PITTSBURGH – Twenty-year linesman Pierre Racicot, working his ninth Stanley Cup Final and 25th career championship game, blew his whistle to warn Sidney Crosby to get to the faceoff circle — STAT.
But Crosby was busy.
One game after getting the whiteboard out to diagram plays on the bench, arguably the NHL’s best player this time was setting up the exact play that would hand the Pittsburgh Penguins’ a 2-1 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks and 2-0 series lead.
Crosby had just told rookie Conor Sheary to line up on the wall, then find a soft area because he planned to win the faceoff back to “Tanger.”
When Crosby was getting admonished by Racicot, the Penguins captain was instructing “Tanger” — a.ka. Kris Letang — on precisely what he planned to happen.
“He told me he was going to win it toward me and he told Sheary where to go … and he told me where Sheary was going,” Letang said, shaking his head.
Crosby won his 17th faceoff of the game, beating Joel Ward cleanly before Letang fed Sheary in that soft area en route to the undrafted 5-8, 23-year-old’s second goal of the series and first career winning goal — regular season and playoffs — 2 minutes, 35 seconds into overtime.
“It’s surreal,” said Sheary, the fifth rookie to score an overtime goal in the Stanley Cup Final and first since Brian Skrudland did so for Montreal in 1986.
The Penguins’ rebound came after White Bear Lake’s Justin Braun forced overtime by scoring his second career playoff goal with 4:05 left in regulation for the Sharks.
“It’s nice to get on the board, but at the end of the day, you want the ‘W,’ ” said Braun, who will leave the Sharks temporarily Thursday to join his wife and family in Atlanta after the death of his father-in-law, former NHLer Tom Lysiak, on Monday.
The Sharks have a lot of work to do. After the highly efficient “HBK” line (Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, who have combined for 50 points in the playoffs) forced the Sharks’ third defense pair into a giveaway, San Jose fell behind 1-0 on Kessel’s 10th goal of the playoffs in the second period.
San Jose registered 11 shots through 40 minutes. Sure, the Sharks hit three or four pipes and with a little puck luck may have evened the series, but the Penguins put on a defensive clinic for much of the game.
In the offensive zone, the Sharks have defenders in their face constantly and have been unable to get to the middle of the ice. They are coughing up pucks routinely.
“They swarm in the ‘D’ zone,” center Logan Couture said. “They put five guys in one quadrant. It’s up to us to break it. You’ve got to move your feet, get out of there and create space. We haven’t been doing that. We’ve been stagnant and standing around and giving them time to check us.”
The team with a franchise-record 28 road victories in the regular season returns home for Saturday’s Game 3 looking for its first win.
“We’ve got to win in our building. That’s it. Plain and simple,” Couture said.
Forty-four of 49 teams to take a 2-0 Final lead since 1939 have gone on to claim the Stanley Cup. The all-time series record of home teams sweeping Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final is 33-3.
“Game 1 was decided in the last two minutes. Tonight is an overtime game,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think we’ll hold off on the funeral. We have a lot of hockey left to play.”
The problem the Sharks have is Crosby looks awfully motivated to win his second Stanley Cup.
“He’s just been a horse out there. He’s a threat every time he’s on the ice,” coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby. “He’s inspiring for our group. … You can see it in his body language. He’s doing everything in his power to help this team win right now.’’
Michael Russo covers the NHL for the Star Tribune.