If football is any predictor, we should’ve known this series would be exactly this long – the Raiders and Steelers have split their six games when meeting in the AFC playoffs in their historic rivalry, including such occurrences as the Immaculate Reception. In hockey, we cannot end a playoff series tied, and the Penguins now have a 4-2 postseason record over the Sharks that they used to hoist the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in the franchise’s history.
Perhaps Kris Letang’s goal (by a defenseman no less, not ironic if you’re familiar with the history of both football teams) will be remembered with such accolades as the one listed before and become one of those named plays in Pittsburgh‘s vast sporting lore. The Second Star of the Game’s slap shot found the back of Third Star Martin Jones’ net at the 7:46 mark of the second period after assists from First Star Sidney Crosby (his 12th helper of the postseason) and Conor Sheary. A centering pass to Patric Hornqvist went awry, leading to Crosby ending up with the puck on the near side of Jones’ crease. He took it behind the net and passed to Letang waiting at the far face-off zone to bang it off the netminder for a five-hole goal.
What’s more impressive is that tally was struck only 1:19 after Logan Couture and the Sharks had leveled the score.
For the opening five minutes of the second period, the Sharks were making extremely evident what Coach Peter DeBoer had stressed during intermission, as they led the shot totals five to one.
Those efforts proved fruitful 6:27 after resuming play when Couture scored his 30th point of the postseason (only the fifth player to reach that mark since 1995) with a goal-scoring wrister, assisted by Melker Karlsson and Brent Burns (his 17th helper of the postseason). Burns had gloved down a clearing attempt by the Penguins just outside San Jose‘s offensive zone. He passed from the near to far boards along the blue line to Karlsson to enter the zone, who immediately shoved the puck along to the attacking Couture. Although the scouting report has said to attack Matt Murray’s glove hand, Couture fired for the netminder’s five-hole, banking a shot off his left pad to level the score after a first period goal from Brian Dumoulin.
Dumoulin’s play actually begins 26 seconds before he finds the net when he was tripped by Dainius Zubrus at the 7:50 mark of the first period, causing the first power play of the game. His ensuing slap shot was assisted by Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz (his eighth helper of the postseason). Kunitz passed up the near boards to Schultz at the point, who passed across the blue line to the waiting goal scorer. The defenseman faked a shot to get Karlsson out of his way before following through with a second attempt that narrowly beat Jones far side.
For the most part, Pittsburgh was in control for most of the final game of the NHL season.
The first period stats that best explain the opening frame (other than Pittsburgh‘s 100% power play success rate) include the Pens‘ 60% face-off win rate and the 16 combined turnovers in favor of the Sharks – 11 giveaways from the Penguins and another five Shark takeaways.
Overall, Pittsburgh controlled the puck, but when San Jose could ascertain possession, they certainly struck fear into Murray and the black-and-gold on a few occasions, but the netminder stood tall to keep the Sharks off the board.
Once again the Penguins entered the intermission with a one-goal lead, but the long change in the second period, as its prone to do, has a way of evening things out to not favor either side. The Sharks actually led the frame’s shot totals (13 to 11, respectively) in addition to continuing their dominance along the boards (18 to 10 for the period and 36 to 22 after two periods), but Pittsburgh continued to own the face-off dot (winning 15 out of 22 face-offs in the frame and 65% for the contest) to hold their own.
Statistics for the final frame are misleading, with the exception of one: blocked shots. Pittsburgh ended the game with 33 blocks, with quite a few of them occurring in the final 20 minutes. With the help of those blocks and the threat of others forcing rushed attempts, only two Shark shots reached Murray’s net.
With two minutes remaining in San Jose‘s season, Jones left the ice for a sixth skater. Hornqvist made the Sharks pay with 62 seconds remaining with a wrister on the empty net after an assist from Crosby to seal the victory for the City of Champions. The Conn Smythe Trohpy-winning captain took credit for one of the many blocks of the frame near the point and dished to a streaking Hornqvist, who barely advanced into the Sharks’ zone before scoring.
History certainly has a way of repeating itself, even when excluding the connection between these towns on the gridiron. Seven years ago, to the day, was the date when the Penguins last hoisted the Cup. The seasons followed a similar story line: a team that looked so dangerous on paper that failed to live up to the scouting report on ice. To resolve the issue, a new coach was hired, then Dan Bylsma, and Sullivan this season. Even the fact that the Penguins won in their road white sweaters (That’s a Steel City tradition though, at this point. It’s been since 1960 that a Pittsburgh-based Big Four team [baseball, basketball, football and hockey] has won on home turf (the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates) recalls memories of the Penguins‘ triumph in Joe Louis Arena.
Both goaltenders played exceptionally well, but Murray earned the victory after saving 18 of the 19 shots he faced (94.7%), while Jones takes the loss, saving 24 of 26 (92.3%).