Rick Nash, Anton Stralman, Jared Boll, Derek MacKenzie, Jan Hejda

Early ride on the Zamboni – Saturday, March 12

Pittsburgh, Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 0

Someone should have told the Penguins this was a matinee tilt. The Habs scored 46 seconds into the game and as the rest of the game would show, that would be enough. In fact, the Pens had difficulties at the beginning of both the 1st and 2nd periods as they gave up early goals. Carey Price bounced back nicely from the Halak/Price hype-fest in St. Louis as he earned his 8th shutout of the season. The best news of the day for the Penguins was that Crosby made it to the rink today. Unfortunately, he was in the press box and not on the bench—they could have used some offense today.

Florida 4, Tampa Bay 3 (OT)

This looked like a game that could have helped the Lightning stop the bleeding. Apparently the Florida Panthers didn’t get the memo.
The Lightning started slow and rallied to come back in the 3rd period and send the game to overtime. But once there, Jason Garrison flipped a backhander over a sprawling Mike Smith for the game-winner with 16 seconds left for the victorious Panthers. The loss dropped the Lightning to 1-4-3 over their last 7 and 3 points behind the Southeast Division leading Washington Capitals. Hey, at least Steven Stamkos scored another goal.

Toronto 4, Buffalo 3

James Reimer made 39 saves, Phil Kessel scored the game winner, and the Maple Leafs pulled within 4 points of the last playoff spot. Not only did they pick the right time to end their 3-game losing streak, but they picked the right team to do it against. Nothing like beating the team you’re chasing to help out in the standings. The Leafs came from behind in the 3rd period as they got two quick goals from Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel to stick the dagger in the Sabres.

The loss was a sour way to end an otherwise successful 7 game road trip. Including the loss in Toronto, they were still able to finish 4-2-1 away from Buffalo. The good news was Carolina lost as well and they were able to hang onto the 8th seed.

Atlanta 5, Philadelphia 4 (OT)

The Flyers took a 3-0 lead into the 3rd period against the Thrashers. Surprisingly, it wasn’t enough. Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom all scored to put Atlanta in a position to make it interesting. Then Andrew Ladd scored with 44 seconds left to tie the game; Ron Hainsey scored on a beautiful top-shelf, backhand redirection early in OT to cap the comeback and sent Flyers fans home disappointed.

If you only saw the first 40 minutes of the game, you may have been tempted to turn the game off in the 2nd intermission. The Flyers were not only leading—but carried the play in the 2nd period and seemingly had control of the game as they looked for their 3rd straight win. Even though Ville Leino contributed a hat trick and the Flyers earned the loser point for 91 on the season (and still in 1st place in the East), there’s no doubt they let a point get away.

New Jersey 3, NY Islanders 2 (OT)

Another game, another Devils win. If this team won any games before January, they’d be the favorites in the Eastern Conference and maybe the NHL to make a run for the Cup. As it is, they’ll have to settle for the title “team no one wants to have to face in the playoffs.” For the Isles, it’s loses like these that absolutely kill their ever dwindling playoff hopes.

The Devils dominated the game outshooting the Isles 35-15, but still needed a 3rd period goal from David Clarkson to force it to extra time. The win pushes their record during this historic run to an incredible 22-3-2 in their last 27. More importantly, the win puts them only 6 points out of the final playoff spot. The only question is if they started too late.

Columbus 3, Carolina 2

Going into the game, the Hurricanes had lost 3 straight and the Blue Jackets were winless in their last 7 games. As they say, something had to give. Luckily for the Blue Jackets, it was their winless streak that went out the window as they escaped Raleigh with a win and held the Hurricanes at 9th place in the standings (2 points behind the 8th seed).

Steve Mason was able to bounce back after losing a night ago at home against the Kings and Derek MacKenzie was able to pot 2 (including the rare game-winning, empty-net goal) as the Jackets did what they could to try to remain within striking distance in the West. Carolina, on the other hand, had a tough night on the power play. More specifically, they had a tough time on the 5-on-3 power play as they failed three separate times on Saturday night. Super-rookie Jeff Skinner finally scored their first goal of the game halfway through the 3rd, but it was too little too late.

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    On his third team in three years, Bonino has ‘found a home for sure’ in Pittsburgh

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    PITTSBURGH — In Anaheim, Nick Bonino was good, but not quite good enough to be the Ducks’ second-line center. So two summers ago he was traded to Vancouver as part of a package for Ryan Kesler.

    In Vancouver, Bonino had one decent enough season, but the Canucks ultimately decided he wasn’t the kind of “foundation piece” they were looking for. So last summer he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of a package for Brandon Sutter.

    In Pittsburgh though?

    In Pittsburgh, Nick Bonino is a playoff hero, verging on folk hero. The 28-year-old scored the winning goal in the final minutes of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The chemistry he’s developed with linemates Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin has helped take the pressure off Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It’s given the Penguins what they’ve needed for so many years.

    “He’s had some huge goals in the playoffs, come up really big,” said teammate Matt Cullen. “Obviously playing in the middle of that line, he’s been huge for us all playoffs. It just brings another element of depth to our team.”

    And if you think Cullen had nice things to say about Bonino, that was nothing compared to head coach Mike Sullivan.

    “I think he’s a terrific player in every aspect of the game,” said Sullivan. “We use him in so many key situations, both offensively and defensively. I think he’s a guy that has a real high hockey IQ, sees the ice really well. He has real good hands. His awareness defensively I think, the use of his stick to take passing lanes away, it’s impressive.

