The Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks played another one-goal affair in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and once again, the home team was victorious. The Sharks erased a third-period deficit and clipped the Penguins in overtime 3-2.
Despite the loss, Pittsburgh still leads the best-of-seven series 2-1.
The play in Game 3 was much more even than the first two contests in Pittsburgh. Although the loss doesn’t destroy the Penguins’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh blew its third third-period lead in six games and floundered a golden chance to put San Jose on the brink of elimination.
Pittsburgh’s first costly mistake came when Nick Bonino lost his discipline about five minutes into the third period. It didn’t look like an egregious high stick, but his stick definitely hit Joe Thornton and cut his face. The blunder resulted in a four-minute double-minor to a valuable penalty killer.
Behind a really tenacious penalty kill led by Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr, the Penguins were almost in the clear. With Sidney Crosby on the ice, taking the place of Bonino, and Kris Letang, the two were trying to enter the offensive zone with the puck on Letang’s stick. Instead of the safe play, Letang tried to pass the puck to Crosby. He turned it over, and San Jose went back the other way with a 3-on-2.
As the penalty expired, Joel Ward beat Matt Murray on a slap shot from just inside the blue line.
This has been repeated time and time again, but once more it’s worth mentioning the importance of Pittsburgh staying out of the box against San Jose. It didn’t count as a power-play goal, but Ward’s tally might as well have because the goal was scored due to the odd-man situation.
Even including Saturday’s 0-for-3, the Sharks are still 18-for-69 (26.1 percent) on the man advantage this postseason, and Ward’s goal may very well change the complexion of this series. The Penguins have done a good job overall of avoiding penalties (San Jose is averaging just two power plays per game in the series), but Pittsburgh can’t take penalties like Bonino’s in the third period.
Moving forward, it would also help the Penguins’ cause if Letang plays a little better than he did in Game 3. He was on the ice for both of San Jose’s goals during regulation, and he seemed to be off a little bit with his decision making (the failed pass to Crosby being the biggest mistake).
One thing that made life difficult on Letang, and really all the Penguins, was the Sharks’ physicality. After 36 hits in Game 1, San Jose has recorded 90 hits in the last two games combined, and a lot of those are to the Pittsburgh superstars and defensemen.
Letang falls under both categories, so he gets extra attention from the San Jose forecheck. He will have to adjust while keeping his cool, which he has done much better of lately, in Game 4.
The even bigger disappointment for the Penguins, though, is the fact this is now the second straight game and third time in the last six games where they weren’t able to hold onto a one-goal third-period lead.
Pittsburgh entered Saturday’s game with a 49-1 record when leading after the second. In Game 2, the Penguins allowed a late third-period goal but avoided a second loss to that impressive record because of Conor Sheary’s heroics in overtime. Pittsburgh must find a way to hold on to these leads or make life easier by extending the lead to more than one goal.
Despite fantastic chances, there was no hero this time for Pittsburgh. Right wing Joonas Donskoi came from behind the net and beat Murray on a great shot from a sharp angle to give San Jose its first Stanley Cup Final victory ever.
There’s no reason for Pittsburgh to panic. San Jose still faces a must-win situation in Game 4 on Monday, but the Sharks have life because the Penguins failed to maintain discipline and hold on to another third-period lead.