The puck was about to be dropped in the San Jose Sharks’ zone early in sudden-death overtime of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, but Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby had an idea and he wouldn’t go to the faceoff dot until he got his chess pieces lined up.
First, Crosby told defenseman Kris Letang, a right-handed shooter, to switch over to the left side. Then, Crosby said he’d draw the puck back but told Letang not to blast a shot at goaltender Martin Jones. Instead, Crosby told Letang to pass to rookie left wing Conor Sheary, who also got some prompts.
“Sid came up to me before the draw and told me to line up on the wall. We hadn’t really done that before,” Sheary said. “He said he’s going to win it back and Tanger is going to find me in the soft area there. Found it pretty perfectly.”
Just like that, Crosby beat Joel Ward for his 17th win in 24 faceoffs, Letang faked a shot before passing the puck to Sheary, and Sheary’s shot from the left circle snaked through a sea of bodies 2 minutes 35 seconds into overtime to give the Penguins a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
“When you work that hard, these games, you’re fighting for every inch out there,” Crosby said. “To have the game go the way it did, and they tied it up late, it could go either way. Anything can happen, and to find a way to win definitely feels good.”
Although he drew up the winning play so well, he didn’t go so far as to predict Sheary would score. “That’s the only thing he left out,” Sheary said. “It usually doesn’t work out like that when you draw up a play or even talk about a play.”
But because it did, the Penguins again proved they can win low-scoring games, that a defense that appeared shaky and depleted by injuries can clamp down and neutralize the Sharks’ big bodies and big scoring threats.
Through two games, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski each have three shots and no points. San Jose scored its only goal Wednesday with 4:05 left in the third period, when defenseman Justin Braun was set up by Logan Couture for a shot from just above the right circle. The Sharks have two even-strength goal through two games, since they scored one of their goals in their 3-2 loss in Game 1 during a power play.
“We’ve gone through a lot these playoffs and we’ve got to move on past stuff and just push forward and forget about these two games,” Braun said. “In the third period I thought we had a pretty good push. We started a little slower than we wanted to again but I thought we got stronger as the game went on.”
Not as strong, though, as Crosby’s intuition and overall performance were on Wednesday. “For me right now,” Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan said, “I think he’s inspiring for our group.”
According to the NHL, 44 of the 49 teams that have taken a 2-0 lead in the Cup Final since the league adopted a best-of-seven format in 1939 have gone on to become champions. But Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer cautioned against writing off his team, which will host Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday at the SAP Center.
“Game 1 was decided in the last two minutes. Tonight is an overtime game. I think we’ll hold off on the funeral,” DeBoer said. “We have a lot of hockey left to play.”
The Penguins scored the game’s first goal, at 8:20 of the second period, after a giveaway by Sharks defenseman Roman Polak in his own zone. Carl Hagelin pounced on it and passed to Nick Bonino, who was looking to pass to Phil Kessel on the right side. The puck appeared to be going wide of the net but deflected off the diving Polak and toward the net, where Kessel prodded it over the goal line.
Both teams had shots clang off the post and crossbar but the Penguins held onto their lead until Couture won a puck battle behind the net and fed Braun.
The Penguins could have been deflated by losing the lead so late. Instead, they remained calm and deferred to Crosby’s leadership.
“We all want to be difference-makers out there, we don’t want to just be out there,” said Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who made 21 saves. “That mind-set is what helps our whole team be successful. Each night different guys are stepping up. That’s huge.”