Tuesday May 31st, 2016

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Nick Bonino buried a slick pass from Kris Letang with 2:33 remaining in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

"Tanger put it right on my stick," Bonino said. "It's one of those shots that wasn't my hardest shot by any means, but just found a way to kind of flip it over him. Great pass from Tanger."

Penguins, Sharks as good as advertised in Cup final Game 1

The goal spoiled a magnificent performance by Sharks netminder Martin Jones, who stopped 38 of 41 shots he faced.

Rookie Matt Murray made 24 saves for the Penguins, who looked like they were going to run away with it in the first period. They caught San Jose off guard with their speed and the intensity of their forecheck and outshot the visitors 14-4.

Bryan Rust got the Penguins on the board at 12:46 of the opening frame. Justin Schultz took advantage of an ill-timed pinch by Sharks defender Justin Braun and sent a shot to the net. The puck bounced off defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic directly to Rust, who fired it past Jones. The goal was his fourth in three games.

Sidney Crosby set up the Penguins' second goal just 62 seconds later with a blind, backhand pass that found Conor Sheary alone in the circle. Sheary took advantage of a screen set by Patric Hornqvist and perfectly placed a shot in the upper right corner give Pittsburgh a 2–0 lead.

Three Stars: Bonino provides heroics for Penguins in Game 1

Tomas Hertl began San Jose's comeback with a power play goal 3:02 into the second period, banking a shot off the leg of defender Olli Maatta and through the legs of Murray from a sharp angle.

Patrick Marleau tied it up at 18:12 on a wraparound that caught Murray flatfooted. Defender Brent Burns assisted on both goals.

The two sides swapped chances in a furious third period that evolved into a goaltenders’ dual. Jones made several Grade-A stops, robbing Patric Hornqvist in tight on two occasions and Phil Kessel on another. At the other end of the ice, Murray denied Hertl twice on a frantic shift that saw the Sharks’ top line dominating on the cycle.

Game 2 of the series is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Turning Point

Logan Couture quietly becomes most dangerous Shark

How often does a play turn on a broken stick? It happened again, and at the worst possible time for the Sharks, in Game 1.

It was Burns whose twig betrayed him at the crucial moment. He dropped it out front of the net, and charged after Letang, who had the puck in the corner. Without a stick pressuring him, the Penguins defender calmly slipped a pass by Burns and found Bonino all alone in front of Murray.

The third line center capped off a brilliant individual game by rifling it high short side to give the Pens the margin of victory. 

The company that creates an unbreakable stick is going to make a fortune.

Gif of the Game, Part I

Patrick Marleau recieved two minutes for this check to the head of Rust early in the third period, but the Penguins are looking for supplemental discipline as well. They might have a case. Rust went to the quiet room, but returned less than 10 minutes later. He skated one shift, then sat out the rest of the contest. Coach Mike Sullivan, who declared Rust "day-to-day" with an upper-body injury, wasn't happy after the game. "It was a blindside hit to the head," he said. "I'm sure the league will look at it."

No doubt they will. But was it a suspendable hit? This could go either way, but it feels more like a fine than a game off. We'll know more Tuesday. UPDATE: The NHL declined to issue a suspension.

Gif of the Game, Part II

While the Department of Player Safety is looking into Marleau, they might want to give Evgeni Malkin a call as well. And Joe Thornton might want to thank whoever manufactured his cup. This is some nasty work.

Gallery: Game 1

Tweet of the Game

This perfectly sums up the beauty of the Game 1:

What It Means

Not bad for an opener. The Pens set a breakneck pace in the first and repeatedly caught the Sharks flatfooted, only to be stymied by the magnificent play of Jones. Then, just as some were writing their eulogy, San Jose began asserting itself on the forecheck and took advantage of some poor gap coverage by Pittsburgh to even the score. That set up a thrilling final 20 minutes that, in turn, sets this series on the path to becoming an instant classic.

Sidney Crosby's legacy in Stanley Cup Final spotlight

You can't say enough about the pace in this one—it was breathtaking—or the skill. Crosby played like a man who understands the significance of this opportunity, and turned in his finest performance of the playoffs. If not for Jones, and some miscues by his own linemates, Sid easily could have had five points on the night. The kids were great, too. Who could have imagined back in October that the Pens would be led in Game 1 of the Final by minor leaguers Rust, Sheary and Murray? They continue to impress with their poise and mature play. Let's hope Rust isn't too badly hurt and is able to take part in Game 2.

The Sharks showcased their resilience by rebounding after that first period, but their struggles with Pittsburgh's speed feels like an ongoing issue ... even if San Jose coach Peter DeBoer seemed unconcerned. "I thought when we played our game in the second, they had trouble with us," he said. "It's the first game of the series. It reminds me a lot of St. Louis Game 1. I know we're going to get better.  Our execution's got to get better. Part of it was some of the pressure they put on, but part of it was self-inflicted.

"You don't deserve to win if you don't outplay the other team."

True enough. If the score, the shots and the possession time didn't make it clear which team outworked the other, War On Ice had Pittsburgh creating 13 high-quality chances to just six for San Jose. The Pens got the result they deserved. For the Sharks to gain a split on the road, addressing that chance disparity has to be a focus for Game 2. A much better start wouldn't hurt, either.

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