    “He’s brave. He blocks shots. He’s one of our better shot-blockers. He’s a good faceoff guy. 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. We think he’s a terrific player.”

    Signed through next season, after which he can become an unrestricted free agent, Bonino was asked if he’s finally found a long-term home in Pittsburgh.

    “I don’t know about long-term, you never know. Especially me, the last few summers,” he said.

    “[But] I think I found a home for sure. I enjoy the guys, enjoy the team. Organization is first class. Definitely feels nice to be in the Cup final playing with these two guys. It’s been a lot of fun for me.”

    Despite rough start, the Sharks ‘know we’re going to get better’

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring a third period goal against Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    PITTSBURGH — It’s only been one game of the Stanley Cup Final and the San Jose Sharks are already tired of hearing about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ speed.

    “It’s an NHL team,” said defenseman Brent Burns. “They’re fast. So is St. Louis. It’s not like St. Louis has got boots on.”

    “They’re a good rush team, they’ve got some speed, they make some plays,” captain Joe Pavelski grudgingly conceded. “I don’t know, those teams we’ve played before are pretty good. I think Nashville was probably one of the better rush teams that we saw.”

    In other words, the Penguins’ speed was no big deal. Nothing new. Nothing to panic about. The Sharks can play better than they showed in Game 1, a 3-2 loss that wasn’t decided until the final few minutes.

    “They definitely came out with some speed and were skating, created some chances,” said Pavelski. “But we helped that out along the way, too.”

    After getting outshot 15-4 and outscored 2-0 in the first period, the Sharks fought back in the second. They cut down the turnovers, outshot the Penguins 13-8, and tied the game.

    “They carried the first, obviously. We carried the second I think, and then the third was two good teams going at it,” said Burns, calling the opening 20 minutes a “Holy [expletive] we’re here” experience for a San Jose group that has never been this far in the playoffs.

    “You make the Stanley Cup finals, you dream about it for a long time,” he said. “You probably used more energy the last couple of days thinking about it than playing in a game. … I think we’ll be better second game.”

    Head coach Pete DeBoer agreed.

    “They’re a fast team,” he said. “They dictated play in the first. I thought when we played our game in the second, they had trouble with us. It’s the first game of the series. It reminds me a lot of St. Louis Game 1. I know we’re going to get better. Our execution’s got to get better. Part of it was some of the pressure they put on, but part of it was self-inflicted.”

    He added, “There’s nothing that I saw tonight that I’m going out of here thinking that we can’t come out and compete and play much better on our end.”

    Sullivan calls it a ‘blindside hit to the head,’ but Marleau doesn’t think suspension’s coming

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    PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the first controversial incident of the Stanley Cup Final.

    Patrick Marleau‘s illegal check to the head on Bryan Rust — one that earned Marleau a minor penalty, and forced Rust to exit the game — left Rust day-to-day with an upper-body injury, per Pens head coach Mike Sullivan.

    When asked what he thought of the hit, Sullivan was blunt.

    “It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

    Marleau wasn’t saying much about the incident following the game, but did suggest he wasn’t expecting supplemental discipline:

    “I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

    It’ll be interesting to see what transpires. There hasn’t been a suspension in the Stanley Cup Final since Vancouver’s Aaron Rome was given a four-game ban for his massive hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton.

    Marleau has no history with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

    It should be mentioned the DoPS has been fairly active this spring, handing down five suspensions, including a pair of three-gamers to Brooks Orpik and Brayden Schenn.

    Bonino scores late, role guys star again as Pens take Game 1

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    PITTSBURGH — If this playoff run has proven anything, it’s that the Penguins are more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

    Tonight only reaffirmed it.

    Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino did all the scoring on Monday, with Bonino’s late marker the winner as Pittsburgh defeated San Jose 3-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    Bonino’s goal, his fourth of the playoffs, came with just over two minutes remaining, capping off a quality opener in which both teams carried play for long stretches.

    Rust and Sheary punctuated a dominant opening period for the Penguins — they out-shot the Sharks 15-4 — but the Sharks replied with a stellar second frame, equalizing on goals from Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau.

    That set the stage for a dramatic third, and the Bonino goal.

    That he, Rust and Sheary did the scoring for Pittsburgh was fitting. There’d been plenty of talk heading into this series about role players coming up large, to the point where the American Hockey League sent out a press release noting that 23 of 25 Penguins that’ve played in the playoffs thus far came through the AHL, highlighting the “big four” from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: Rust, Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray.

    Rust etched himself into Pittsburgh lore in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Lightning.

    Murray’s exploits are pretty well-known. The 22-year-old was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6 of the ECF, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

    He was good again on Monday, with 24 saves on 26 shots.

    Sheary, the diminutive speedster, scored his third goal of the playoffs tonight. Kuhnhackl tied a team high with five hits.

    As such, Pittsburgh has to be thrilled about how tonight went. They held up home ice and got contributions from across the board — the only downer has to be the health of Rust, who twice exited the contest after taking a hit to the head from Marleau.

    As for the Sharks… well, this one will sting a bit. The club did remarkably well to rally from a two-goal deficit and carried play in the second period, but can’t be pleased.

    They were beaten in the possession game and out-shot badly (41-26), things head coach Peter DeBoer wanted to control against Pittsburgh, a team he considers the fastest in the league.

    That said, there are positives moving forward. Martin Jones was outstanding in his Stanley Cup Final debut, with 38 saves on 41 shots, and there’s still a chance to get the split on Wednesday night.

    Of course, to do that, the Sharks will have to figure out how to slow down Pittsburgh’s role players.