SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Pittsburgh Penguins better hope all those bruises they sustained by blocking 38 shots Saturday night don’t open up.
The San Jose Sharks are smelling blood after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
With two Penguins defenders trying to block one final shot, 24-year-old Finnish rookie Joonas Donskoi roofed the game-winner with 7 minutes, 42 seconds left in overtime to lift the Sharks to a 3-2 victory and keep them from falling into a 3-0 series’ hole.
With the Sharks having lost all four of their previous overtimes this postseason, defenseman Justin Braun said the third intermission locker-room talk was simple: “It’s our turn.”
With Game 4 on Monday, it was a huge victory for San Jose. Teams that have dropped the first three games of a Stanley Cup Final have lost 26 of 27 all-time series since 1939.
“You lose that and you go down 3-0, that’s a deep hole to get yourself in,” said veteran Joe Thornton, who had two assists, including one on Joel Ward’s third-period tying goal after Thornton drew a four-minute power-play by being cut open with a high stick.
“But we held serve, 2-1 now, and next game at home. So it’s a big confidence booster.”
The Sharks played their best game of the series, but the tight-checking Penguins swarmed, got their sticks and bodies in front of everything and frustrated the Sharks at every turn.
Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, for instance, is normally tremendous at getting pucks to the net, but the Penguins blocked 12 of his 17 attempted shots. Only Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz weren’t hit by flying vulcanized rubber.
“Hopefully, they run out of sticks soon,” Burns joked. “We’ll try to break their budget. … It’s my job to try to get it by those guys and create stuff. It’s tough.”
Burns praised the Penguins for the sacrifice.
“We ask our guys to do the same thing,” the 2003 Wild first-round pick said. “I think those are big reasons why both teams are probably here.”
But Donskoi, a European free agent who could have signed with any of 30 teams last year, didn’t get his final chance blocked. He scored his sixth goal of the postseason after linemate Melker Karlsson’s hard work began a forecheck. It was the biggest goal of Donskoi’s career in the first Stanley Cup Final home game in the 25-year history of the Sharks.
“It was everything we thought it would be and then more,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “You knew being down that goal [in the third], you keep pushing. You could hear that crowd ramping up. It was that extra shot we needed.”
With the score deadlocked at 1-1 after defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Braun exchanged first-period goals, Olli Maatta’s forecheck kept Thornton from clearing the zone in the final minute of the second period. Maatta swung the puck to Lovejoy, and Patric Hornqvist tipped Lovejoy’s point shot for the go-ahead goal with 52.3 seconds left in the period.
With the Sharks in desperate need of something to spark them in the third, Nick Bonino cooperated by inadvertently opening up the visorless Thornton under the right eye. Exactly four minutes into the four-minute power play, Ward came through.
Donskoi fed Ward in the neutral zone after he jumped onto the ice during a line change. Ward crossed into the Penguins’ end and let her rip from 41 feet. Rookie Matt Murray couldn’t stop Ward’s seventh goal of the postseason.
“He’s clutch. When you need a big goal, you can always look to Joel,” Braun said. “Pretty impressive his track record coming over from Washington and now doing it for us.”
Braun was clutch, too. The pride of White Bear Lake tied the score in the first period with a goal in consecutive games for the first time in his 412-game career.
With Thornton, Pavelski and Logan Couture being checked tightly, the Sharks’ depth was critical in Game 3.
“It’s game in, game out, different guys stepping up to the plate, and that’s the reason we’re here,” Thornton said.