Pittsburgh Penguins’ Conor Sheary Wins it in OT

Apr 21, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) celebrates after scoring a goal during the first period in game four of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 21, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) celebrates after scoring a goal during the first period in game four of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

Conor Sheary scored early in overtime for the Pittsburgh Penguins to give them a 2-0 series lead over the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final. The Pens hold a serious advantage as they head westward.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been a force to be reckoned with this postseason, outshooting their opponents consistently and dominating major stretches of game play. Their rookies have been a huge factor in that, including Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary, the latter of which scored the overtime game winner tonight.

The Penguins got away with a win in game one of the Stanley Cup Final, but the San Jose Sharks wanted to make sure they didn’t head back home two games in the hole. Luckily for us, the Penguins weren’t about to let that happen.

The first period ended with no score, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Both teams made some clever plays and had a few good chances on their target nets. Sidney Crosby was especially effective in trying to set up plays and in putting the puck on net when those didn’t work out.

Paul Martin took the only penalty of the first twenty minutes for a delay of game, but the Sharks killed it off. The Penguins’ powerplay units looked a little disjointed and couldn’t put much action together to beat Martin Jones. Martin’s defense partner, Brent Burns, was a big factor of that not only during the kill but also throughout the whole stanza.

Burns is 6’5″ and uses that size to not only throw heavy hits and block out bodies but also to break up passes. The Penguins saw a lot of that against the Tampa Bay Lightning and their many hulking players, but Burns bailed his team out more than once tonight by getting his stick in the way of Pittsburgh plays.

The Penguins did a lot of that too, though, and I prefer it to happen that way.

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Just as the period ended, there was an obvious missed call by the referees when six Sharks were on the ice and none were near the bench at all. Of course, given how poor the Penguins’ PP looked, a no-call might have been the best option for them. On the other hand, refs in the Stanley Cup Final just can’t miss things like that.

The second period began as more of the same – several good chances for both teams, but neither converting. Tom Kuhnhackl had a spectacular chance to move in on Jones, who made a ridiculous save to keep the game scoreless. With the success of his fellow rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary, Kuhnhackl’s flown more under the radar, but he has stepped up just as much as they have.

Though he may not be on the scoresheet as much as either of those two, he uses his size to his advantage and is a fast skater, big hitter, and fearless shot-blocker.

Marc-Andre Fleury likes to thank his goalposts when they help him out and make saves, and Matt Murray should take a page out of the older goalie’s book tonight. Tomas Hertl had two near-misses that both rebounded off the pipes, and that’s a divine bit of puck luck right there.

The Penguins dominated faceoffs in game one of the series, in large part thanks to Nick Bonino. That’s a major factor in winning any game, because obviously the more you can control the puck, the better. Tonight they also did very well on the dot, which was a decisive part of this game in which the teams were pretty evenly matched otherwise.

The first game also saw a bit of a feeling-out period for both sides, in that each team had a period of dominance and one of collapse before playing a fairly equal third. There was none of that tonight – both of these teams are fast and boast comparable rosters, and that balanced out for some great hockey.

Nearly midway into the second period, the Penguins got on the board thanks to Phil Kessel and that awesome HBK line. The Sharks’ third defensive pair of Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon essentially gift-wrapped the goal for them: Polak turned the puck over in the Sharks’ own zone and Dillon couldn’t handle it in the face of Carl Hagelin‘s speed. Jones moved off to the side to focus on Bonino, and Kessel put the deflected puck in a wide open net.

Take a look at just how lethal that team has been in the playoffs:

Not bad. Not bad at all. (Side note: I finally made it up to Primanti’s to get one of the HBK sandwiches yesterday. It was absolutely delicious and I love it as much as I love the HBK line. Still, I think the players are a little less likely to give me heart disease than the sandwich.)

The rest of the lineup was getting chances, too. New dad Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz zoomed up the ice and were ready to execute a good play, but Kunitz’s stick broke when he tried to shoot the puck. Just moments later, Ian Cole and Justin Schultz made a few nifty moves to get the puck to Hagelin, whose shot ricocheted off the crossbar.

The Sharks are more familiar with Schultz thanks to his years in Edmonton, and they understand that he doesn’t do as well when faced with physical pressure. However, they didn’t manage to do much of that yet – Schultz was third star of game one and looked really good again tonight.

The +/- stat may be a little obsolete but it’s worth noting that Schultz has never had a minus in his time with the Penguins. He’s been an underrated pickup for the Pens this season, as well.

As far as penalties in the second went, Martin took his second of the night but the Penguins’ PP couldn’t score on it, either. Then Cole took a penalty late in the first and though the Sharks had a great look, they couldn’t make anything happen before the second period ended. Forty-five seconds would carry over to the third, but their momentum was broken.

The Penguins carried their 1-0 league into the third and kept up their same torrid pace. Martin Jones played a great game and was really the only reason that the Penguins didn’t have at least a three goal lead. Though both teams are fast and like to shoot, the Penguins have the edge in both aspects. The rest of the Sharks lineup struggled to keep up.

With just over four minutes left in the game, Justin Braun tied it up. The puck seemed to bounce off the pipe and past Murray, the first time those goalposts worked against him tonight. To be honest, if anyone scored, I’m glad it was Braun; his father-in-law passed away just before the series began and he’ll be leaving the team to attend the funeral tomorrow. He deserves a positive right now.

The problematic thing is, that goal lit a fire under the Sharks. The visiting team put a ton of pressure on Murray and the Penguins’ defense in the last minute of the game, made all the more frustrating after Brent Burns high-sticked Tom Kuhnhackl and wasn’t penalized for it.

The game would go to overtime thanks to the best hockey the Sharks played since the middle of game one. Though the ice had been majorly tilted in the Penguins’ favor, that one fluky goal would be enough to make it anyone’s game.

Luckily for us, it would turn out to be the Penguins’ game. Just a couple of minutes into overtime, Conor Sheary would whip a beautiful shot past Martin Jones to give the Penguins a 2-1 win tonight and a 2-0 series lead. Crosby won the faceoff and got the puck to Kris Letang, who passed to Sheary in the slot.

I was outside with my dog for the entirety of overtime, so I may have a new superstition now. You’ll probably find us going on nice long walks any time this series requires extra minutes now.

Next: Pittsburgh Penguins Stole Game One but Must Improve

The Penguins will head to San Jose with two games in hand, and though the scores don’t show it they’ve been the better overall team by far. However, the Sharks are the first team the Penguins will have played this postseason that are not in the Eastern time zone, and that time difference will more than likely slow the Pens down a bit in game three (at least for the first period or so).