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Sharks stay loose, ready to battle for survival in Game 5

PITTSBURGH – So I asked Joel Ward: If I played a drinking game where I took a shot whenever scoring the first goal of Game 5 was mentioned in a San Jose Sharks’ team meeting, how drunk would I be right now? 

“Depends on your tolerance, I guess.”

I informed him I’m part Irish.

“OK, so pretty good then”

Laughs aside, it’s one of the primary topics for the Sharks, whether it was after their Game 4 defeat or in their team meetings before Game 5. They’ve never scored the first goal in any game of this series. They’ve never had the lead in this series. That has to change if the Sharks are going to avoid elimination.

“We’ve talked about it. They’ve gone out to a lead on us in a couple of games here. But we’ve had chances. We’ve battled. It’s a matter of sticking with it, believing in it and knowing that the process can kick in at any moment,” said Ward. 

If nothing else, the Sharks have faith in their system and their abilities, despite the Pittsburgh Penguins’ success in minimizing both with a stifling defensive effort, building a 3-1 Stanley Cup Final series lead entering Thursday’s Game 5.

“I think the one thing about our group is there's a lot of belief in our game and in each other,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “The other thing about our group is they've been on the other side, up 3-0, saw how quickly that vanished against L.A. three or four years ago.  We have some guys that vividly remember that. They know how quickly a win can turn the momentum.”

Defenseman Paul Martin played for a Pittsburgh Penguins team that saw a 3-1 series lead disappear against the New York Rangers in 2014, with the Rangers winning Game 5 on the road. He remembers the feeling of seeing a team suddenly climb back into a series.

“Any game after a good win, there’s a momentum swing. A mental process to it. ‘There goes one game. There goes the momentum. And they’re pushing and we need to be better,’” he said. “You have to get that first win. A lot can happen after that.”

The plane ride from San Jose to Pittsburgh wasn’t tension-filled. It wasn’t dramatically different from any of the numerous other ones the Sharks have taken. The same routines. The same goofy moments. “We’re the same group from Game 1 to one hundred or whatever we’re at,” said Ward.

That was evident on the ice during Wednesday’s practice, too. “This group is like that every day all year. I'm glad that I saw that today. You're never sure, considering the circumstances,” said DeBoer, before calling out defenseman Brent Burns. “I would have been worried had they come in quiet or dragging a little bit. That was their usual. Burnsy was an ass out there running around. It was business as usual.”

But it is, of course, business on Thursday night. The Sharks will decide if the doors remain open, or if they’re closing up shop for the season.

“It’s do or die for us. We have to approach it that way. Throw everything we got,” said forward Nick Spaling.

“It’s a long game. And it’s going to be a long series.”

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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