By Mary Walsh
AP photo: San Jose Sharks Joonas Donskoi celebrates with teammates after scoring winning OT goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center on Saturday night
SAN JOSE–The San Jose Sharks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday, by a score of 3-2. The Sharks now trail in the series 2-1. The game winning goal came in overtime from rookie Joonas Donskoi. Joel Ward and Justin Braun also scored for the Sharks, while their goaltender Martin Jones made 40 saves on 42 shots for the win. Ben Lovejoy and Patrick Hornqvist scored for the Penguins. It was the Sharks’ first overtime win this post season.
There was some talk about the Sharks being wide-eyed on their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final. There may be something lost in translation, but Joonas Donskoi, first-year NHL player, does not seem particularly nervous. Asked what it felt like to score probably the most important goal in Sharks history, he said: “I think I had a lot of scoring chances through the whole Final, and this was a good time to get it in.”
The game was the first time the Sharks won a majority of the faceoffs against the Penguins. The Sharks had three power plays and scored on none of them. Neither team scored on the power play. The Sharks won on the strength of their even strength play. It was an impressive change from Games 1 and 2.
The headliners for both teams were kept off the highlight reels Saturday. Of how Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun handled Sindey Crosby’s line, Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said: “I thought Vlasic and Braun… you have to mention Brauny when you mention Vlasic too, I thought those two were excellent tonight, both ends of the rink, Brauny got a goal, defending, playing big minutes, they were fantastic.”
Melker Karlsson started the game in Tomas Hertl’s spot with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, and the line had a good first shift. At 2:58 of the first, the Penguins were given a power play as a result of a call on Joel Ward for high sticking. Oddly, his stick did not appear above waist-high while the player he struck was bent down with his head low. It was odd because Ward took a stick to the face while falling that even drew blood in Pittsburgh, but that was not called.
The Sharks also seemed impatient with the penalty and went after the kill with determination. It was only after the Sharks killed the penalty that the Penguins scored off a shot from the blue line. The puck touched Roman Polak in front of the net. The goal was Ben Lovejoy’s.
As the ten minute mark approached, the Sharks still only had one shot on goal to the Penguins’ 8. They had not looked that bad. As if on cue, Justin Braun scored. He got the puck from Joe Thornton near the middle of the blue line, and with Melker Karlsson skating through the crease as a moving screen, Penguins goaltender Matt Murray never saw Braun’s shot coming. It sailed clean into the top right corner to tie the game. Assists went to Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The Sharks were not as bad as their shot count. Through the game, the Penguins blocked 38 shots. After the game, Joel Ward was asked about that number: “That’s a good sign. If you’re playing in the offensive zone, they’re blocking shots, you’re getting opportunities. So, just keep firing away.”
The Sharks were energized after Braun’s goal. The Penguins’ Phil Kessel had a breakaway shortly afterwards but Sharks goaltender Martin Jones stopped the shot and a defender came in fast to carry the puck away again.
The Penguins continued to outshoot the Sharks but in the final five minutes of the period, the Sharks racked up a good four shots and were generally looking stronger. The Penguins spent some time in the Sharks’ zone but both teams were doing a pretty good job of keeping the other to the outside and under heavy guard.
At the end of the first, the score was tied and the shots were 14-6 Penguins.
Early in the second, the game shifted gears for rougher terrain. Brent Burns took a punch to the face in the Penguins crease while trying to poke a puck past the goalie, and after that Justin Braun hauled a Penguin to the ice in the Sharks’ zone, but neither act was called as a penalty.
A little later, Chris Tierney and Joel Ward had a two on one chance but Penguins goaltender Matt Murray handled it. It served as a reminder that the Sharks had given up far too many two on ones in earlier games, and they seemed to be doing a better job of preventing them this time.
In the tenth minute of the period, the Sharks held the Penguins pinned in their zone for a long enough spell to draw a tripping penalty from Carl Hagelin. This gave the Sharks their first power play of the game. The Penguins killed it, but not without giving up a few more shots.
After 10 minutes, the Penguins had two shots on the period. After 15 minutes, they still had two. The Sharks had eight in the first fifteen minutes.
Just after the announcer proclaimed that there was one minute left in the game, Ben Lovejoy picked up a puck that looked like it was going out and threw it back at the net to regain the lead. The puck went off of Patrick Hornqvist, with assists to Ben Lovejoy and Olli Mattaa. It was the Penguins’ sixth shot of the period.
Almost five minutes into the third period, Nick Bonino caught Joe Thornton with a high stick and drew blood. It took the Penguins almost ninety seconds to clear the puck the first time. The power play seemed to lose energy after that and with 1:19 left in the penalty, DeBoer took his time out and gave his top power play unit a rest. That helped them a little but they still could not convert.
The second unit came on with seconds left in the penalty. The Penguins cleared the puck to the neutral zone. The Sharks stopped it short and went the other way. Joel Ward took the puck up the slot. With a Penguin between himself and the goalie, he took what must have been a deceptively hard shot. The puck went over Murray’s left shoulder, bending his glove back and tying the game just as the penalty expired. It was Ward’s seventh of the post season, with assists going to Joonas Donskoi and Joe Thornton.
At the end of regulation, the score was tied at two and the shots were 33-22 Penguins.
The first seven minutes of overtime went back and forth with grueling suspense. The Penguins were outshooting the Sharks 5-1. The Sharks lines seemed jumbled, whether by incomplete line changes or actual line adjustments. In any case, Chris Tierney, Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi were in the Penguins zone stirring things up behind the net and along the boards. At 12:18, Donskoi carried the puck behind the net and came out the other side, then spun and shot in a quick motion. The game winner was Donskoi’s sixth goal of the playoffs. An assist went to Chris Tierney.
For Game 4, the teams will return to SAP Center in San Jose. Game time is 5:00 PT.