SAN JOSE, Calif. – It was close to 90 degrees outside the Shark Tank in the hours leading up to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night. Lots of sweaty people, walking into the arena rocking teal jerseys.
But you didn’t need a meteorologist to gauge that heat – you just needed to step on the ice to know that the conditions outside had affected the conditions inside.
“Ice was … not good. Not the best. I saw the pipes outside when I walked in. I guess they’re trying to get the temperature down, the humidity down. But the ice wasn’t great,” said Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole, whose team lost 3-2 in overtime to the San Jose Sharks, cutting their lead to 2-1 in the series.
How not great was it?
“It was like trying to play with a football, [the puck] going everywhere,” said Cole.
The teams combined for 41 turnovers in Game 3, which is more than in the first two games of the series combined. The teams had 12 in Game 2, and 18 in Game 1.
It affected what the Penguins did well in the first two games of the series: Using the full sheet of ice to keep the forecheck off their defensemen, and springing their forwards with long passes through the neutral zone. Instead, there were many more aerial dump-ins and use of the boards to get pucks deep.
“We talked with our team about simplifying the game. It’s hard to make a lot of lateral plays when the puck is bouncing. As the game wore on, we talked about playing forward, putting pucks at the net, not looking for the extra pass,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “Looking for the extra pass, sometimes the puck bounces, it bobbles, and you end up feeding the opposition’s transition game.”
But while the bad ice was a factor, it wasn’t the determining factor in the game, according to the Penguins.
“Both teams are using the same ice. It’s to be expected at this time of year, and in San Jose, it’s to be expected,” said captain Sidney Crosby.
Sullivan agreed. “Any time you play this late in the year, a lot of times the ice breaks down, no matter where you are,” he said.
If anything, Game 3 was an education for the Penguins about what they can and can’t do in sunny California when trying to play hockey in June.
The key is to simplify. Put pucks behind them, into space. I think we could do that more, but we did a pretty good job of it,” said Cole. “I think going forward, we know what the ice is going to be.”
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