Pittsburgh Penguins (even) at San Jose Sharks (-120, 5 o/u)
The door was all but closed on the San Jose Sharks’ (14-9, 7-3 home) first chance at a Stanley Cup, needing a win in hostile territory just to extend the series to six games. When a team is backed into a corner, it’s commonplace to look to veterans to lead the way out of trouble; but the Sharks are anything but commonplace.
San Jose extended the series with a 4-2 win. But instead of Joe Thornton or Joe Pavelski sparking the team’s rally, it was third-year goalie (and first-year starter) Martin Jones with a performance for the ages.
In just his first season with the Sharks, Jones had already cemented a legacy for himself by helping this team to the finals. After his 44-save performance in Game 5, he’ll go down in playoff lore if the Sharks can rally back to win the series. They’ll try to continue their march to history tomorrow at the SAP Center (8:00 PM Eastern) when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins (15-8, 6-4 road) in Game 6.
For the most part, Game 5 looked like every other game this series; the Penguins dominated play and tempo, outshooting the Sharks 46-22. But this time, the Sharks jumped out to their first lead of the series, scoring two quick ones on Matt Murray. After the first period ended with San Jose up 3-2, the rest was up to Jones. Pittsburgh’s best shooters threw everything on net, but the 26-year-old stood tall.
It would seem unfair to ask for another performance like that from Jones, but so far it’s been necessary for the Sharks to win in this series. Both their victories came in games when Jones made 40 or more saves. It’s not like San Jose hasn’t been active in their own end either; they blocked 17 shots in Game 5.
The fact is, their puck possession has been terrible as has their powerplay. Two of their slumping stars finally hit the scoresheet in Game 5. Brent Burns got his first of the series on a softy from Murray, while Pavelski got off the schneid with an empty-net goal late in the game. Will that alone rebuild his confidence after being a spectator for most of the series?
Unless there is a fundamental change in the Sharks’ approach, they’ can’t expect to win next game, let alone two in a row. Getting drastically outplayed and hoping Murray has a bad game is not a recipe for success. Another factor going against them: the Penguins have lost back-to-back games just once dating back to January 16.
Pittsburgh fans were no doubt disappointed that their team couldn’t clinch the Cup on home ice, but I think they’d rather wrap the series up in six than run the risk of a Game 7 at home. As a bettor, you too should take the Pens on the road, where the price is more favorable.
Pick: Penguins (even).
(Photo credit: Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)