By Mary Walsh
AP photo: The Pittsburgh Penguins Justin Schultz raises the cup proceeding the clinching win over the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals Sunday at SAP Center
SAN JOSE– With 8:58 left in the third period, Brent Burns was called for slashing Phil Kessel. The Sharks penalty kill held up but the team still only had one shot in the period when the kill started. They had no more when it ended. The minutes ticked away and the Penguins would not let the Sharks get close to a shot. The score remained stubbornly at 2-1 Penguins.
The San Jose crowd stood and cheered with four minutes left. It was a sight to see. Were they just happy to be at a game on June 12? Were they simply urging their team on?
The Sharks pulled Jones with a little over a minute left and put Marc-Edouard Vlasic on as the extra skater to try to tie the game. It took a few moments but Sidney Crosby got the puck away from the Sharks and put it into the empty net to make the score 3-1. The Sharks had just two shots on goal in the final period.
The buzzer went, the Penguins threw themselves into a celebratory pile near their net, having won the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in their history.
The crowd stood again, cheering. Then they chanted “Let’s Go, Sharks! Let’s Go Sharks!” They got a salute from their team. Sharks fans were still happy that their team made it to the dance, even if they had to go home early this time.
Did the fan reaction to the loss surprise the Sharks players? Goaltender Martin Jones said simply “No, no. They’ve been great all year.” Forward Joel Ward said:
“It was really cool for the fans to stick by us. You know, I think they appreciate some of the effort we put in and for us…” he paused “I mean, for them sticking by us through some tough times at the beginning. But you know, it was good to see. We love the fans here, love the building, love the tank. We just got to get back on the horse for next season.”
After the loss, Logan Couture described the process of getting over a defeat like this: “End of hockey seasons are never fun. It’s like you hit a brick wall. Stop. You wake up the next morning and you’ve got nothing to do.”
Joe Thornton described his feelings about the loss as: “It’s just disappointing but just super proud, the effort the guys gave all year long.”
Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer declined to comment on the specifics of Sunday’s season-ending game. Instead, he talked about his team’s performance in general:
I’m very proud of our group. I thought our guys emptied the tank and gave us everything they possibly could we just weren’t as good as them during this two week period.
DeBoer also described what he saw from the Penguins:
Their speed, their pressure they put on with their speed. It’s not just their speed, they have good sticks too. They force you into quicker decisions, they really challenge your execution. You know we hadn’t seen pressure and sticks like that through the first three rounds and I think our execution was an issue because of that.
The Sharks did not come out with the jump that many had expected from them on home ice with a chance to tie the series and force a seventh game. Through the first five minutes, the Sharks did not register a shot on goal, while the Penguins had two.
Then, at 7:50, Dainius Zubrus was called for tripping Brian Dumoulin. 26 seconds into the power pla, Dumoulin took a shot from the blue line and Melker Karlsson tried to block it but it went between his legs to the net. By the time Jones saw it, it was too late and the Penguins had the early lead. Assists went to Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz.
Seconds later, Melker Karlsson went into the boards feet first and landed very awkwardly. No penalty was assessed, and it did not look like he was tripped or pulled down. He was helped off the ice but did return to the game later.
The Sharks finally started to push back around the 14 minute mark of the first. They threw a couple more shots on net, and the Penguins had not added any since their power play goal. The Sharks looked like they found the key for getting ahead of Penguins. They kept Pittsburgh hemmed in their own zone for couple of long shifts. Then the puck went out of play and a television timeout and the moment was gone. The Penguins attacked, the Sharks had trouble getting out of their zone and finally iced the puck. The tired defenders went back to work and pushed the attackers back.
After a short offensive push with some chances for Brent Burns, the Sharks were chased back into their own zone, where Martin Jones made half a dozen impressive saves before the Penguins were chased away again. The Penguins had five shots on goal in the final few minutes of the period.
At the end of the first period, the shots were 10-6 Penguins. After 3:13 of the second, the count was 10-9. That barrage of shots came from the Sharks’ top line. In those same opening minutes, the Penguins had a couple of chances that hit posts, but no sustained pressure like that long shift from the Thornton, Pavelski and Donskoi line.
It was several minutes later, after another long offensive shift, this time from the fourth line, that Couture tied the game up with a shot from the faceoff dot. Melker Karlsson was back, this time screening the Pittsburgh goalie. Assists went to Karlsson and Burns.
The Penguins did not take long to regain the lead. Sidney Crosby found Kris Letang with a pass behind the net. Letang’s shot went right into Jones and trickled under him. Assists went to Crosby and Connor Sheary.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the bench at 7:46 and did not return until 18:05.
The shots stayed uncannily even as the period went on. First tied at 13, then at 16. But by the end of the second, it was 20-17 for Pittsburgh. The only stat that showed a gross difference between the teams was the faceoff wins. The Penguins had won 65% of them.
Five minutes into the third period, the Sharks got their first power play when Connor Sheary hooked Justin Braun to the ice. The Sharks did not get a shot on goal. The Penguins knocked the puck back up the ice several times, often aided by a careless pass. The Sharks never got their game back and the single goal they needed to tie it up never came.
No injury information was released after the game. That information may be released Monday afternoon.