SAN JOSE – The percentages said the Sharks were due for an overtime win. Joonas Donskoi made sure that math was true.
After losing their first four games of the playoffs in extra time, Donskoi’s turn-around wrist shot high over goalie Matt Murray at 12:18 of overtime gave the Sharks a 3-2 win, sending the raucous home crowd into a frenzy and keeping the Stanley Cup Final a competitive one. San Jose trails the Penguins, two-games-to-one, with a chance to tie it up on Monday.
“I think we just kept saying ‘we’re due, we’re due,’” said Chris Tierney, who had the primary assist on Donskoi’s score. “You’re only going to go so many overtimes and not win. You’re finally going to break through at some point. It was good timing to break through this game.”
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “It was a huge win. Changes the series. Now we've got to take care of business in Game 4.”
Donskoi has been one of the Sharks’ more effective forwards throughout the playoffs, and now has 12 points in 21 games (6g, 6a). The rookie also assisted on Joel Ward’s game-tying goal.
Prior to the overtime marker, he had a prime chance at the end of the second period with the puck on his stick and only Murray in front of him from about 10 feet out. He fired high, and the Pens took a 2-1 lead to the dressing room.
He tried going high on Murray again in overtime, and it worked out.
“I think I’ve had a lot of scoring chances through the whole finals,” Donskoi said. “It was a good time to get it in.”
Ward’s third period goal at 8:48 was just as important, as the Sharks entered the final frame behind by one. Not only did Ward tie the game at 2-2, but he prevented the Penguins from gaining any sort of momentum after killing off Nick Bonino’s double-minor for high sticking Joe Thornton.
As time literally expired on the penalty, Ward hammered home a slap shot that somehow bounded through Murray.
“Kind of saw a lane, buried the head, took a slapper and was fortunate it went in,” Ward said.
Burns said: “That could’ve been a big momentum swing for us if we didn’t score. You’ve got to score there, you’re down, it’s four minutes. That was huge to score.”
The Sharks continued their trend of improving game by game in the series, as they were able to play with the puck more in the offensive zone than they had in the first two in Pittsburgh, both losses. Still, DeBoer was forced to shorten his bench, which he’s been reluctant to do throughout the playoff run.
Why did he do it in Game 3? Generating shots on goal is still proving to be difficult. They got 26 through to Murray, but had a whopping 38 blocked by Pittsburgh. Olli Maatta led the Penguins with six blocks, while Burns had 12 shot attempts that never made it through.
“They’re doing a great job,” Burns said. “They’re sacrificing. We ask our guys to do the same thing. I think those are big reasons why both teams are probably here.”
Defensively, the Sharks are still having trouble when the third pair of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak is on the ice. Pittsburgh’s first goal went in off of Polak’s shin, but other than that, the pair of big bruisers is struggling keep up with the speedy Penguins forwards.
Conversely, though, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun were particularly effective. That includes Braun scoring the tying goal in the first period after Ben Lovejoy staked the visitors an early advantage.
“I thought those two were excellent for us tonight, both ends of the rink,” DeBoer said. “Brauny got a goal, defending, playing big minutes. They were fantastic.”
The Sharks also enjoyed the home atmosphere, playing in front of a crowd that was seemingly as loud as it’s been in several years. They showed up several hours before the game started despite the heat, taking in the festivities outside, and kept it building rocking straight through to Donskoi’s score.
Thornton said: “They’ve waited so long for this chance to cheer on the Sharks in the finals. They were incredible for us.”
“It was electric,” DeBoer said. “It was amazing to stand back there. You could tell that these people have been waiting a long time. I think the guys really wanted to play hard for them.”
They won’t have to wait long for the next one on Monday, as the Sharks will attempt to reset the series and make it a best of three.
“We’re a confident group, we believe in ourselves, we believe we can win this series,” Tierney said. “A little more momentum, probably, going into the next game for us.”