(Reuters) - In dire need of a Stanley Cup revival back at home in the Shark Tank, San Jose prepare to host the Pittsburgh Penguins when the National Hockey League Finals resume on Saturday.
With the Penguins sweeping the opening two games of the best-of-seven on their home ice, the Sharks need to snap into focus at the SAP Center to get back on track in their first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
“Game One was decided in the last few minutes. Tonight is an overtime game,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said after Wednesday’s 2-1 sudden-death loss.
“I think we’ll hold off on the funeral. We have a lot of hockey left to play.”
But to say the Sharks need to win Game Three is an understatement.
DeBoer no doubt will take solace in the achievement two years ago of the Los Angeles Kings, who lost the first three games in a first-round playoff series before coming back to win the series 4-3.
The team that lost that series was none other than San Jose.
Not that the Sharks would want to take their chances. Only four teams in NHL history have overturned such a deficit in a seven-game series.
The Sharks fell into a hole on Wednesday when rookie Conor Sheary, 23, ended Game Two with a goal at 2:35 of overtime on a set play off a faceoff won by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
The Sharks, struggling to get into offensive gear, find themselves in a hole in their first Final in 24 years as an NHL franchise.
“We can’t be frustrated,” said Sharks defense man Marc-Edouard Vlasic. “We know we’re so close. We’re going to go home. You’re only out when you lose four games, not two.”
After the Game Two loss, San Jose’s Logan Couture complained that Crosby was given leeway by officials in jockeying before the puck was dropped in the critical face-off.
“He cheats,” Couture said. “He gets away with that ... He times them and yet they don’t kick him out for some reason; probably because of who he is.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan shrugged off the Shark attack on Crosby.
“Listen, all centers that go in there and take faceoffs, they’re trying to get an edge,” Sullivan told reporters on Thursday.
“That’s just the reality of it. They’re doing the same things our guys are doing ... trying to figure out a way to get an edge and be successful. “Sid isn’t doing anything their guys aren’t doing. Quite honestly, it really isn’t worthy of a response.”
The odds are stacked against the Sharks, who were only 18-20-3 at home this past season against 28-10-3 on the road.
Home teams have swept the opening two games of the Stanley Cup Final 36 times since the series went to a best-of-seven format in 1939, and won the championship 33 times (91.7 percent).
Two of those losses, however, have come in the last seven years, when Pittsburgh overcame Detroit in 2009, and Boston hauled in Vancouver in 2011.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both