USATSI_9324956_154158418_lowresThe San Jose Sharks have leaned on the defensive pairing of Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to shut down Sidney Crosby and it worked like a charm in Game Three.

The duo held the Penguins star off the scoreboard on Saturday night and will look for more of the same when Game Four gets underway on Monday at the SAP Center.

For the Sharks, finding someone to get a step on Crosby and linemates Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist may be the key to locking up the series. Vlasic and Braun held the line to a combined six shots, with Hornqvist finally hitting the net with six minutes remaining in the second period.

“I thought they were outstanding (Saturday) night,” San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said of his pairing.

And indeed they were.

Vlasic and Braun found themselves on the ice against Crosby and Co. for over 13 even-strength minutes in Game Three, twice the ice time they saw against the big unit in Game One and Game Two. This matchup was due in large part to San Jose having the last change, which is something they can and will exploit on Monday.

Crosby’s line managed 19 shots on goal in the first two games of the series and they’ve found the scoreboard in the close series. Hornqvist was able to pot a goal in Game Three, but Vlasic and Braun were on the bench.

That’s not to say that containing one of the league’s best players has been easy for the Sharks’ defensive unit, of course.

“It is hard playing against a guy like that,” Braun said. “A couple of those chances he created because he’s strong on the boards. You think you have him pinned and he’s spinning out of there with the puck. Not many guys in the league are doing that.”

But Vlasic and Braun have been able to limit and contain Crosby’s chances, at least to a certain degree. The Cole Harbour native saw his possession numbers drop in Game Three under San Jose’s adjusted coverage and there’s less space out there for him, which could give him more trouble in Game Four.

The trouble comes in Game Five, when the Sharks have to play in Pittsburgh and lose their matchup advantage. They’ll have to play catch-up to Crosby’s line again and that could prove problematic, especially if this series comes down to a game of inches.

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