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Stanley Cup Final Game 5: Five keys for Sharks vs. Penguins

PITTSBURGH – Will we see the Pittsburgh Penguins raise and skate the Stanley Cup tonight in Game 5?

Eh, who knows. But here are five key factors that will determine whether or not it happens as the San Jose Sharks fight for their playoff lives on Thursday night.

1. For Sharks, Score The First Goal

That the Sharks haven’t had a lead in this series is scripture at this point, and it remains one of the great mysteries of the Final: Can the Sharks carry play, dictate terms and/or set the tempo of Game 5 if they get on the scoreboard first?

“We've been chasing the game the whole series by not scoring first. That takes you out of your four-line rhythm. It affects all parts of your game.  We've been on the other end of that in the playoffs where we've jumped out to the lead on some teams and made them change their game,” said coach Peter DeBoer.

In Game 5, the Sharks want to flip that script.

Unless, of course, they don’t, in which case ...

2. Score The Next Goal Quick If You Don’t Score the First Goal

One of the things that went very right in the Sharks’ 3-2 win in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final was Justin Braun responding to the Penguins’ first goal of the game just 4:05 later in the first period.

So if they don’t get a lead, the Sharks want to make sure that the Penguins don’t establish their game by holding it for long. “We want to play aggressive. Getting that first one would be nice. But if we don’t, scoring pretty quickly after they score,” said defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

3. Shots vs. Blocks

The Penguins have 58 blocked shots in their last two games vs. just 24 in the first two games of the series. It’s gotten into the Sharks’ heads, as they’re passing up chances to shoot in the offensive zone out of fear of turning the puck over. Their coach says that’s something that needs to change.

“I think there's no bad shots for us. I think even if it gets blocked, a lot of times we can recover it. We're going to keep our shooting mentality and keep firing,” said DeBoer.

4. The PK

The Sharks are 1-for-8 on the power play in this series, which is an indictment of their inability to draw calls, the Penguins’ dominant puck possession but also the quality of the penalty kill for Pittsburgh.

The power play was the lifeblood of the Sharks prior to this series, with an NHL-best 17 power-play goals. The Penguins have made their power play a non-factor here. Can that continue?

Finally…

5. No Parade Planning

Try as they might, you could still see some smiles sneaking through the game faces of Penguins players as they spoke before Game 5.

“It’s hard. Everyone’s aware of the situation. You just try to live in the moment as best you can,” said defenseman Ian Cole.

So the real key in Game 5 is for the Penguins to play like it’s Game 2. Don’t think about the coronation everyone’s predicted because the play and the odds have been in your favor. Don’t think about the Stanley Cup being wheeled into the arena. Don’t plan the parade in your mind when nothing’s been won yet.

That’s the real challenge for the Penguins. Oh, and of course scoring the first goal and beating a team for a fourth time in what’s essentially been 210 minutes of margin-of-error hockey.

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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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