Like all sports, hockey’s a game of inches. A nudge of the puck…a bounce this way or that…often can determine the outcome of a game.
Such was the case with the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Minutes before Sharks rookie Joonas Donskoi tucked a perfectly placed wrister under the crossbar to send “the Shark Tank” into a frenzy, Evgeni Malkin swooped toward the San Jose net free and clear. Attempting to redirect a Chris Kunitz feed from the corner, “Geno” pushed the puck wide of the cage instead.
On the flip side, Sharks forward Joel Ward found a miniscule opening between Matt Murray’s left arm and body with a seeing-eye missile from long range at 8:48 of the third period to knot the score and alter the course of the game…and series.
“Yeah, that was a bit of a weird one,” Murray admitted afterward. “His release point was a little bit further back than most slap shots are, and it kind of dipped a little bit at the last second, and I just waved at it and missed it.”
To be fair, the Pens enjoyed their share of puck luck. Ben Lovejoy’s unassisted goal at 5:29 of the first period struck Sharks defender Roman Polak on the shin pad and sailed past goalie Martin Jones.
“The Reverend’s” wrist shot from just inside the Sharks’ blue line in the final minute of the second period found Patric Hornqvist’s blade and slipped past Jones on the stick side.
The goals—sandwiched around Justin Braun’s tally for the home team midway through the first period—gave the Pens a 2-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.
Then misfortune struck in the form of Nick Bonino’s errant stick, which clipped Sharks forward Joe Thornton just below the right eye and broke skin.
With “Bones” holed up in the sin bin for four minutes, his teammates turned in an inspired penalty killing effort. The Pens had nearly snuffed out the extended man-advantage when Sidney Crosby turned the puck over in the Sharks’ zone. In an instant, Sid and Kris Letang were trapped up ice. San Jose quickly countered, culminating in Ward’s game-tying tally.
Crosby absolved Murray, who made 23 saves in a losing cause.
“They were pressing there late, and he made some saves,” the Pens captain said. “(Murray) was great. He gave us a chance after they got that goal, and they got some momentum. He was really solid for us.”
Lovejoy turned in another standout performance. Paired with Olli Maatta, the Dartmouth grad tallied a goal and an assist while logging 26:02 of ice time. He blocked four shots and was a plus-2 for the evening.
In 21 playoff games, the New Hampshire native’s collected two goals and four assists to go with a plus-5. Lovejoy’s third among Pens defensemen in hits and blocked shots. He’s tied with Maatta for the fewest giveaways among black-and-gold defenders who’ve played at least 15 games.
The Penguins outshot the Sharks, 42-26, marking the 12th consecutive game the black and gold has held an edge in that category. However, the Sharks attempted 79 shots compared to 76 for the locals, reflecting the hard-fought nature of the contest.
“When we’re playing smart hockey, we’re making great decisions going through the neutral zone and we didn’t do quite enough of that tonight,” Lovejoy told Dan Rosen of NHL.com. “This is a team [San Jose] that wants to play in our zone. They want to use their big bodies and grind, and we gave them a few too many turnovers, a few too many pucks in the neutral zone. It came back to hurt us.”
For the series, the Pens have outshot San Jose, 113-74, while yielding a total of 186 shot attempts. Overall, they’ve outshot their postseason opponents by a margin of 744-608.