PITTSBURGH -- It took the Sharks franchise 25 years to make its first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
It took the team that finally made it there another 20 minutes to show up.
The Sharks fell behind the Penguins 2-0 on goals by rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary in a first period that saw them get outshot, 15-4, and the margin felt even bigger than that in Game 1 of the NHL’s final round on Monday night. The Sharks battled back to tie the game in a dominant second period, but eventually fell 3-2 on a late Nick Bonino score.
[RECAP: Penguins 3, Sharks 2]
Nerves almost certainly played a role in the sluggish beginning, as the Sharks roster had just one player that had ever competed in a Final game in fourth line winger Dainius Zubrus. The Penguins, conversely, have several leftovers from their 2009 championship squad.
“We got the ‘Holy [shoot], we’re here [moment],’ I think,” Brent Burns said.
Logan Couture said: “They came out flying. It looked like we were stuck in mud. Shouldn’t happen. Obviously this is the first time for a lot of guys, so maybe that was it. This time of the year the games are too big to have a start like that.”
Although the Sharks managed to tie the game on second period markers by Tomas Hertl on the power play and Patrick Marleau on a wraparound, the third period saw the Penguins take charge again. It was much more evenly played than the first, but Pittsburgh finished with an 18-9 edge in shots.
One of those 18 shots was Bonino’s goal, when Burns lost his stick and neither he nor Paul Martin could stop Kris Letang from finding the former San Jose draft pick in front of the net. Bonino squeezed a shot through Martin Jones with just 2:33 left on the clock to give the Penguins the lead back.
Still, the Sharks had a golden opportunity to force overtime when Ben Lovejoy was called for hooking at 17:51. They managed just one shot on goal on the power play, though, despite pulling Jones for an extra attacker halfway through the advantage.
Again, they looked nervous.
“Six-on-four, you’ve got to take your time and make plays,” Couture said. “We forced it.”
Despite giving up 41 shots to Pittsburgh, a playoff-high other than the triple overtime loss to Nashville in the second round, several Sharks scoffed at any suggestion that the Penguins are head and shoulders better than some of the teams they’ve already faced.
Yes, Pittsburgh has an abundance of speed, and probably more talented scorers up and down its lineup than the Kings, Predators or Blues. But the second period, in which the Sharks spent a substantial amount of time in their offensive zone and scored their two goals, showed that they can play the type of game that got them here against anyone.
“They’re fast. So is St. Louis. It’s not like St. Louis has boots on,” Burns said. “They’re fast. They’re a good team. They’re here for a reason. So are we.”
Brenden Dillon said: “We saw when we’re playing Sharks hockey, when we’re playing to our identity, we’re going to get rewarded for it. We’re going to be successful. That was kind of the message coming into the room after [the first period]. That’s not us. For whatever reason, we didn’t start the way we wanted to.”
The Sharks can also likely take some confidence in that they didn’t let a Game 1 defeat in the previous round against St. Louis get them down, while owning a 5-1 record in the postseason after losses.
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “There's nothing that I saw tonight that I'm going out of here thinking that we can't come out and compete and play much better on our end.”