The odds were stacked against the Pittsburgh Penguins as they headed into the third period down 2-0 against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Sidney Crosby (concussion), Kris Letang (upper-body) and Conor Sheary (eye) were all out for the Stanley Cup Final rematch due to injuries, but the Pens would also beginning the third period without Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta, leaving Pittsburgh with only four defensemen.
But this team knows how to handle adversity, and it was proved with a dramatic 3-2 third-period comeback victory.
Evgeni Malkin took a tripping penalty 4:10 into the third period to compound the problems. But following a clutch penalty kill, Malkin barreled out of the box to make a play. The center found a bouncing puck in the slot and fired while turning to find the back of the net and start the Pens' resurgence.
One goal was enough to give Pittsburgh the spark it needed to finish out the game.
After the win, head coach Mike Sullivan said that Malkin was one of three players that stuck out to him, the other two Chris Kunitz and Phil Kessel.
"These guys play inspiring hockey," Sullivan said. "I thought they played the right way in the third period and they were tough to handle because of it. When those guys play that way, they're elite players. Regardless of who we have in the lineup, when those guys play that way they give us a chance to win."
On Saturday Sullivan accurately described Patric Hornqvist as a bull in a China closet. The same was true for Thursday.
Hornqvist was able to knock San Jose defenseman Brenden Dillon off the puck in the corner with a solid check to make way for Scott Wilson to slip a shot past the left skate of Sharks goaltender Martin Jones to tie the game 2-2 at the nine-minute mark in the third.
"I think Dillon didn't see me there," Hornqvist said. "He was kind of puck watching in the corner and both 'Willy' and 'Cully' came in too. I just came in on an angle, he couldn't see me. I just tried to get the puck loose and Willy got the puck and made a huge play at the net and tied the game."
That was just the beginning for Hornqvist.
With just under six minutes left to play, Hornqvist capitalized on a power-play opportunity swatting in a rebound off the skate of San Jose's Joel Ward and giving the Pens a 3-2 lead that they would carry to the end of the game.
"I think he's one of those guys that our opponents just hate to play against him," Sullivan said of Hornqvist. "He's in people's faces all the time, he's on top of the goalie...he's in on the forecheck, he's the first guy, he finishes that check hard, creates that loose puck. It's all of those thankless jobs, they don't show up on the score sheet, but they help you win and that's what 'Horny' does for this team."
The comeback victory was a huge confidence builder to the team, especially after back-to-back losses, including a 4-0 blanking to Montreal on Tuesday night.
"'Sully' said you don't get points for how pretty the wins are," Ian Cole said. "We can win ugly too and I think we went out there and really came together as a team and did that."