It was a near-dominant performance last night as the Pittsburgh Penguins took Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals in overtime against the San Jose Sharks.
Surrendering control of much of the game to the opposition, San Jose looked to make a game of it at the end of the third period as defenseman Justin Braun, pinching in from the blueline, wired a quick slap shot from the top of the circle past Penguins netminder Matt Murray, tying it at 1-1 at 4:05 in the third.
In the end, however, it would be rookie left wing Connor Sheary putting a wrist shot far-side behind Sharks goalie Martin Jones at 2:18 of overtime to give the Pens a 2-0 series lead as the yellow-clad masses at the Consol Energy Center roared.
Let's see that beautiful OT winner one more time.https://t.co/LusJl51A6M
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 2, 2016
It was the Winchester, Massachusetts, native’s first goal of the series and only the fifth time in NHL history that a rookie scored an overtime-winning goal.
“Important moment,” Sheary said after the game. “Most important, we got a win and we’re up 2-0 right now. It’s a good momentum shift for us.”
Late-game heroics were just part of the story, though, as a flurry of shots hitting nothing but red iron from several players on both teams became a major showcase of the night. San Jose’s Tomas Hertl felt the sting of that sound three distinct times.
— #StanleyCup Final (@NHL) June 2, 2016
The Penguins’ team speed also became a prominent feature of the night, adding a disruptive and relentless element to the team’s play in all three zones. Their control and elusiveness with the puck eventually saw them outshoot the Sharks 30 to 22, and they hold a decisive 71-48 series edge in the same category.
As the first period would see early chances by the Sharks on Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray, they would close the period and descend on their locker rooms tied at nothing apiece. Murray would cap his night stopping 21 of 22 shots.
In the second it was all Pittsburgh, who capitalized on a defensive zone turnover by Roman Polak as he was stripped by Pens forward Carl Hagelin who, after losing the puck briefly, was able to feed Nick Bonino who then fed it across the goal crease, just past Polak’s stick as he attempted to block the pass, and onto the stick of leading scorer Phil Kessel who tapped it home for the 1-0 lead at 8:20.
Kessel, left off of the U.S. World Cup team, leads the Penguins in playoff scoring with 19 points (10G, 9A), two points up on team captain Sidney Crosby.
As the teams embark for the West Coast to play Games 3 and 4 at the SAP Center in San Jose, there is optimism to be had for the Sharks despite the Penguins’ series lead. With a record of 19 for 23 in games coming after a loss, the Sharks certainly know how to bounce back to life. Down 2-0 is a daunting task, but not insurmountable.
While San Jose continues its quest for its first Stanely Cup in franchise history, it was 24 years to the day, as the players took the ice, that the Penguins won in their second Cup in 1992. A series win would give the Penguins their fourth championship.
The Sharks’ playoff struggles are well-documented. A Western Conference powerhouse for over a decade with no championships to show for it while the Penguins, guided by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have appeared in two back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals, winning out in 2009.
Both teams are postseason regulars, but Pittsburgh’s short run in 2015 looks to have been answered by their strong play so far in the Cup Finals. The Sharks will need to capitalize on their own strengths to dig themselves out of their 0-2 hole.
“We’ve definitely shown that we can play,” said San Jose captain Joe Pavelski. “We’ve got another level and we’re going to have to find it here. It goes to this next game. They’ve done their job here at home, but we’ve got to go win the next one.”
[Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images]