By: Nick Lanciani
Nick Bonino’s third period goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, accompanied by Matt Murray’s stellar goaltending, proved to hold out for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-2 Game 1 victory in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final opener.
Murray made 24 saves on 26 shots faced for a .923 SV%, while San Jose’s Martin Jones made 38 saves on 41 shots against for a .927 SV% in an equally impressive performance, despite the loss.
Game 1 marked the first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final game for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Thornton had made 150 playoff appearances with the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks before Monday night, while Marleau broke his record 165 playoff games before playing in a Stanley Cup Final game in his 18th season with the Sharks.
This year marks San Jose’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance in their silver anniversary season (25th year as a franchise for those of you who are unaware), while it is the fifth appearance in the Final for Pittsburgh.
Dainius Zubrus picked up the first penalty of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at 8:54 of the first period after catching Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole with a high stick. The Penguins were unable to convert on the ensuing man advantage.
Bryan Rust scored the first goal of the series and gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead 12:46 into the first period. Rust’s wrist shot came on a failed attempt from Justin Schultz that resulted in the puck finding its way to Rust with a large gap in the net to the right of Jones. The goal was Rust’s 6th of the postseason and was assisted by Schultz (3) and Chris Kunitz (7).
A little over a minute later— 1:02 to be exact— the Penguins scored again and doubled their lead to 2-0. This time it was Conor Sheary with a wrist shot goal, his 3rd of the playoffs at 13:48 of the period. Sidney Crosby (10) and Olli Maata (5) picked up the primary and secondary assists.
After twenty minutes of play in Game 1, the Penguins led 2-0 on the scoreboard and 15-4 in shots on goal. Likewise, Pittsburgh also led in giveaways (2-1) entering the first intermission. The Sharks led in hits (17-16), faceoff wins (11-8) and takeaways (2-1) after one period, while both teams had seven blocked shots apiece.
Ian Cole hooked Melker Karlsson early into the second period and gave the flaming hot San Jose Sharks power play unit an opportunity just 1:14 into the period. While on the power play, Tomas Hertl gathered the puck and fired a wrist shot that beat Murray, right through the five hole, to cut the Penguins lead with a power play goal.
The goal was Hertl’s 6th of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the first in the history of the Stanley Cup Final era for San Jose. Hertl’s power play goal was assisted by Joonas Donskoi (5) and Brent Burns (15) at 3:02 of the 2nd period.
While dominating in momentum, Martin Jones kept the Sharks in the game with some incredible leg pad saves that robbed Pittsburgh of surefire goals.
Patrick Marleau tied the game, 2-2, with his 5th goal of the playoffs on a slick wraparound, backhand goal, that he was able to angle off the skates of Murray into the twine at 18:12 of the 2nd. Burns picked up his second assist of the night, his 16th of the postseason, and Logan Couture notched the secondary assist, his 17th of the playoffs, on Marleau’s goal.
At 18:52 of the 2nd period, Joe Pavelski tripped up Brian Dumoulin and was sent to the penalty box, giving Pittsburgh another power play. Meanwhile, Pavelski had some company in the sin bin and was joined by Joe Thornton in the San Jose box after Thornton had received a roughing minor after the stoppage in play for Pavelski’s penalty.
While Thornton was battling Evgeni Malkin, Malkin slashed Thornton and was promptly sent to the box for his minor infraction. All in all, Malkin and Thornton’s penalties canceled one another, while Pavelski’s penalty put the Penguins on a normal 5 on 4 power play.
With forty minutes in the books, the score was tied 2-2.
Pittsburgh continued to lead in shots on goal (23-17) and led in every other category heading into the 2nd intermission, including hits (27-26), faceoffs (23-21), giveaways (6-4), takeaways (5-2) and blocked shots (17-11). San Jose had gone 1/1 on the power play, while the Penguins were 0/2 on the man advantage.
Marleau would come under fire for an illegal hit to the head on Rust 4:47 into the third period. Rust briefly returned to the game before returning to the quiet room and being forced out of the lineup. Pending league review, Marleau only served a minor penalty in Game 1 for the hit. Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, indicated that he was not a fan of the hit and believes the league should take proper action, while informing reporters after the game that Rust is day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Pittsburgh was not able to score on the ensuing power play from Marleau’s illegal hit on Rust and the game continued without major infractions as a result of the increased tensions between the two teams.
Nick Bonino received a pass from Kris Letang and fired a wrist shot past Jones 17:27 into the third period to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead. Bonino’s goal, his 4th of the postseason, would prove to be enough for the game-winner. Letang (9) and Carl Hagelin (8) were credited with the assists.
Shortly thereafter, Penguins fans inside CONSOL Energy Center were on edge when Ben Lovejoy hooked Marleau and was subsequently penalized and sent to the box at 17:51 of the 3rd. San Jose had scored 11 power play goals in 18 playoff games entering Monday night and had scored their 12th in their 19th game in the 2nd period, but was unable to convert on their most crucial man advantage of the night in the third period.
With an empty net, the Sharks fought to keep the puck in the offensive zone, but Pittsburgh would have none of it and kept clearing it out of the zone. A couple failed attempts at the empty net had San Jose rejuvenated to go at one more attack, but the Penguins forced turnovers and made the Sharks opt to go with dump and chase plays.
One final clearing attempt was all that Pittsburgh needed, especially as icing was waved off. Penguins fans rejoiced as their team had won Game 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh now leads the series 1-0 with their 3-2 win on Monday night.
Game 1 of this year’s Stanley Cup Final became the seventh Final series opener to be decided by one goal in as many seasons. As well, the game-winning goal has been scored in the last five minutes of regulation or later in each Stanley Cup Final series opener since 2011.
After sixty minutes the Penguins finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-26), faceoff wins (33-29), giveaways (10-8), takeaways (10-4) and blocked shots (21-15). Both teams had 36 hits aside and San Jose went 1/2 on the power play, while Pittsburgh failed to convert on all three of their man advantage opportunities on the night.
Pittsburgh improved to 9-0 in the regular season and playoffs when Bryan Rust scores a goal.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Monday night was just the 2nd time in history that the opening two goals of the Stanley Cup Final were scored by rookies (Rust and Sheary). Howie Morenz was the last rookie to score the first two goals in the 1924 Stanley Cup Final en route to the Montréal Canadiens 6-1 victory over the Calgary Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League. For the record, 1924 was two years prior to when the NHL obtained sole possession of and competition for the Stanley Cup.
Game 2 of this year’s Stanley Cup Final is scheduled for Wednesday night in Pittsburgh at 8:00 PM ET and can be seen on NBCSN in the United States and on CBC and TVA Sports in Canada.