San Jose vs. Los Angeles: No Need for Veteran Sharks to Panic in 3-2 Hole
If the Sharks lose at home in Sunday's Game 6, the team will have failed to reach the Western Conference Final for the sixth time in the Joe Thornton era (eight seasons from 2005-06 through 2013).
But even after a very difficult loss in a crucial Game 5, there are plenty of reasons for this Sharks team to feel confident about its chances of extending this series to a deciding seventh game.
The series will once again shift to the HP Pavilion in San Jose, where the Sharks have been nearly unbeatable this season with a 21-2-5 record, including a 4-0 mark in the playoffs. The Sharks have scored an average 3.25 goals at home during the playoffs, compared to just 1.8 goals scored on the road.
But the real advantage that San Jose has had at home during the regular season and the playoffs has been on the power play. Even though the Sharks have played just four games at HP Pavilion in the postseason, they still lead the league with 11 power-play goals at home.
In its only two wins of this second-round series, both of which were at home, San Jose converted on three of its nine opportunities with the man advantage. Both of these victories included game-winning goals from star center Logan Couture on the power play.
Special teams is always a key factor in the outcome of every playoff series, and this matchup has been no different. For whatever reason, the Sharks' success on special teams is far greater when they play on home ice.
With the support of the rabid Sharks fans giving the team plenty of energy on Sunday, there is a strong chance that San Jose will bring a ton of energy and a high level of effort to the first period of Game 6.
The Sharks have outscored opponents 5-2 in the first period at home during the playoffs, and when this team goes into the first intermission with a lead, it's 4-0 during the postseason.
Not only are the Sharks a better team at home than on the road, the Kings have played far worse away from the Staples Center compared to their performance on home ice during the playoffs.
Here are some notable road stats from L.A.'s postseason run thus far:
Another reason why the Sharks should not panic after losing Game 5 is because of the fact that this has been a very close series. They have not been severely outplayed through five games, and if San Jose didn't give up two power-play goals in the final two minutes of Game 2 in Los Angeles, the Sharks would have a 3-2 series advantage with a chance to close out the Kings.
This is still a very winnable series for the Sharks, especially since starting goaltender Antti Niemi has been fantastic in the playoffs thus far.
Through nine games, he has a .929 save percentage and a 1.95 GAA, both of which would be career playoff highs if they were his final stats of the postseason. Niemi gave the Sharks a chance to win Game 5 by allowing only two goals and making some brilliant saves in the first and second periods.
Given his impressive success at home against the Kings in this series (2-0 with two goals allowed), the Sharks can rely on Niemi to give the team a big performance on Sunday. He has Stanley Cup-winning experience and knows what it takes to win high-pressure games.
San Jose will have to win at the Staples Center one time to end Los Angeles' Stanley Cup defense and reach the Western Conference Final, but the focus right now is to continue its dominance on home ice.
If the Sharks take care of business in front of their hometown fans on Sunday, they will be a confident group playing with house money in Game 7. In that situation, all of the pressure would be on the Kings as the home team with its championship defense on the line.
Who will win Game 6?
As a team with a strong veteran core that has a lot of experience in closeout games, the Sharks will have plenty of confidence and focus in Game 6. They played their worst game of the playoffs on Thursday, but this team has done a great job of turning the page, not panicking and focusing on the next challenge all season.
For veteran players such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, this year's postseason run is one of their last quality opportunities to win a Stanley Cup in San Jose. Both players' contracts are set to expire at the end of next year (per Capgeek), and their future with the team beyond 2013-14 is uncertain right now.
These players will be highly motivated to extend their season by another game, and as the leaders of this team, Thornton and Marleau will help the Sharks win Game 6 and force a deciding seventh game back in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
San Jose has let its fans down plenty of times over the last few years with disappointing playoff exits, but there won't be another heartbreaking ending on Sunday.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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