(Reuters) - The San Jose Sharks have been the NHL’s ultimate road warrior this season and will need to pack their A-game when they travel to Pittsburgh to the face the Penguins on Thursday in what could be the Stanley Cup decider.
The Sharks, who trail the best-of-seven series 3-1, will be determined to play the spoiler role with the Penguins eager to celebrate a Stanley Cup victory on home ice after each of their three previous championships were clinched on the road.
”We want to win one game and get a Game Six back here at home,“ Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters on Tuesday. ”I think we would be comfortable in that spot that we could get it to go seven.
“Short-term we’ve got to go in and win one road game. We’ve been the best road team in the league all year. It’s not going to be easy.”
The Sharks, who have logged more air miles this season than any other team, posted the NHL’s best away record this season with a franchise-best 28 road wins and have continued to excel away from the SAP Center during the playoffs.
But the challenge ahead is a daunting one for the Sharks as only one team - the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs - have erased a 3-1 series deficit in the final and won the Cup.
While the odds may favor the Penguins, the team are not taken anything for granted.
”We have to try to do our best to ignore some of the noise surrounding the group,“ said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. ”I think our players are well aware of it.
“Our players are excited to be in the position we’re in, but by no means do we think that we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do.”
Home or away what the Sharks must do is rediscover their scoring touch which has disappeared under a suffocating Pittsburgh defense and the sparkling play of rookie netminder Matt Murray, who has picked up 14 playoff wins.
Coming into the finals the San Jose attack was firing on all cylinders, potting 63 goals in 18 playoff contests, but have managed just seven in the NHL’s championship round.
The Sharks big guns have shown little bite in the crunch. Joe Pavelski leads all players with 13 playoff goals this year but has not collected a point against the Penguins. And Logan Couture, the postseason’s leading scorer with 26 points, has just two assists in four games versus Pittsburgh.
”I thought every game we’ve created a little bit more chances to score,“ said DeBoer. ”I think our big guys have gotten more shots off and more looks as the series has gone on.
“But you can’t change the fact that we’ve played behind the entire series. That’s something that we have to get fixed.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue