CRANBERRY, Pa. — Motivation abounds for the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks, who will renew acquaintances on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
Most obviously, it's the first meeting between the clubs since they squared off in the Stanley Cup final last spring.
That might be a bigger deal for San Jose, which lost in six games as the Penguins clinched the title and skated around with the Stanley Cup on the Sharks' home ice.
“Obviously, it doesn't feel good when you lose to a team in the final, so you take a little pride in wanting to beat them, and you definitely get a little more hyped up for those kinds of games,” San Jose center Chris Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News.
The Sharks are 3-1 following a 3-2 win Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
The defending champion Penguins already have the bragging rights, but they are looking at this as a big game in part on what has happened much more recently.
After winning their first two games, the Penguins (2-1-1) have lost two in a row – including a 4-0 defeat at Montreal on Tuesday that left them largely dissatisfied with their effort and discipline.
That puts a bit different spin on the rematch with the Sharks.
“They're well aware of how good San Jose is and what the challenge is going to be,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said of his players. “The one thing about this league is there are no easy games. You've got to bring your A-game each and every night to give yourself a chance.
“But certainly, coming off the type of game we had (Tuesday) night and moving forward, there should be plenty of motivation for us to make sure that we respond the right way.”
That doesn't mean the Sharks come in as a faceless opponent.
“I think it'll be ramped up a little bit,” Penguins winger Bryan Rust said. “They're going to have a chip on their shoulder. And we obviously didn't play great (Tuesday), so we're going to have a little chip on our shoulder. I think it's going to be a good, physical, playoff-like atmosphere.”
San Jose coach Pete DeBoer is interested in seeing what the atmosphere will be.
“I don't know what the emotions will be until I get there,” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “It's tough to go on that long of a journey and then lose the way we did. I don't think there was any doubt that they deserved to win. But at the same time, for us, it's a chance to … make a statement that we are a different team this year.”
Pittsburgh returned its team almost completely intact, but there will be at least a couple of missing parts Thursday. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby has yet to play this season because of a concussion and goaltender Matt Murray is out while he recovers from a broken thumb.
In addition, top defenseman Kris Letang (upper body) and winger Conor Sheary (eye) are day to day after leaving Tuesday's game.
San Jose was the bigger, more physical club in the final. It added a couple of players during the offseason in forward Mikkel Boedker and defenseman David Schlemko that appeared to be a direct attempt to add the kind of speed that Pittsburgh used to its advantage last spring.
The teams meet twice this season, with the second game coming Nov. 5 in San Jose. It just happens that this first rematch comes in the early days of the season.
“Now that it's here, it'll be good. It'll be fun,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski told the Mercury News. “We would have liked a better result the last time we played that team, but it's two points. It's a new year. It's important that we keep building our game and keep trying to get better. (We're) a long ways from getting back to that position, and this is another good team that we'll be playing.”