PITTSBURGH – If you didn’t know before Monday, you know now: The Pittsburgh Penguins have more weapons than Sid, Geno and Phil.
The star-studded Penguins, oozing with the offensive firepower often supplied by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, got goals from two rookies and a recent journeyman to take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final 3-2 over the San Jose Sharks.
After relinquishing a two-goal lead in the second period after dominating the opening 20, the Penguins survived the scare when Nick Bonino, playing for his third team in three seasons, scored the winning goal with 2 minutes, 33 seconds left.
Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary also became the first two rookies to score the opening two goals of a Stanley Cup Final since 1924.
And that, Sheary said, is what makes the Penguins so special.
“We think we have four lines who can roll and who can score,” the 23-year-old undrafted Crosby linemate from Massachusetts-Amherst said. “It’s fun to play that way when guys don’t always rely on a certain one guy to score.”
The Penguins and Sharks are two teams that want to get to the exact same game. The Penguins did that in the first period, the Sharks did that in the second.
That’s why Pittsburgh blew a two-goal lead on goals by Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau after Rust and Sheary scored 62 seconds apart in the first.
The Penguins overwhelmed San Jose with so much speed in the first, Sharks defenders looked like a bunch of spinning dreidels in their own end. But things took a complete 180 in the middle stanza.
“We let our foot off the gas and we paid for it,” defenseman Kris Letang said.
Late in the third, Carl Hagelin flew through the neutral zone, got the puck deep and Letang was first in on the forecheck against his thoroughbred counterpart, Brent Burns.
As Burns tried to fend off the zipping Letang, the hulking blue-liner lost his stick. It was a helpless feeling and costly accident.
“You’ve got to play without. I’d rather have it,” Burns said.
Letang noticed Burns without the stick, and that gave him extra time to feed Bonino all alone at the backdoor.
“I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know there were two, three minutes left,” Letang said. “When I looked at the clock, I was pretty happy.”
Burns assisted on both of San Jose’s goals. His 22 points this postseason are the fifth most by a defenseman in the past 30 years.
Even though he only had one assist, Crosby was flying. A few times, he even grabbed the whiteboard on the bench and began diagraming plays.
“You can see his hunger. He’s inspiring,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought he was a force out there all night. He has that twinkle in his eye.”
Crosby looks determined to win his second Stanley Cup after a six-year absence from the Final. And he has one heck of a supporting cast.
Net-crasher Patric Hornqvist took six shots, had four hits and screened Martin Jones on Sheary’s goal after a ridiculous pass by Crosby. Rust has scored in three consecutive games, although the pride of Notre Dame was lost in the third period after taking what Sullivan called a “blindside hit to the head” from Marleau.
“It’s absolutely huge for our team, especially at this point of the playoffs,” veteran Matt Cullen said of the secondary scoring. “Teams that are successful get scoring from everybody. That’s been the story of our team the entire playoffs.
“Our leaders have been leading, but we’ve also had guys like that step up really big and get some big goals and make some big plays.”
The Penguins are the first Eastern Conference team to win the first game of the Stanley Cup Final since the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes. Cullen was on that Cup-winning team, incidentally.
“That’s what I like to hear,” Cullen said.
Michael Russo covers the NHL for the Star Tribune.