With 2:33 left to play, Kris Letang took advantage of a stick-less Brent Burns behind the net and tossed a puck to the front of the crease, where Bonino was waiting to beat Sharks goaltender Martin Jones with a top-shelf wrister. The goal was Bonino’s fourth of the playoffs and his second game-winning goal.
“It was just one of those shots,” Bonino said. “It wasn’t my hardest shot, but I just found a way to flip it over him.”
Hardest shot or not, the late goal separated Pittsburgh from San Jose in a game that seemed destined to go to overtime. After the Penguins potted two goals in the first period and the Sharks responded with two of their own in the second, the third period was largely a stalemate.
Then, while the announcement for Bonino’s goal was still playing, destiny seemed to intervene again when Ben Lovejoy went to the box for holding and put San Jose’s potent power play on the man advantage for two minutes with just 2:09 to play.
Defenseman Ian Cole said that when assistant coach Jacques Martin gave his unit the nod on the penalty kill, the Penguins knew that their performance against one of the league’s best power plays could be crucial in preserving their slim one-goal lead.
“We just said, ‘Boys, this is it right here. This is our job, we need to take ownership of this game and get it done. Whatever it takes,’” Cole said. “I think we did a fantastic job.”
San Jose has scored on 27.7 percent of their power play opportunities this postseason, but the Penguins scoffed at the hockey gods and produced a spirited penalty kill that prevented the Sharks, who had a 6-on-4 advantage after pulling their goalie, from pushing them around. The short-handed Penguins were underdog aggressors as they forced the Sharks to spend much of the power play trying to get the puck out of their own end.
Penguins forward Conor Sheary, who also scored in the series opener, said that this game had an overtime sort of feel.
“We were evenly matched,” Sheary said. “That was a huge goal for us with two minutes left and then a huge kill at the end there. That gave us a little heart attack, but it was good.”
After a brief feeling out process, the Penguins took over half way through the first period. Pittsburgh struck first at 12:46 when new playoff hero Bryan Rust collected Justin Schultz’s errant shot attempt and put it past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones. That was Rust’s fourth goal in the past three games.
One minute later, Sidney Crosby happened. The Penguins captain roared past Sharks defender Justin Braun and found Sheary standing at the bottom of the circle. Sheary, who had not scored since Game Five against the New York Rangers, patiently waited for Patric Hornqvist to provide a screen and beat the blinded San Jose’s Jones for Pittsburgh’s second goal.
The Sharks got a bit of their bite back in the second period. San Jose sold out on the forecheck and flustered the Penguins defense.
“In the second, they came at us hard and we didn’t manage the puck the way that we needed to,” Penguins forward Matt Cullen said. “A lot of the decisions we made kind of hurt us.”
San Jose’s pressure caused Ian Cole to take an early hooking penalty and, 3:02 into the period, Sharks winger Tomas Hertl scored his team’s first goal while on the power play. After winger Joel Ward made an excellent play to keep the puck in Pittsburgh’s zone, Hertl found the puck along the goal line and put a shot through Murray’s five-hole.
Like the other four goal scorers, Patrick Marleau also scored his first career Stanley Cup Final goal. Only Marleau, who was drafted by the Sharks 18 years ago in Pittsburgh, has 785 more regular season games played than the other four goal scorers combined.
Marleau tied the game late in the second period when he recovered a rebound from a Burns shot and snuck it past Murray with a backhand wraparound. The 36-year old centerman played 165 postseason games in the NHL, scored 64 goals, and notched 51 assists before making his Final debut on Monday.
But Penguins fans may remember Marleau’s questionable third-period hit than his cathartic first Final goal. As Rust was skating across the ice, Marleau blew him up with a violent open-ice hit. Marleau was sent to the penalty box for two minutes for an illegal hit to the head and Rust was sent to the locker room. The Penguins forward returned briefly, but then was pulled from the game. Rust is day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Following two early goals, Sharks goaltender Jones stopped 29 consecutive shots before he allowed Bonino’s game winner. Jones turned away 38 of Pittsburgh’s 41 shots. Meanwhile Murray, who was burned for two goals in the second, stopped 24 of the Sharks’ 26 shots on goal and stoned veteran Joe Thornton on two separate breakaways.
The series will continue on Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center.