The almost extinct Sharks swimmingly return to San Jose Sunday alive — if not thriving — for Game 6 of the suddenly pulsating Stanley Cup Final, after escaping Pittsburgh with a 4-2 triumph.
In their wake, these Skating Fish leave dozens of unopened champagne bottles, the contents of which were to be swilled by the hoped-to-be victorious Penguins in the Consol Energy Center dressing room.
Sorry about that, Sir Sidney Crosby.
Now the bubbly stuff must await the outcome of events at SAP Center in San Jose where a zany crowd will seek new levels of noise to spur Patrick Marleau and friends to a seventh and final game.
If nothing else, what coach Peter DeBoer’s Californians demonstrated on Thursday night on the Penguins iceberg is that they found both the will and the way to at least temporarily derail Pittsburgh’s Cup Express.
For that, the Sharks can thank forward Logan Couture, and the calm, cool and indefatigable goaltending of Martin Jones who, arguably, played the game of his young life.
This unexpected outcome — remember, The Maven had picked Pittsburgh in five games — began early in the first period and stunned the home crowd to the very core.
Brent Burns — he of the House of David beard — beat Pitt’s not-so-impregnable goalie Matt Murray short side from along the goal line.
From the visitors’ viewpoint, this was monumental and could be a portent of things to come.
“This was the first time we took the lead in any game of this series,” exults DeBoer, “and that’s what we wanted to accomplish. It meant a lot to us.”
With the pendulum swinging in their favor, DeBoer’s brigade doubled the score when Couture — standing at the doorstep — deflected a Justin Braun shot from the blue line past the now-mortal-and-getting-worse Murray.
Ah, but the “Dreaded Two-Goal Lead” boomeranged right into the Sharks snout, as the Penguins lit up their home crowd with a pair of goals.
For another club, this could have been the killer, but San Jose’s Skaters shifted into yet another higher gear.
This time, Melker Karlsson — pinch-hitting for the injured Tomas Hertl — beat Murray and his teammates were ahead to stay — Jones, of course, permitting.
Not having a kitchen sink, torpedoes, nor illuminated pucks, the Penguins tossed just about everything else at the irrepressible Jones.
Even the “everything else” was rejected, including those lonely champagne bottles in the back of the Pitt dressing and the even lonelier Stanley Cup being guarded by the NHL Police.
“Marty (Jones) has been the backbone of our team,” chortles Jumbo Joe Thornton through his flag-size beard. “We feel so much confidence coming out of him. He was spectacular.”
Jones totaled 44 saves on 46 shots. Among his collection of gem-stops was a second-period lallapalooza off the stick of Nick Bonino after Jones foiled Phil Kessel’s initial wrister.
Now, wouldn’t it be neat if the Sharks rubber-stopping magician can repeat the feat in Game 6? It could happen.
“We needed some big games from our key guys,” adds DeBoer. “Jones is one of those guys. He was fantastic and gave us a chance in a tough environment.”
In this series where it’s often a one-on-one battle — Jones vs. Murray — the Sharks currently boast the better netminder heading to the Left Coast.
Getting the first goal on Sunday could be as important as it was in Game 5.
“We liked our start,” says Jones. “We didn’t want to chase too much, just stick with what was working. We got pucks deep and more success on the forecheck.”
By contrast, Murray allowed three goals on 21 shots, looking somewhere between average and mediocre. Maybe a bit jittery, depending on your viewpoint.
“I figured he would be a little nervous with what’s at stake,” notes Couture, who completed the win with a goal and two assists. “We were able to get a couple by him early.”
Much-maligned Sharks captain Joe Pavelski further poured rain on the hoped-for Penguins parade, delivering an open-netter with 80 seconds left in the third. It was his first goal of the series.
“Our hockey club hasn’t quit all year,” asserts Jones, “and we’re not going to start now. There’s still a long way to go — an uphill battle — but we’re going to fight to the very end.”
One could say that these Sharks smell blood and are eager to take another bite out of the Penguins Cup hopes on Sunday.
Without actually saying it, anyone in the winner’s room could sense that the San Jose theme song heading into Game 6 on Sunday emphatically is, “We Did It Before And We Can Do It Again!”
And if they do, well, WHEEEE!
You know the rest.