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Donskoi continues to impress Sharks

Rookie forward gets overtime goal for San Jose in Game 3 of Cup Final

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

SAN JOSE - There was little to go by when the new face showed up at captain's practice. Only the fact that he was there, of course, and a number on the back of his helmet.

No one recognized him. No one knew who he might be.

So the veteran San Jose Sharks did what any self-respecting person does in 2016 when faced with such a conundrum: They Googled it.

They found him. Joonas Donskoi.

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm3: Donskoi goes top-shelf to win Game 3

He was a former draft pick of the Florida Panthers, taken in the fourth round of the NHL Draft in 2010. He was a product of Karpat of the Finnish League. He was young. He had some shootout goals on his resume, some nice ones, as Logan Couture remembered discovering. He had been signed by the Sharks out of Finland that May, little more than a year before he became a name that no one in San Jose would soon forget.

But back then he was just another young player, one likely bound for the American Hockey League to start the season, one whose signing garnered a press release with little information other than the fact that he had helped his team to a championship, earning playoff MVP honors.

Now they know. Now everyone knows. It was Donskoi who broke a tie in Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center on Saturday, giving the Sharks their first lead in this Stanley Cup Final when he scored the game-winning goal at 12:18 to give San Jose a 3-2 win.

San Jose, which seemed on the brink of going down three games to none, instead put them at 2-1 in the best-of-7 series with Game 4 here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"He was gifted with the puck," Couture said. "He came in and nothing was given to him from the start. Worked for everything. He's on the bike as soon as the game ends every day at practice. He's someone who was drafted and not signed, so he kind of has that chip on his shoulder that he's got something to prove. Kudos to whoever went out from the Sharks and found him and signed him."

Video: Postgame 6/4: Ward and Donskoi

This was the depth that Sharks general manager Doug Wilson had brought, his pieces adding up to a run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and, yes, Donskoi.

He went on to score 11 goals in the regular season and six more in the playoffs, none bigger than his goal Saturday. He ended up mobbed, a mass of celebrating, smiling, relieved teammates around him, surrounding him and pounding on his helmet.

The play had started with a stick-less Melker Karlsson, with Chris Tierney collecting the puck below the goal line, with Donskoi picking it up from there. It was then that Donskoi put it on net from the bottom of the left circle, a shot that just cleared the leg of Justin Schultz on its way past Penguins goalie Matt Murray high.

"It happened pretty quick," Murray said. "I'm not sure it got deflected, but I know the puck was rolling when he turned his stick over. The way he had his stick it was pretty closed off, so I don't think he was going top corner, I think he was just trying to get it on net.

"The puck either rolled or it hit something and it just went off the side of my head and snuck by. It's pretty good placement of a shot, I guess."

Good timing too; after five goals in the first three rounds of the playoffs, this was Donskoi's first of the Cup Final.

Video: Burns, Braun, and Jones discuss Game 3 SCF victory

"I think I have had a lot of scoring chances through the whole Finals," Donskoi said. "This was good time to get it in."

Yes, you could say that.

The rookie has been something of a force in the postseason, with his goal in Game 3 standing as his second in 21 games in the playoffs; Donskoi also had the the honors in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round against the Los Angeles Kings. His six goals are tied for the most among rookies, one short of Couture's franchise record by a first-year player in one postseason, set in 2011.

All this from humble, anonymous beginnings. Not that it took long for his teammates to see what they might just have in him. As Couture said, it took "just a couple skates at captain's ice."

Then they could see, though the organization thought, at that point, that he would likely be a help "down the road," as Sharks coach Peter DeBoer recalled. Things changed.

"He was our best player in development camp," DeBoer said. "He went on to the main camp, he was the best player in the main camp, exhibitions. He just kept jumping over hurdles. He's the real deal, a real good player for us. We wouldn't be here without him."

Perhaps not.

Donskoi remained in Finland for perhaps longer than most would have. As he put it, "Kind of waited for the right moment to come over." When that moment arrived, it was the Sharks - the first team to show interest in him, the team that boasted the combination of talent and leadership - that landed him.

"I thought [the Sharks] might have room for a young guy like me, so that would be a great balance," Donskoi said. "Great organization. I'm so happy that I picked the Sharks."

So are they.

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