SAN JOSE -- The biggest goal in the 25-year history of the San Jose Sharks came 12:18 into overtime Saturday. Rookie forward Joonas Donskoi curled from behind the Pittsburgh Penguins net into the left circle, cradling the puck on his blade. He spun and fired.
The puck zipped between two Penguins - forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Justin Schultz - and past goaltender Matt Murray up under the crossbar, lifting the Sharks to a 3-2 victory in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"Pure happiness," Sharks center Logan Couture called it.
Just like that, SAP Center was as loud as ever before, roaring with joy, roaring with relief. Not only had the Sharks won the first Stanley Cup Final game played in northern California, they had cut their series deficit to 2-1 instead of falling in a 3-0 hole, and they had come back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to do it. They had won in overtime for the first time in five tries.
We have a series again, not a march of the Penguins. Game 4 is back here Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), and you know the Shark Tank will be rocking again.
"To win this one, it's a huge confidence booster," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "Now we just need to continue it for Game 4."
The atmosphere was everything it was expected to be Saturday. Fans came dressed in sweaters of current players like Couture and Thornton and Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau and of players of the past like Pat Falloon and Owen Nolan and Mike Ricci and Jeff Freisen and Igor Larionov. They reached deep into their closets to show the depth of their devotion. This was a long time coming.
The Sharks could have pressed against that emotional backdrop. They could have gotten frustrated when things didn't go their way yet again, but they didn't.
After the Penguins took an early 1-0 lead because a puck deflected off of Sharks defenseman Roman Polak, they tied it a few minutes later. After they played their best period of the series in the second and fell behind 2-1 anyway, thanks to saves by Murray, a goal post hit by Couture and a deflection by Penguins forward Patrick Hornqvist with 53 seconds left, they felt it was coming instead of slipping away.
"We're a team that preaches, 'Stay with it. Stay with it,' " Sharks forward Chris Tierney said. "We seem to have pretty good third periods in this building, and we've had a lot of times where we've been down this year and came back and found a way to win."
Finally, the Sharks got a break. Just after a four-minute power play with Penguins forward Nick Bonino in the box for high-sticking Thornton and leaving a welt under his right eye forward Joel Ward ripped a shot on the rush past Murray's glove and tied the game 8:48 into the third.
Ward was acquired in the offseason with a reputation for scoring clutch goals, and this was yet another one. It was his seventh goal of the playoffs for the Sharks, his fourth in the third period, his third that tied the game or gave the Sharks the lead. But the truth is that it never should have gone in. It was a rare error amid an otherwise brilliant night and playoffs for Murray.
"A little bit of relief," Tierney said. "We'd had a couple chances. Logan hit the post. So it was finally nice just to break through. Kind of felt like, 'OK, now we can go get the next one.' "
When they entered the dressing room after regulation ended, the Sharks were well aware of their 0-4 overtime record. They didn't feel discouraged. They felt due.
"We said, 'We've been on the other side of this, so let's feel good about ourselves,' " Thornton said.
Donskoi let them do just that, but it goes beyond the overtime goal. Outplayed in the first two games in Pittsburgh, the Sharks have improved as this series has gone along, and they have room to keep improving. They are handling the Penguins' speed better. They are sustaining possession in the Penguins' end better. They still have to get to the puck to the net better, but they think they're close.
The Penguins outshot the Sharks 42-26 in Game 3, but the Sharks led in shot attempts 79-76. The main difference: The Penguins blocked 38 shots, 12 by Burns alone. Burns joked that he hoped the Penguins would run out of sticks soon.
"It's right there," Pavelski said. "It really feels like it's right there. There's a couple plays that hit sticks. We're coming down on the pucks, and you feel like you've got some opening, and they're just getting that stick on it at the last second to just kind of break it up. So we'll keep working on it, keep trying to find some space."
It is right there now for the Sharks. It really is. Win Game 4, and this thing is tied, and it won't be about the playing the first Stanley Cup Final games in northern California anymore. It will be about closing in on San Jose's first Stanley Cup.
"We're a confident group," Tierney said. "We believe in ourselves. We believe we can win this series."
by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist