Brent Burns checks Sidney Crosby. (Getty Images)
It is time for the San Jose Sharks to man up and play some big boy hockey, that rough and tumble style the Western Conference has come to be known for.
It is time for the San Jose Sharks to man up and play some big boy hockey. You know, that rough and tumble style the Western Conference has come to be known for.
Thus far in the Stanley Cup final, the Sharks have been way too passive in their approach to trying to knock off the Pittsburgh Penguins. After displaying superior physicality against the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues en route to the final, the Sharks suddenly look like a bunch of creampuffs.
Granted, San Jose defenceman Brent Burns took a serious run at Penguins right winger and Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Phil Kessel in Game 2 – Burns missed, but surely got a wide-eyed Kessel’s attention – but otherwise the Sharks have yet to engage physically in this series. In actual fact, through two games the Sharks have out-hit the Penguins 79-72, but they have not come close to slowing down or intimidating the blazing fast series leaders. To the naked eye the Sharks have not enjoyed a significant physical advantage over the Penguins no matter what the numbers say.
By no means am I suggesting the Sharks go all Broad Street Bullies on the Penguins, even if the referees in the final continue to "let the players decide it." Crossing the line too often and putting Pittsburgh on the power play would be certain hockey suicide. However, ratcheting up the nastiness now that the series has switched to their home turf could be the way to go for the Sharks. Trying to match the Penguins stride-for-stride has gotten them nowhere.
It is time for the likes of Burns, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joel Ward, Nick Spaling, Paul Martin, Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon to start kicking a little sand in the faces of the Penguins top stars. Martin and Polak in particular are struggling to keep pace with Penguins so getting more physical could be their only chance of survival.
The Sharks knew entering the playoffs that getting out of the Western Conference was going to be a physical grind. Teams are built differently in the West than they are in the East. The physical nature of the game is so much more prevalent than it is in the Eastern Conference where speed is the name of the game.
The Sharks series against the Kings, Predators and Blues were a survival of the fittest. The Blues tried to run the Sharks out of the rink in the Western Conference Final and instead found themselves facing a formidable foe.
Following their first round victory against the Kings, the Sharks were described as a high-scoring, volume-shooting, puck-possession team. Thus far in the final, they have been anything but. Pittsburgh has out-shot San Jose 71-48.
Now the deck is stacked against the Sharks. Teams that have won the first two games of the Stanley Cup final are 44-5. It is not impossible to bounce back, but it is highly improbable.
That said, in 2009 the Penguins lost the first two games of the final to the Detroit Red Wings, but bounced back to win the series in seven games. You can bet that will be a topic of conversation in the Penguins dressing room prior to Game 3.
As it stands, the Penguins are in control because there has been no pushback by the Sharks. Sidney Crosby rules the ice every time he hops over the boards, Evgeni Malkin is getting stronger as the playoffs progress and the Penguins dynamic third line of Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin is proving to be unstoppable. Since March 13 the trio has combined for 36 goals and 83 points in 35 games.
It is time for the Sharks to drag the game into the alley, get down and dirty. Playing their first Stanley Cup final game ever at home should provide them with a significant boost in energy. It is what they do with the added jolt that will decide if they can get back in the series or not. Certainly the Sharks have enough experience on their roster that trailing 2-0 in a series with the next two games at home is not insurmountable. The thing about the Penguins top stars, Crosby and Malkin, is when they are engaged physically they do not back down. Perhaps trying to get under their skin a little bit will allow for a change in the tone of the final. It’s certainly worth a try.
As San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said following Game 2, “Game 1 was decided in the last two minutes and tonight’s was an overtime game so I think we’ll hold off on the funeral. We’ve got a lot of hockey left to play.”
That may be true, but unless San Jose comes up with a new approach, the Sharks are doomed.