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3 Impressions: Pens 3, Sharks 2 (Game 1)

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from the press box of the Pens’ 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

This morning, Bryan Rust said it would be important to set the tone for the series and establish how they want to play early. And that’s exactly what the Pens did. They’ve said time and time again that their competitive advantage is their speed, and they completely overwhelmed the Sharks with that quickness. The Pens did a tremendous job of counterattacking and transitioning fast – which is how they scored their first goal, off the stick of Rust. When they weren’t skating the puck up the ice, the Pens were chipping it in and winning foot races to it – which Sidney Crosby did to create the play that led to their second goal, scored by Conor Sheary. Carl Hagelin was especially noticeable with his wheels, creating a lot of chances for the HBK line. The defensemen did an excellent job of exiting quickly out of their end and then picking the right spots to be aggressive. They also were adept at holding the blue line.

The challenge for the Pens would be keeping up that pace in the second period, knowing the Sharks would respond. Because while they looked overwhelmed in the first period, San Jose is a heck of a team – they didn’t get here by accident – and you knew they weren’t going to continue to play that way. As expected, they collected themselves and came out with a much better effort in the second. They found their legs, and pressured the Pens right away – which led to Ian Cole taking a penalty in the first couple of minutes. The Sharks have arguably the most lethal power play the Pens have seen yet, and they capitalized with a huge early goal that turned the momentum their way. They outshot the Pens 8-1 early and tilted the ice their way for much of the period. It didn’t help that the Pens got away from what had given them success by trying to play in front of the Sharks instead of behind them.

The third period was much more even, with both teams settling in and playing a much more back-and-forth game. Each side had their chances, a lot of them coming off the transition. Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist stood out for the Pens with how they were lugging the puck to the net, creating chances in tight and just playing inspiring hockey, while Joe Thornton had a couple of Grade-A chances that were turned aside by Matt Murray. However, overall I felt the Pens were the better team in that final 20 minutes and they were rewarded with yet another clutch goal late from Nick Bonino, who’s been terrific these playoffs. He stepped up offensively and then got called on defensively when the Pens took a penalty shortly after, and helped Pittsburgh kill it off during a sequence where the crowd at CONSOL Energy Center was deafening as they rallied behind their team as they closed out the win.

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