Pavelski. Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley give the team an imposing set of scoring wingers as well. (At least when all of these players are achieving at their expected levels.)

Just like we discussed yesterday, Thornton will indeed play in Game 5 tonight, according to Tim Panaccio. Ray Ratto asks an important question, though: will his teammates show up, too? (In the figurative sense, mind you, since Pavelski and Heatley rank among the struggling Sharks.)

The unsaid truth here is that San Jose’s future Tuesday is going to hinge not on the breadth of Thornton’s back, but on the support staff that hasn’t been very supportive in this series.

And getting that level of more across what has been a fairly thin board?

“We often say that as a coaching staff about individual players: ‘What more can we do with them?’” he said. “That’s a copout as a coaching staff.  We have to find ways to make them better, help them.  There’s a real good lesson I learned in Minnesota’s organization.  Doug Risebrough (the former general manager there) said, You always have to try to find a way.”

The Sharks watched the Detroit Red Wings march back from a 3-0 series deficit to nearly beat them in the second round. Perhaps they’ll take lessons from the way the Red Wings conducted themselves in that series, especially since Detroit’s own elite center Pavel Datsyuk was far from 100 percent himself.

Thornton is showing the guts to fight through a shoulder injury that might lessen his ability to take good shots and win faceoffs. Will his teammates have the guts to pick up the slack and keep their season alive?

Sullivan calls it a ‘blindside hit to the head,’ but Marleau doesn’t think suspension’s coming

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PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the first controversial incident of the Stanley Cup Final.

Patrick Marleau‘s illegal check to the head on Bryan Rust — one that earned Marleau a minor penalty, and forced Rust to exit the game — left Rust day-to-day with an upper-body injury, per Pens head coach Mike Sullivan.

When asked what he thought of the hit, Sullivan was blunt.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

Marleau wasn’t saying much about the incident following the game, but did suggest he wasn’t expecting supplemental discipline:

“I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

It’ll be interesting to see what transpires. There hasn’t been a suspension in the Stanley Cup Final since Vancouver’s Aaron Rome was given a four-game ban for his massive hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton.

Marleau has no history with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

It should be mentioned the DoPS has been fairly active this spring, handing down five suspensions, including a pair of three-gamers to Brooks Orpik and Brayden Schenn.

Bonino scores late, role guys star again as Pens take Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — If this playoff run has proven anything, it’s that the Penguins are more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Tonight only reaffirmed it.

Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino did all the scoring on Monday, with Bonino’s late marker the winner as Pittsburgh defeated San Jose 3-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino’s goal, his fourth of the playoffs, came with just over two minutes remaining, capping off a quality opener in which both teams carried play for long stretches.

Rust and Sheary punctuated a dominant opening period for the Penguins — they out-shot the Sharks 15-4 — but the Sharks replied with a stellar second frame, equalizing on goals from Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau.

That set the stage for a dramatic third, and the Bonino goal.

That he, Rust and Sheary did the scoring for Pittsburgh was fitting. There’d been plenty of talk heading into this series about role players coming up large, to the point where the American Hockey League sent out a press release noting that 23 of 25 Penguins that’ve played in the playoffs thus far came through Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, highlighting this spring’s “big four” of Rust, Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray.

Rust etched himself into Pittsburgh lore in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Lightning.

Murray’s exploits are pretty well-known. The 22-year-old was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6 of the ECF, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

He was good again on Monday, with 24 saves on 26 shots.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, scored his third goal of the playoffs tonight. Kuhnhackl tied a team high with eight hits.

As such, Pittsburgh has to be thrilled about how tonight went. They held up home ice and got contributions from across the board — the only downer has to be the health of Rust, who twice exited the contest after taking a hit to the head from Marleau.

As for the Sharks… well, this one will sting a bit. The club did remarkably well to rally from a two-goal deficit and carried play in the second period, but can’t be pleased.

They were beaten in the possession game and out-shot badly (41-26), things head coach Peter DeBoer wanted to control against Pittsburgh, a team he considers the fastest in the league.

That said, there are positives moving forward. Martin Jones was outstanding in his Stanley Cup Final debut, with 38 saves on 41 shots, and there’s still a chance to get the split on Wednesday night.

Of course, to do that, the Sharks will have to figure out how to slow down Pittsburgh’s role players.

Video: Patrick Marleau gets minor penalty for hit on Bryan Rust

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Patrick Marleau made a big impact with the 2-2 goal in Game 1, yet a hit he delivered on Bryan Rust might draw more attention.

With the score tied 2-2, Marleau was whistled for a minor penalty for “illegal check to the head” on Rust. The Pittsburgh Penguins power play was not able to score on the San Jose Sharks during that two-minute power play.

Rust left the bench for a short period of time, yet he returned to action.

Some believe that Marleau deserves a look from the Department of Player Safety for the check. Others wonder if it should have been a penalty at all.

Watch the video above and check out the GIFs below to decide for yourself:

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.