SAN JOSE - Technically, it was not a power-play goal. But it was possibly the biggest goal of the San Jose Sharks' season to that point.
Before Joonas Donskoi could be the overtime hero in a 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on Saturday, the Sharks had to overcome yet another deficit.
The situation appeared discouraging; the Sharks trailed 2-1 and the final seconds of a four-minute high sticking double minor against Penguins center Nick Bonino were ticking away. But just as Bonino was about to exit the penalty box, Joel Ward blasted a 41-foot slap shot past goaltender Matt Murray to tie game with 11:12 remaining in regulation.
Just like that, the Sharks had life.
"Huge goal," Sharks center Joe Thornton said.
Thornton played a significant role in making it happen, beginning with the penalty itself. Bonino's stick blade clipped Thornton under his right eye, opening a small cut and resulting in the four-minute power play 4:48 into the third period.
At that point, it would have been understandable if the Sharks were frustrated. They were playing their best game of the series and were trailing yet again. After defenseman Justin Braun scored 9:34 into the first period to answer Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy's goal 5:29 into the game, the Sharks made a big push in the second period to get the go-ahead goal and their first lead of the series, but were thwarted repeatedly by Murray.
Patric Hornqvist scored on a deflection with 52.3 seconds remaining in the second period and the Penguins had another lead. The Sharks knew the four-minute man-advantage was a pivotal moment. Their power play has been lethal throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, clicking at 27.7 percent entering Game 3, but they weren't getting many opportunities to utilize it against the Penguins.
Prior to Bonino's penalty, they had four power plays all series, including one in the second period on Saturday.
"That was our opportunity," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "The door kind of opened up there. We haven't had a lot of power plays. We got one. We needed to cash in there."
The Sharks started out by getting four shots on goal in the initial 1:28 of the man-advantage, including an open chance for Patrick Marleau from the left side right off the bat at 4:53, but Murray was there to stop each one. With the first minor expired and his first power-play unit winded, DeBoer called his timeout at 7:32 to give his players some rest.
But as the power play continued, the Penguins penalty kill got better and did not allow another shot. With 10 seconds remaining in Bonino's second minor, Sidney Crosby carried the puck out of the Pittsburgh zone on the right wing and had defenseman Kris Letang jump up on his left for a potential 2-on-1.
Instead of getting the puck in deep after crossing the San Jose blue line, Crosby tried to pass to Letang, but a back-checking Thornton intercepted the puck and backhanded it in the other direction to Donskoi.
"Huge play," Sharks goaltender Martin Jones said of Thornton's backcheck. "I thought the guys did a good job with back pressure all night."
Donskoi fed Ward, who crossed the Pittsburgh blue line before letting go a slap shot from the high slot that powered its way past Murray's catching glove.
"I was just going to hold on to it for a split second," Ward said. "I saw a lane and buried the head and took a slapper and was fortunate it went in."
Ward has been fortunate scoring these kind of goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs throughout his career. It was the 35-year-old right wing's seventh goal of the postseason and his 21st in 74 career playoff games.
"He seems to get those clutch goals all the time and every goal he gets seems to be a big, big goal, and that was huge," Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said. "They did a good job on the kill. That could have been a big momentum swing for us obviously, to score. … That's a huge goal there. You're down, you get a four-minute (power play), you want to score. So that was huge to get it at the end there."
It missed being a power-play goal by one second, but essentially was one because Bonino had yet exit the box. That set the stage for Donskoi to score the winner 12:18 into sudden death and for the Sharks to get back in the series.
The Penguins still lead the Cup Final 2-1, but the Sharks feel a lot better about themselves heading into Game 4 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) after getting their first win of the series.
"Knowing that we're here in the Stanley Cup Final, you just want to help," Ward said. "Hopefully I can continue on in the process and build on it next game and try to contribute again, so I try not to dwell or think about it too much. But it was good to win and I'm just looking to duplicate that next game."
by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer