Sharks claw toward Cup with Game 3 OT win

PIttsburgh Penguins vs
Sharks forward Joel Ward celebrates a third period goal with teammates in San Jose's 3-2 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at SAP Center.

The Sharks took their first steps up the silver slopes of Mount Stanley Cup Saturday night, slashing the Penguins’ lead in the series to 2-1 with a 3-2 overtime victory.

Joonas Donskoi netted the biggest score in franchise history to thunderous applause from the SAP Center crowd, sealing the Sharks’ lone win on hockey’s biggest stage — a win San Jose desperately needed.

Joe Thornton said:

“Huge, huge. It was a clutch goal. (Donskoi) is always around the puck, he always wants the puck. What can I say, it was just a huge goal from him again tonight.”

There’s a long way to go if San Jose hopes to cheat the odds of recovery from a 2-0 deficit — a feat that only six of 50 teams in the same pinch have accomplished — but if Saturday night’s win wasn’t a momentum swing, it was at least a sign that the Sharks can outmatch Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pens for a significant amount of time.

This story has been updated with quotes and additional material from the Sharks dressing room at SAP Center in San Jose.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones said:

“We knew that was a must-win game for us. We thought we had played well up until (overtime). We know we’re still in a hole here. We’ve got a lot of work, but that was a big game.”

Pittsburgh’s first goal of the evening — a Ben Lovejoy wrister that snuck past Jones behind Matt Cullen’s screen — came amid of a seven-shot barrage that preceded Sharks’ first official attempt at the net.

Justin Braun throttled the game’s trajectory with shot No. 2. For the second consecutive game, the defenseman pinpointed a stick side gap next to Penguins goalie Matt Murray from outside, tying the score at 1-1 and resuscitating the San Jose ranks.

Head Coach Peter DeBoer said:

“You could tell that these (fans) have been waiting for something like this for a long time, and I think the guys wanted to play hard for them. I thought we were a little jittery early, probably because of that. Once we settled in (the crowd) was a big help for us.

Suddenly, the Sharks’ possessions were more fleshed out and laden with chances. Jones continued to make use of his nitrous-infused muscle fibers and Roman Polak tracked down a one-on-one breakaway with a display of the big “S-word” that has haunted San Jose throughout the series — speed.

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The second period kicked off a ceasefire that lasted 19 minutes and mounted to Cold War levels of tension. What started as a pile up in the Pittsburgh crease eventually dispersed into a series of fistfights that ignited physicality from both sides. The Sharks appeared energized by the chippiness and brutalized the Pens over the next stretch, generating a power-play chance along the way.

After what looked to be among the Sharks’ best period of the series, it was Pittsburgh who stole a 2-1 lead heading into the third. Patric Hornqvist redirected another Lovejoy slap shot past Jones for a demoralizing score with 52 seconds left to play in the middle period.

Joel Ward added to his growing list of unforgettable playoff moments during another man-up opportunity in the third, ripping a breakaway shot off the — very uncharacteristically — misplaced glove of Murray to knot the score at 2-2.

Ward said:

“I just visualize and watch athletes that step up at different times and try pick up little things. It’s just fun, it’s just fun. I’m just enjoying the moment, and I think the atmosphere of the game’s and the crowd really speaks for itself.”

The tie lasted through the end of regulation, setting Donskoi up for his franchise-defining moment. More than 12 minutes into a grueling overtime, the Finnish transplant curled around the net and sailed a shot towards Murray from a ludicrous angle. San Jose sticks were already raised in triumph before the Pittsburgh goalie turned to see the puck behind him.

Donskoi said:

“I think I had a lot of scoring chances throughout the finals, and this was a good time to get it in. I think this was the best game from us tonight, great effort tonight from the whole team.”

The Sharks will suit up for Game 4 Monday, when they’ll look to match Pittsburgh’s two-game home sweep and erase their alarming start toward the Stanley Cup.

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