The San Jose Sharks picked the perfect moment to win their first overtime game of the playoffs.
Joonas Donskoi curled out from behind the net and rifled a wrister that slid just under the crossbar at 12:18 of OT to lead the Sharks to a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday.
The Sharks had been 0-4 in extra time. The win prevented them from becoming the first team to go 0-5 in Stanley Cup playoff history.
More importantly, it cut Pittsburgh's series lead to two games to one.
"It's huge," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of Donskoi's goal. "It's the first time we've had the lead in this series. Now we have to find a way to get out in front going forward. We've been playing from behind too often in the series."
Some jittery play from San Jose goaltender Martin Jones allowed the Penguins to open the scoring for the third consecutive game. His miscue on a dump-in led to Ben Lovejoy gaining control at the blueline. His shot from the point bounced off the leg of Sharks defenseman Roman Polak and slipped by Jones just 5:29 into the first.
Justin Braun got San Jose back on even footing at 9:34 of the frame, kicking an errant Joe Thornton pass off his skate and onto his stick for a shot that sailed over the glove of Matt Murray before the Pittsburgh goalie knew it was coming his way.
Patric Hornqvist gave the Pens a 2-1 lead with 52.3 seconds remaining in the second period, getting a piece of another Lovejoy point blast. With the assist, the defenseman enjoyed the first multi-point playoff game of his career.
A four-minute high-sticking minor to Nick Bonino opened the door for Joel Ward to tie it up at 8:48 of the third. Penalty time was expiring as Ward came off the bench and rumbled over the blueline before launching a 50-foot slapper that fooled Murray. The goal was his seventh of the postseason, equaling a career high.
Thornton, held pointless in the first two games of the series, assisted on that goal as well.
Jones made 40 saves for the Sharks, including nine in overtime. Murray made just 23 saves in a losing effort, but several of them were of the five-alarm variety as San Jose finally got its offense on track.
Game 4 is Monday night in San Jose.
From the moment that blood began dripping from Thornton's face, it was apparent that San Jose’s season might ride on the resulting four minutes of power play time. Down by one in the third and struggling to create anything in the Penguins’ end, the Sharks needed a special teams jolt. And at the last possible moment, they got it.
Just as Bonino stepped out of the box, Big Goal Joel Ward uncorked a slapper from just inside the blueline. A shot from that distance shouldn't have been a problem for Murray, but somehow it slipped through, tying up the game and getting the Sharks to OT.
"It's always a good feeling to help contribute for your squad," Ward said. "Obviously you're in the moment and you're just wanting to score and help your team win. Just knowing here we're at the Stanley Cup Finals, you just want to help
"You know, it was good to win. [We're] just looking to duplicate that next game."
What they need to duplicate is Ward's willingness to simply throw everything Murray’s way. That's the lesson Donskoi took away from the contest.
"Yeah, I think we should shoot more," the Game 3 hero said. "We're passing up good opportunities too much. We should get the puck to the net more. That's something we can do better."
If they commit to doing that, Ward's goal may end up turning more than one game in San Jose's favor.
Notable Number: 12
As good as Murray was tonight, he had plenty of help in slowing down the Sharks. His teammates blocked 38 shots in Game 3, nearly triple their season average of 13. Brent Burns alone had 12 shot attempts turned aside before they ever found the net. That's a stunning stat, and not just because of the sacrifice of Pittsburgh's defenders or their ability to get a piece of that many shots, but that Burns had the opportunity to throw that many shots toward Murray. An impressive effort by the hard-shooting defender and a courageous response by a Penguins team that did a great job game-planning to thwart this critical element of San Jose's attack.
"It certainly is a big part of their offense," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "They use the points a lot, then they look for those wrist shots, those half-slappers, and they're looking for deflections.
"Part of the way to defend against it is to deny the opportunity of the puck to get to those areas. So when they use the points, we have to get in the lanes. I think our guys are doing a pretty good job of that for the most part."
Gif of the Night
This pass by Melker Karlsson. This scoring chance for Burns. This save by Murray. This is such a beautiful game.
A startling stat from Pens historian Bob Grove.
Pens have allowed 6 or fewer shots in the opening period in each of their last 6 games (29 total).— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) June 5, 2016
What It Means
After being rag-dolled twice in Pittsburgh, the Sharks delivered their first solid effort of the Final.
San Jose still has questions to answer. The Sharks allowed 40-plus shots for the second time in three games, and they're still struggling to get pucks through to Murray. But after some early jitters, the intensity was there, and so was the execution. A team that ran out of feet to shoot itself in during the first two games suddenly figured out how to exit its zone cleanly and efficiently. After Jones’s misadventure with the puck led to the Penguins’ opening goal, the Sharks cut back on the turnovers. That, in turn, led to a better balance in possession time.
And for the first time in the series the Sharks made a statement with their punishing, Western Conference-style physical game. They outhit the Pens, 47-17 in Game 3, slowing down their attack and helping turn over the puck. They now have a template for how to get a jump on Pittsburgh in Game 4.
They still need to quit screwing around with their chances—Thornton had the game on his stick twice and muffed it both times while Pavelski had a clean shot in the dying minutes of regulation and looked to pass instead—but this was a step forward.