Finnish forward Joonas Donskoi is a rookie, so he can't be blamed for any of the San Jose Sharks' playoff shortcomings in recent years.
Maybe it's because he bears none of the burden of those failures that he has been able to lead the Sharks to their greatest postseason success in their 25-year history.
Donskoi, aiming high on Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, rifled a shot into the net 12 minutes 18 seconds into sudden-death overtime, lifting the Sharks to a 3-2 victory Saturday before a raucous crowd that endured many emotional shifts during the team's first-ever Stanley Cup Final home game.
For fans, the triumph was a release of tension, a burst of joy, and elimination of the possibility the Sharks would fall behind in the Final, 3-0. For Donskoi, calm and composed, it was another day at the office.
"I think I had a lot of scoring chances through the whole Final," he said, "and this was a good time to get it in."
There's an understatement.
"He's the real deal, a real good player for us. We wouldn't be here without him," Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer said, and that's not an understatement.
The Sharks were aiming high on Murray, perhaps finding a flaw.
"I think we just shoot more," said Donskoi, whose winner was assisted by Chris Tierney. "We were passing up good opportunities too much."
Simply getting shots through was a priority for the Sharks, but it was far from easy because the Penguins continued to get their bodies and their sticks on shots. The Penguins were credited with blocking 38 shots, 12 of them from San Jose defenseman Brent Burns alone. But that strategy was fine with him.
"I hope they run out of sticks," he said. "I'm trying to break their budget."
No one has broken the Sharks' spirit, a turnaround for a team that has had a too-soft psyche in previous seasons and has the rare distinction of squandering a 3-0 series lead, against the Kings in the first round in 2014. Much credit for their new outlook goes to newcomers such as Donskoi and veteran Joel Ward; some of it goes to DeBoer, who encouraged players not to think about having lost their previous four overtime games this spring but to think about positive outcomes yet to be earned.
"We've always felt good. The group is always upbeat, pretty chilled and relaxed," Ward said. "Just come out hard and play our game… Just keep going, keep going. Just keep believing in the process was the main thing."
Former Duck Ben Lovejoy gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 5 minutes 29 seconds into the game, capitalizing on giveaways by Sharks goaltender Martin Jones and Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon before firing a shot that appeared to deflect off San Jose defenseman Roman Polak before it entered the net.
The Sharks pulled even at 9:34 on a shot by defenseman Justin Braun through a maze of bodies, giving Braun a two-game goalscoring streak for the first time in his career.
The Penguins scored what could have been a dagger when Patric Hornqvist redirected a shot by Lovejoy with 52.3 seconds left in the second period, but the Sharks tied it at 2-2 as a double-minor penalty against Nick Bonino was about to expire. Ward, striding just over the Stanley Cup Final logo painted onto the ice, let go a blast that set the crowd to roaring
That's one that Murray probably should have had. Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan, asked about Murray's performance, was polite but not effusive.
"I thought Matt was solid. He made some big saves for us," Sullivan said. "He gave us a chance to win tonight."
But they didn't win, and the Sharks did, despite a lower-body injury that took top-line left wing Tomas Hertl out of the lineup. There were many individual contributions, such as Donskoi's creativity and the defensive job done by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, whose doggedness helped minimize the impact of Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby and make him less a factor than he was in the first two games.
It was a team effort, a team win, one the old Sharks likely would not have pulled out. But this is a new time, a new team, a new outlook.
"It was a huge win," DeBoer said. "Changes the series."
And, maybe, their playoff history.