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Penguins' Gritty Game 1 Win Shows How Tight Stanley Cup Final vs. Sharks Will Be

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2016

Pittsburgh Penguins' Ben Lovejoy (12) and Carl Hagelin (62) swarm Nick Bonino after his game-winning goal against the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final series Monday, May 30, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

The game wasn't even through the first 20 minutes when pundits like the CBC's Don Cherry started burying the San Jose Sharks on the broadcast.

In a battle between speed and strength, it appeared speed had the advantage.

The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the shot count in the first period, 15-4. They capitalized on a couple of those opportunities as well, getting goals from rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary just 1:02 apart with less than eight minutes to play—which is when the proverbial forks came out.

But the rest of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final—a dramatic 3-2 Penguins victory decided in the final minutes—showed just how close this series is going to be and how one minor mistake might be the difference in every one of the next five or six.

Yes, it's likely going to be a long one.

In Game 1, the mistake that made the difference was a dropped stick. Sharks defenseman Brent Burns was left without his lumber in the dying minutes, and his Pens counterpart, blueliner Kris Letang, made him pay with a pristine pass out of the corner to a wide-open Nick Bonino in front of the net.

Bonino took a split second before firing the puck high past Martin Jones for the game-winner with just 2:33 left in regulation.

Rogers NHL LIVE @RogersNHLLive

Nick Bonino scores the game-winner for the @penguins! They take Game 1 of the #StanleyCup Final, 3-2. #RGCL https://t.co/aa0r9ubdE4

Jones got a piece of it with his blocker, but it wasn't enough. The first-year starter, though, proved he wasn't going to be intimidated by the star-powered Penguins or the pressures of playing in the Stanley Cup Final.

The 26-year-old made 38 saves, including a handful worthy of watching again in the highlights.

steph @myregularface

Jones save on Kessel https://t.co/VHbcBUxQdr

Rookie netminder Matt Murray wasn't as busy, but the 22-year-old was just as reliable, finishing with 24 saves on 26 shots faced.

Both goalies answered questions about how they would handle the heavy responsibility of backstopping a team to the ultimate prize, and whoever performs more consistently will offer his team an advantage in a matchup where few can be found.

The Pens had their way in the transition game early on. Rust started a nice rush and scored the first goal of Game 1 by driving to the net to tap in a loose puck after Justin Schultz's shot was partially blocked.

steph @myregularface

https://t.co/LJmyN8T91K

Sidney Crosby's quick movements up and down the boards led to a perfect pass to Sheary, who sent a patient wrist shot high past Jones to pad the lead.

But the Sharks showed in the second period how strength can counter speed.

A lucky bounce got them on the board on the power play. Tomas Hertl's centering attempt hit defenseman Olli Maatta and found a hole on Murray to cut the Pens' lead in half. But the tying goal was trademark Sharks—all forecheck and hard work.

Logan Couture owned Maatta along the boards, then got the puck to Burns for a shot and a rebound that Patrick Marleau zipped around the back of the net and inside the far post to square things up.

steph @myregularface

Marleau goal https://t.co/gEpvLGmwFE

It wasn't an easy task on the backhand, but the veteran made sure his fifth goal of these playoffs and his first ever in the Stanley Cup Final was a meaningful one.

On the other end, Crosby had one of his most impressive games this spring, setting up teammates repeatedly and inspiring with his play, according to Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan via Michael Russo of the Star Tribune:

Michael Russo @RussoHockey

Sullivan on Crosby: "You can see his hunger. He’s inspiring. I thought he was a force out there all night. He has that twinkle in his eye"

Just wait until Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel get going too.

The same goes for Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski of the Sharks.

Those superstars were all blanked in Game 1 but will surely be heard from as the series moves forward.

It's going to be a memorable one, so buckle up.

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