PITTSBURGH – Pete DeBoer had some fun at the media’s expense Thursday morning.
“I think our group’s whole motivation is to make all you guys get on a plane and go back to San Jose again,” the Sharks coach cracked.
Not only are the San Jose Sharks and goalie Martin Jones — especially Jones — forcing hundreds of reporters to trek cross-country yet again Friday, but they’re making the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy do the same.
With both pieces of hardware inside CONSOL Energy Center being polished for potential presentation to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the coveted prizes were repacked into their black trunks Thursday night. Jones’ career-high 44-save performance spoiled the party during the Sharks’ 4-2 victory in Game 5.
The 44 saves were the most in a regulation victory when facing elimination in the Stanley Cup Final since 1968.
“He made some saves that I don’t think he even thought he made,” said Penguins net-crasher Patric Hornqvist, stoned on seven shots.
In the most entertaining game of what had been a pedestrian series, the Sharks and Penguins combined for the fastest four goals to open a Cup Final in history (5 minutes, 6 seconds) before the Sharks, the NHL’s best regular-season road team, took the lead for good.
After NHL playoff scoring leader Logan Couture’s three-point first period, which included a fabulous assist on Melker Karlsson’s go-ahead and eventual winning goal, the Penguins dominated until Joe Pavelski’s empty-netter sealed the deal.
Jones, the Sharks’ laid-back first-year starter after riding shotgun in Los Angeles behind Jonathan Quick, stopped all 31 shots he faced in the final two periods. The final shots on goal count: Pittsburgh 46, San Jose 22. The final attempted shot count: Pittsburgh 76, San Jose 36.
“He’s calm, he doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t go after guys, he doesn’t lose his cool,” defenseman Justin Braun said. “He’s always tapping us on the pads saying we did a good job, and he’s usually bailing us out. He was great to watch, but we’ve got to give him a little more help.”
Inside the arena, there was a spectacle of yellow shirt-wearing fans waving yellow hankies. They went bonkers throughout, but it was nothing compared with outside. Several thousand people flooded downtown Pittsburgh and overtook the streets in a sea of hockey fanaticism.
But there would be no Cup awarded, no parade scheduled. The Sharks still trail the series 3-2 with Game 6 returning to Silicon Valley on Sunday night.
“We didn’t want the season to end,” Couture said.
Rookie Matt Murray was beaten twice in the first 2:53 on Brent Burns’ and Couture’s first goals of the series. It was the first time the Sharks played with a lead all series. It was short-lived. Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin scored 22 seconds apart.
The lead evaporating so quickly gave the sense the Penguins would win 10-2. But on a subsequent power play, the Penguins hit three posts, and Jones went to work.
“I felt good” was the closest Jones came to bragging.
“He’s been our best player since the start of the playoffs,” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
Jones ruined what could have been a celebratory night for Minnesotan Matt Cullen, the 39-year-old Penguin seeking his second Stanley Cup and first since 2006.
Not only did wife Bridget snag 40 tickets for friends and family, but father Terry secured a private plane to fly him and Cullen’s mom, two brothers, sister, three boys and others from Fargo.
“I said, ‘If we get an opportunity to ever clinch the Cup, we’ll make sure we’ll be there together,’ ” said Terry, Matt’s high school coach.
Also at the game was Dennis Bushy, who runs the Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena. He was bantam coach for each Cullen brother.
“My kids love him. They call it Dennis’ rink,” Cullen said Thursday morning. “He has been so special to me and my family.”
Cullen and the Penguins will have to wait until Sunday for their next opportunity. They better hope Jones comes back to Earth, or there will be a Game 7.
Michael Russo covers the NHL for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Russostrib firstname.lastname@example.org