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Bonino comes up big for Penguins

Pittsburgh forward scores game-winning goal late in Cup Final opener

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH - Kris Letang did not know much time was left when he came down the ice on the attack. He did not know how much time was left when the stick was detached from the hands of Brent Burns, allowing for more time and space and opportunity.

Letang did not know how much time was left when he found Nick Bonino on the back door, or when the puck knuckled up and over the stick of Martin Jones, through the space between the goaltender's shoulder and the post.

Or when Bonino raised his arms in triumph.

It was only then that Letang looked up. He saw the time, the 2:33 remaining, the 153 ticks of the clock - not enough, as it turned out, for the San Jose Sharks.

"Great feeling," Letang said, with reserve and understatement and the knowledge that there is so far yet to go in this Stanley Cup Final after a 3-2 win in Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Monday. "I'm not going to lie, I didn't know there was like two, three minutes left. So when I looked at the clock, I was pretty happy."

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm1: Bonino finishes Letang's pretty feed

He was not alone. His Pittsburgh Penguins had come back in the third period after giving up an early two-goal to take Game 1. They had withstood the press of the San Jose Sharks. They had found a winner at the hands of a player who scored nine goals in 63 games in the regular season for them, and four more in 19 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This is Nick Bonino, who would be called well-bearded in any series that did not also involve Burns and Joe Thornton, a hockey itinerant who has found a home - well, for now - with the Penguins and a home - well, for now - on one of the most dynamic lines in the postseason.

He has mostly ceded the scoring, though, to his linemates in the playoffs.

Carl Hagelin had five goals going into Game 1. Phil Kessel had nine. Bonino had been the one dishing the puck, with a team-leading 12 assists, good for fourth in the NHL, behind three Sharks (Logan Couture, 17; Burns, 16; Thornton, 15). He had been impressing with his smarts, as Letang put it, his "real high hockey IQ," as Penguins coach Mike Sullivan put it, gaining the credit and plaudits that he had perhaps lacked before.

Game 2 is here on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"Just the whole line, the way they go out there and compete," Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. "Any time they're on the ice, you can see the speed they have and the ability to shoot and get around pucks.

"[Bonino] may not be known for being a goal scorer, but he's got a heavy stick, he can find pucks, he's really slippery. He does all the things right. He found himself in a great position and capitalized on it. Any time you're in the slot, get him the puck. It seems like we find a way to win when he scores."

They did Monday, with Letang's ability to attack finding a willing receiver in Bonino when and where he was needed.

Video: Hagelin and Bonino meet with media following Game 1

"I was calling for the puck in the neutral zone," Letang said. "I had a lot of speed coming up. What happened behind the goal line, I just noticed that Burns lost his stick or broke his stick.

"When I saw the stick down, I knew I had a lot more time, so I turned my head a little bit and I saw him backdoor and the D was kind of on the front post, so I know if I get it out there, he would have a good chance."

Bonino was waiting.

"He's a real calm, cool, and collected guy," Sullivan said. "I don't think his heart rate gets too high. He just goes about his job. I think he's great with his linemates. He's great with the young players. He's a reassuring presence both in the locker room and on the bench.

"You could see it in his play, his calm demeanor. He's the same way with his personality. I think that helps our group."

He stood there, in front of Jones, just at the edge of the left circle. He had space, with Paul Martin perhaps not even noticing while Bonino quietly, stealthily, crept up behind him and positioned for the pass from Letang.

He settled the puck on the curved red line, took the one second he needed to know where to put the puck, to react to Martin's stick reaching back to disrupt him, futilely.

He scored.

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm1: Rust, Sheary give Pens an early lead

"Just came into the zone a little bit late," Bonino said. "I saw [Letang] in the corner. [Hagelin] was down there battling with him. Wasn't sure if I should get out of there and get above their players. They kept it alive and [Letang] put it right on my stick. It's one of those shots that wasn't my hardest shot by any means, but just found a way to kind of flip it over him."

Bonino, who has one year remaining on his contract, doesn't know what the future will hold. He doesn't think long-term anymore, not with the way his hockey life has gone, of late, being traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the Penguins last summer, being traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the Canucks the summer before.

But that's hardly his concern right now. He is about staying in the moment, one pass, one play, one goal. There is time later for what comes next. As he said, he is where he is, on this ice at this time, the game-winning goal to his credit, the Penguins one win closer to hoisting the Cup.

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