James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Better late than never: Joel Ward sends Game 3 to OT

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Despite generating a plethora of chances, the San Jose Sharks looked like they were about to blow a huge double-minor power-play opportunity when they needed a goal so badly.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were mere seconds away from a huge four-minute penalty kill. Plenty of people are slamming Kris Letang for not sitting back on the play above, as Joel Ward eventually rifled home the 2-2 goal in the waning seconds of that PP opportunity.

It stands as the Sharks’ first power-play goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Ward has a knack for scoring big goals, really.

Again, Letang drew a lot of critiques, including from a former teammate:

Update: That 2-2 goal ended up sending Game 3 to overtime, marking the second straight contest to go beyond regulation.

Penguins grab another lead heading into third period

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The San Jose Sharks are finally finding a way to slow down the Pittsburgh Penguins attack and carry possession, but it remains to be seen if those answers are coming too late.

Again, San Jose really gave Pittsburgh some transitional fits in the second period in particular, limiting the Penguins to a mere six shots on goal (after Pittsburgh managed 14 in the opening frame).

Unfortunately for the Sharks, one of those shots came from the point, a dangerous place lately in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

After scoring the 1-0 goal in Game 3, Ben Lovejoy sent another shot after a nice keep-in; Patric Hornqvist did the rest by deflecting the 2-1 tally in.

(You can see the goal in the video above.)

We’ll see if that goal deflates a Sharks team staring down the barrel of a possible 3-0 series deficit. Again, San Jose hogged the puck as people grimaced at missed calls, yet the Penguins “won” the second period when you look solely at the score.

On the bright side, the Sharks only need one goal to tie things up, and it could very well come thanks to a seemingly harmless shot … at least if Game 3’s three goals are any indication.

https://twitter.com/TomGulittiNHL/status/739276534054162433

See the first two goals from the first period here.

Video: Marshawn Lynch brings ‘Beast Mode’ to 2016 Stanley Cup Final

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If you were to translate Marshawn Lynch’s running style to hockey, he’d probably be a power forward.

Both positions feature physically imposing, sometimes almost violent players, who somehow create offense while they also create havoc.

As you can see from the video above, the retired Seattle Seahawks RB was on hand to bring “Beast Mode” to the Shark Tank for Game 3 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. He even got a special “Beast Mode” name plate for his jersey.

This isn’t the only example of an NFL star hyping things up for his team during this series. While Lynch pledged his allegiance to the San Jose Sharks, superstar Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown reveled in the Penguins’ run.

Naturally, there was also a Golden State Warriors connection:

Video: Lovejoy opens scoring, Braun scores another big Sharks goal

San Jose Sharks fans made a ton of noise for the first-ever Stanley Cup Final contest at the Shark Tank (or SAP Center).

That noise didn’t last particularly long, however, as the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to impose their will in this series.

First, the Penguins’ depth players helped to stem some early Sharks pressure, eventually helping Conor Sheary draw a penalty. Pittsburgh didn’t score on that PP, yet Ben Lovejoy‘s fluttering shot bounced off of Roman Polak and beyond Martin Jones‘ reach for the 1-0 marker.

The struggles continue for Polak.

The Pens have managed the first goal in all three games in this series so far.

Meanwhile, the Sharks just managed their first shot on goal about eight minutes into the contest.

Update: Justin Braun forced overtime with a goal in Game 2 and found the net once again for the Sharks to make it 1-1, a big confidence-booster for San Jose.

Matt Murray didn’t even really see the puck, inspiring this excellent reference to an old MTV cartoon.

Joe Thornton grabbed an assist, his first point of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Moments later, Jones made a huge save on Phil Kessel, who was all alone.

File that if this ends up being another tight game.

Crosby: Penguins expect Sharks to be ‘really desperate’ in Game 3

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) The San Jose Sharks can take at least one positive out of losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh.

Despite being severely outplayed for almost the entire two games, the Sharks still managed to lose by only one goal with the game-winner coming in the final three minutes of Game 1 and in overtime in Game 2.

If the Sharks can somehow neutralize Pittsburgh’s decided edge in speed and get back to playing the style of play that got them this far for the first time ever they might be able to get back into the series when it shifts to San Jose for Game 3 on Saturday night.

“In the playoffs, things are magnified so much,” Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said Friday. “You lose a game and it’s a close game you think about a big opportunity that you let slide away. But when you go over the film and watch the games, it’s right there for us. We got better from Game 1. Game 2 was a lot better. We haven’t played our best hockey yet.”

The odds facing the Sharks are daunting. Of the 49 teams that have taken a 2-0 lead since the final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, 44 have won the Cup. Teams winning the first two games at home have won 33 of 36 series.

But the Penguins know better than to start planning any parades. Two of those three teams to rally after losing the first two games on the road have done it in the past seven years, including Pittsburgh itself in 2009 against Detroit. Boston also overcame a 2-0 deficit to Vancouver in 2011.

“We’ve talked about it,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who played on that 2009 team. “You expect a really desperate hockey team. They’re only focused on winning one game. All their energy and everything is toward just tomorrow night. We’ve all been in situations where you put all that energy and all that focus toward one game and you know they will be at their best.”

Outside of a strong second period in the opener and a good push late in regulation in Game 2 when San Jose tied the game and nearly scored the go-ahead goal, the Penguins have been the better team.

They have a 71-48 edge in shots on goal, considerably more dangerous scoring chances and have forced the Sharks defense into the kinds of mistakes they didn’t make the first three rounds.

“They’ve done a good job keeping the puck in their zone, using their forecheck and making it tough on us,” defenseman Justin Braun said. “We’ve had a little trouble sustaining pressure. We’ve been one and out. They’ve had a couple of chances. That’s been a big difference.”

With Pittsburgh also doing a good job staying out of the penalty box, San Jose’s potent power play has had only three chances through two games and delivered one of the team’s three goals.

The Sharks say those lack of chances have been more about their play then the calls by officials.

“We’re not giving ourselves that opportunity,” center Logan Couture said. “We’re not playing with the puck enough. We’re not forcing them to play in their zone tired. That’s when penalties usually happen, at the end of long shifts. It’s up to us as players to force them to play in their zone.”

The Sharks did generate more chances when coach Peter DeBoer shuffled his lines in the third period of Game 2, dropping Patrick Marleau from second-line wing to third-line center and moving Joel Ward up to the second line.

He switched them back for practice but did not say how he would utilize his lines in Game 3. Top-line winger Tomas Hertl also missed practice on Friday for what DeBoer described as “maintenance” but he didn’t commit to Hertl playing Saturday.

One change that will happen is the shift in venues. Pittsburgh last played out of the Eastern Time Zone on Jan. 18 in St. Louis and hasn’t been to the West Coast since Dec. 6 in Anaheim before Mike Sullivan took over as coach.

The Sharks will have last change and a loud crowd behind them for the first Stanley Cup Final game ever in San Jose.

“We expect a really hard start and a good team,” Penguins forward Nick Bonino said. “These last two games have been decided very late, each one. They’re a great team. They’re going to come out really hard and we’ll have to match that.”