The Pittsburgh Penguins have been sapping opponents with last-minute goals – at the end of periods and in overtime – throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. On Saturday night, it was San Jose Sharks rookie Joonas Donskoi who stuck in an overtime dagger.
Donskoi’s goal 12:18 into the period gave the Sharks their first win of the series, their first win in a Stanley Cup Final and their first overtime win this postseason in five tries. Most importantly, the 3-2 victory in Game 3 showed the Sharks could keep pace with the Penguins, who outskated, outshot and outplayed them in the first two games in Pittsburgh.
“I think that has a lot to do with our breakouts and being careful with the puck and avoiding turnovers,” defenseman Justin Braun said of the Sharks’ rediscovered speed. “We’ve got to keep doing that as we go forward. Because when we have turnovers and are sloppy in our (defensive) zone, that’s what makes them look fast and makes us look really slow.”
Game 4 is Monday in San Jose.
The Sharks entered Saturday’s game hoping for a boost from their famously frenzied home crowd at SAP Center. And while there was plenty of light, noise and electricity – fans received LED bracelets as the entered the arena – when the game began, the energy didn’t kick in right away.
Instead the Sharks committed an early penalty, didn’t put their first shot on goal until seven minutes had passed and, as in the first two games, made a mistake in their own end that led to a Penguins goal.
This time goalie Martin Jones misplayed a puck behind the net, which led to a weak shot from defenseman Ben Lovejoy that wobbled past several skaters, bounced off defenseman Roman Polak and found the back of the net.
The Sharks, however, soon found their stride. Tomas Hertl, who was perhaps San Jose’s best and certainly its most active player in the first two outings, missed the game because of a lower-body injury. His replacement on the first line, Melker Karlsson, was just as prominent, including when he skated in front of goaltender Matt Murray just as Braun’s shot was arriving. Murray didn’t see the puck spin past his head for Braun’s second goal of the series.
The Penguins got one of their end-of-period goals in the second when Patric Hornqvist tipped in another long shot from Lovejoy. The Sharks were the better team for most of the period, outshooting Pittsburgh 9-6. But as in Game 2, those shots came tantalizingly close but not in. Joel Ward, Brent Burns and Logan Couture had point-blank opportunities, with Couture’s shot clanking off the iron post.
The tying goal instead came courtesy of a power-play opportunity, something that had fed the Sharks’ playoff run but which have been scarce in this series. They got a big one midway through the third period when Penguins center Nick Bonino’s stick caught Joe Thornton on the face, raising a welt under Thornton’s right eye and sending Bonino to the penalty box for four minutes.
San Jose needed every second of it. It seemed as if the Penguins were about to kill the penalty and deflate the home team even more when Ward, just as the power play was expiring, skated across the blue line and fired a shot that skipped over Murray’s glove.
“That’s a huge goal,” Burns said. “You’ve got to score there. You’re down. You’ve got a four (-minute penalty). You have to score.”
Ward’s goal sent the game to overtime and set up Donskoi’s game-ending shot, a spin-around blast from 10 feet away that went over Murray’s right shoulder.
“I’ve had a lot of scoring chances this whole finals,” Donskoi said. “This was a good time to get it in.”
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said it was the type of play that alters momentum.
“It’s a huge win,” he said. “It changes the series. Now we’ve got to take care of business in Game 4.”
Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows