Sharks vs. Penguins: Keys to Victory in Game 2 of NHL Playoff Series

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJune 1, 2016

Sharks vs. Penguins: Keys to Victory in Game 2 of NHL Playoff Series

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    The San Jose Sharks are looking to rebound from a disappointing opening-game performance when they line up against the Pittsburgh Penguins once again in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night.

    A confident Penguins team controlled Game 1 on its way to a 3-2 win. Pittsburgh jumped out to an early lead and dominated puck possession for two of three periods.

    The Penguins' success came largely thanks to their impressive speed game, but the Sharks can take comfort in the fact that while they may not have played their best hockey, the difference on the scoresheet was only a single goal.

    Puck drop for Game 2 is set for 8 p.m. ET at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Here are the keys to victory for each team.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Keep the Sharks on Their Heels

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    The Penguins came out of the gate with an aggressive style in Game 1, outshooting the Sharks 15-4 in the opening frame and building a 2-0 lead that could have been even bigger if it hadn't been for sharp netminding from Martin Jones.

    The Sharks fought back to tie the game in the second period but were unable to contain Pittsburgh in the third. The Penguins finished the night with 41 shots on Jones—the highest number of shots that he has faced in any game in the playoffs. That 41st shot, by Nick Bonino with two minutes, 33 seconds to play in the third period, proved to be the dagger that turned into the game-winning goal.

    After being overwhelmed for long stretches on Monday night, San Jose should be better prepared to withstand the Pittsburgh attack in Game 2. If the Penguins can once again control the flow of the play and generate some quality early scoring chances, they'll have a good chance to build a commanding 2-0 series lead.

San Jose Sharks: Act Like You've Been There Before

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Monday night marked the first-ever appearance for the Sharks in a Stanley Cup Final game, and it showed.

    Western Conference teams often toil away from the bright glare of the national spotlight. The hoopla surrounding the Final, such as Sunday's media day and the detailed breakdown of hot topics like Joe Thornton's beard-grooming techniques, may have distracted Thornton and his teammates from the true task at hand—outplaying the Penguins on the ice.

    The Sharks have shown impressive resiliency in these playoffs, rebounding to win after all but one of their postseason losses to date. Better focus could lead to a better result on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Get Bryan Rust Back in the Lineup

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Rookie Bryan Rust has come up big for the Penguins in these playoffs, scoring twice when the Penguins eliminated the New York Rangers in Game 5 of Round 1, then scoring the only two goals in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Rust's sixth goal of the playoffs opened the scoring against the Sharks and set a Penguins record for rookie playoff scoring, according to NHL Public Relations. In the third period on Monday night, he was knocked out of the game after taking a hit to the head from Patrick Marleau, who received only a two-minute minor penalty on the play.

    According to Brent Wallace of TSN, Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan says Rust is a game-time decision after taking part in Wednesday's morning skate—a promising report. The best-case scenario is that Rust will be fit to play in Game 2.

San Jose Sharks: Counter the Penguins' Speed

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    The Penguins' best weapon in Game 1 was their team speed, which they used to bear down relentlessly on the Sharks. 

    San Jose is capable of countering with a similar game, which could be boosted by Matt Nieto's return to the lineup.

    The winger suffered an upper-body injury during Game 6 of Round 2 against the Nashville Predators but has been cleared to return to action and is expected to play on Wednesday, according to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times.

    Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area points out that Nieto is one of the fastest skaters on the Sharks roster, a trait that should help his team as he slots back onto San Jose's third line with Joel Ward and Chris Tierney.

    “When I have my legs going, I’m getting in on the forecheck and backchecking, and playing good two-way hockey," Nieto told Kurz on Tuesday. "If my name is called, I’ll be ready to do all those things.” 

Pittsburgh Penguins: HBK Line Keeps Firing

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    One of the Penguins' most effective weapons during these playoffs has been the newly christened HBK Line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel.

    All three players are in their first year in Pittsburgh. They clicked instantly when Hagelin was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for David Perron and Adam Clendening on Jan. 16, just over a month after Mike Sullivan took over as head coach.

    Sullivan's Penguins were a pedestrian 5-6-4 before Hagelin was acquired. After the trade, they caught fire, posting a 28-10-1 record over the last three months of the regular season. The Penguins ended the regular season in fourth place in the overall NHL standings, setting the stage for their impressive playoff run.

    While Sullivan has shuffled players around on his other lines, the HBK crew has remained intact throughout the playoffs, with impressive results. All three are among Pittsburgh's top five scorers—Kessel leads the way with nine goals and 18 points, and Bonino has become a cult hero thanks to his two game-winning goals.

    The trio have great chemistry together—and as a third-line unit, it's been able to win its matchup game on most nights. Keep an eye out for it to contribute again in Game 2.

San Jose Sharks: Key off the Power Play

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    The quickest way for the Sharks to fire up their playoff-best offense would be to draw some penalties.

    San Jose went 1-of-2 with the man advantage on Monday night, with Tomas Hertl getting his team on the scoreboard early in the second period while Ian Cole served a hooking penalty. 

    In the playoffs so far, the Sharks have scored a league-leading 65 goals—18 of them on the power play. Logan Couture leads all players with 11 power-play points, while Brent Burns is second with 10 and Joe Pavelski is tied for third with nine.

    The Penguins have been short-handed 57 times in their first 19 playoff games and have given up 10 power-play goals against for a just OK penalty-kill success rate of 82.5 percent, according to NHL.com.

    Officials often have a tendency to put their whistles away in the late stages of the playoffs, but if the Sharks can goad the Penguins into some undisciplined play, that would set them up to capitalize on the scoresheet.