Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bonino was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2007 and remembers attending a couple of their development camps. Although he never signed with them, he kept his Sharks jersey as a souvenir and still has it stashed away somewhere, he said Monday morning.
After his late goal dealt the Sharks a 3-2 defeat in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, they might demand that he return that jersey immediately, laundered or not.
Bonino, who spent parts of five seasons with the Ducks before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks and then to Pittsburgh last summer, spoiled the Sharks' Stanley Cup Final debut by scoring with 2 minutes 33 seconds to play in the third period.
With the Sharks scrambling after defenseman Brett Burns lost his stick, Bonino took a nifty pass from defenseman Kris Letang and lifted the puck past goaltender Martin Jones, setting off roars that shook the walls at Consol Energy Center.
"That wasn't my hardest shot by any means," Bonino said, "but I just found a way to flip it over him."
That capped a game that flip-flopped between dominance by the Penguins in the first period and by the Sharks in the second, a succession of ebbs and flows and bursts of brilliance from veterans such as Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and kids such as Penguins goalie Matt Murray and forwards Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary as well as Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi.
"I don't think the moment was too big for our team," Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said, but that was true of the Sharks too. They got 38 saves from Jones and erased a 2-0 lead the Penguins had built in the first period, adjusting in a way that testified to good coaching by Peter DeBoer and an unswerving commitment by a team that has gotten deeper into the playoffs than anyone could have predicted.
"It's two good teams," Burns said. "You're going to give good players chances. We're going to get chances. It's what you expect.
"We feel we could have won that game and we didn't play very good at the start. But you live to fight another day."
They appeared to be losing that fight in the first period, when the Penguins struck twice in 62 seconds on goals by Rust, from close range, and by Sheary into the upper-left corner of the net after Crosby curled away from defenseman Justin Braun and made a pinpoint backhand pass to the right side.
Rust, who has six playoff goals, took a high hit to the head from San Jose forward Patrick Marleau early in the third period and left the game. He came back and played only one shift before returning to the locker room. Marleau got a minor penalty of an illegal check to the head, but the NHL's Department of Player Safety can review it and impose a fine or suspension. "It's a blindside hit to the head," Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan said. "I'm sure the league will look at it."
As thoroughly as the Penguins dominated the first period, the Sharks controlled play most of the second and pulled even .
San Jose's potent power play cashed in at 3:02. Joel Ward did a good job to keep the puck in the zone and got it to Burns, who found Donskoi high on the right side. Donskoi passed down low to Tomas Hertl, who turned and flicked the puck past Murray. Marleau tied the score at 18:12 with a wraparound that appeared to go off Murray's right foot. Murray had been leaning toward his left and couldn't move across quickly enough after Marleau carried the puck behind the net and tucked it inside the other post.
The Penguins outshot the Sharks in the third period, 18-9, but needed Bonino's late goal to prevail.
"I think he's a terrific player in every aspect of the game," Sullivan said, citing Bonino's vision, hands, defense awareness and his willingness to block shots, a category in which Bonino had a game-high six. "He's done so much for this team to help us get to this point. I don't know what other praise I can shower on him right now."
The first game between teams that rarely face each other usually is a feeling-out process. Monday's game had the feel of a series that could go long and produce magic from players such as Crosby, who's expected to do the impossible, and players such as Bonino, who might have finally found a hockey home in Pittsburgh.