Game one of the Stanley Cup Final goes to the home team, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was a true thriller from start to finish, despite the fact that the visitors didn’t look like they came ready and the Penguins made the San Jose Sharks pay for their slow start at 12:46 when unlikely hero of game seven of the Eastern Conference Final Bryan Rust knocked home a rebound coming off a speedy rush down the wing to open the scoring.
Just over a minute later, Conor Sheary stunned the visitors by burying a back-hand feed from the corner by Sidney Crosby to put the Pens up by a pair. Crosby’s speed to get behind the defender and set up the sequence can’t be overlooked here. The Pens captain spent all night establishing superior body position all over the offensive zone, using his strength to maintain possession. San Jose was fortunate to escape the period without further damage, and if not for the composure and solid work of goalie Martin Jones, they could have easily found themselves behind by four or more after the first twenty minutes.
Pittsburgh Penguins Make Sharks Pay for Slow Start
Joe Thornton appeared to be in a particularly hostile mood, and went to work to set the tone by taking liberties with several Penguin players, however, it took what we can only assume was a sound verbal thrashing by Sharks coach Pete Deboer between periods to shake the Western Conference champs from their apparent slumber.
Period two was all San Jose. Despite their speed, the Penguins struggled to execute clean zone entries and as a result, their shot totals dipped. The Sharks got to work, winning board battles and scrums behind the net, and it was clear that the officials were going to let the teams battle it out, as the action was fast and furious for extended periods.
In the final minutes of the second frame, San Jose veteran Patrick Marleau buried a wrap-around goal after some hard work down low by the Sharks to knot it up at two. The Sharks acquitted themselves well in the second stanza, the only period in which they hit double-digits in shots with thirteen.
Pittsburgh dominated the third period in terms of shots, but Jones once again stood his ground between the pipes. While the Pens appeared to struggle in the second with zone entries, they were able to re-adjust, by both dumping it in and chasing it down, and using their speed to cause the Sharks’ defenders to turn and brace for a heavy forecheck. The strategy paid off as the Pens regained control of the game down low, ultimately resulting in a Nick Bonino go-ahead goal with under three minutes remaining after Kris Letang barged in right down main street and simply out-worked the Sharks in the corner to centre the puck. Jones had little chance as Bonino floated it off his blocker and into the net from a prime scoring area right in the slot.
San Jose battled frantically in the dying minutes to find the equalizer with a sixth attacker, but goalie Matt Murray and co. were equal to the task. The Pens did a good job of diffusing pressure by denying the opposition opportunity to sustain the kind of pressure as they were able to mount in the second, and ultimately left the ice with the victory.
Aside from scoring the winning goal, first star Nick Bonino also sacrificed the body, blocking six shots on the night, and his commitment to the cause did not go unnoticed by his cohorts.
As predicted, the Stanley Cup finalists are putting on a spectacle of speed, with both goalies showcasing both their composure and compete level. If game one is any indication, this matchup should continue to be an entertaining one. Don’t be surprised if Sidney Crosby, who assisted on the Sheary goal, makes his presence felt to an even greater degree as he looks to extend the series lead. He appears to be in top form and his dominance in puck possession will ultimately impact the outcome of this series.
Game two goes Wednesday night at 8 pm in Pittsburgh.