James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Penguins refuse to be intimidated, won’t go into a ‘defensive shell’

When the Pittsburgh Penguins are at their best, they’re playing without fear and exhibiting fearful speed.

The San Jose Sharks showed signs of adjusting to their strengths in Game 3, but the Penguins aren’t panicking as Game 4 rapidly approaches.

San Jose might be leveraging size advantages as they try to hem the Penguins in their own zone, yet that’s far from new for this team, as they told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Teams have been trying to out-muscle us, trying to intimidate us, for the last three months,” Ben Lovejoy said on Sunday.

“The Rangers did it. Washington did it. … We’re a team that prides ourselves on being brave.”

It’s one thing to handle hits against a bigger Sharks team. The key is for the Penguins to get back to the rapid transition game that plays to their strengths.

So, the Penguins aren’t being bullied into changing their ways, but can they adjust to the Sharks’ adjustments? We’ll find out in Game 4.

For a little more from Mike Sullivan, check out his comments to the press before tonight’s contest.

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    Video: Joonas Donskoi generates overtime magic for Sharks

    San Jose Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi seemed like he couldn’t buy a break during certain moments of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Much like some other Sharks players hitting multiple posts, Donskoi kept generating nice chances, yet he couldn’t quite get it done.

    It almost seemed a little comical to some at times.

    Donskoi kept plugging away, however, and he scored the overtime game-winner in Game 3 while also assisting on a big Joel Ward goal.

    Moments like these are about making a legacy: Donskoi’s huge goal already towers over those missed shots, and that will only loom larger over time. He’s the guy who scored the first Stanley Cup Final game-winner in Sharks history, after all.

    For more in the Stella Artois series, click here.

    Also, here is the “Showtime: ALL ACCESS version.”

    Matthew Tkachuk pumps up his draft stock: ‘People want winners’

    No doubt about, the line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak drove the London Knights to a 2016 Memorial Cup victory … and Tkachuk knows many in the hockey world were watching.

    While plenty of people asked about his experiences growing up as Keith Tkachuk’s son as draft prospects met with the media in San Jose, the elite 2016 NHL Draft prospect seemed to know that his own successes are a big selling point.

    “People want winners and I was fortunate enough to be on a winning team,” Tkachuk said. “I think a lot of people like that.”

    As much as impressive point totals matter, responding to “clutch situations” means a lot as well. Tkachuk checked off both boxes, and that can really help to boost his credentials in many eyes.

    It’s something Elliotte Friedman noted in a recent edition of “30 Thoughts.”

    Matthew Tkachuk is “gaining momentum,” as one executive put it, days after the London Knight bulled his way through the Memorial Cup. You know the NHL’s preoccupation with skilled power forwards, and he certainly qualifies.

    Conventional wisdom is Auston Matthews goes first to Toronto, with Patrik Laine following to Winnipeg. I think we all expected Jesse Puljujarvi to go third, but it sure sounds like Tkachuk is pushing his way into the picture.

    Here are some highlights from that 2016 Memorial Cup win:

    As interesting as his upbringing may be – including getting to know the likes of David Backes while growing up in NHL locker rooms – teams really care about what he can do on the ice. And he’s acquitted himself quite nicely.

    While Tkachuk isn’t providing draft bulletin board material like Patrik Laine, he doesn’t seem shy about emphasizing his selling points as a prospect: hockey IQ, a willingness to go to dirty areas to score goals and of course … winning.

    Now, let’s all take a step back and admire that photo of Tkachuk with Lanny McDonald’s big, winning mouth seemingly preparing to eat him.

    Better late than never: Joel Ward sends Game 3 to OT

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    Despite generating a plethora of chances, the San Jose Sharks looked like they were about to blow a huge double-minor power-play opportunity when they needed a goal so badly.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins were mere seconds away from a huge four-minute penalty kill. Plenty of people are slamming Kris Letang for not sitting back on the play above, as Joel Ward eventually rifled home the 2-2 goal in the waning seconds of that PP opportunity.

    It stands as the Sharks’ first power-play goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

    Ward has a knack for scoring big goals, really.

    Again, Letang drew a lot of critiques, including from a former teammate:

    Update: That 2-2 goal ended up sending Game 3 to overtime, marking the second straight contest to go beyond regulation.

    Penguins grab another lead heading into third period

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    The San Jose Sharks are finally finding a way to slow down the Pittsburgh Penguins attack and carry possession, but it remains to be seen if those answers are coming too late.

    Again, San Jose really gave Pittsburgh some transitional fits in the second period in particular, limiting the Penguins to a mere six shots on goal (after Pittsburgh managed 14 in the opening frame).

    Unfortunately for the Sharks, one of those shots came from the point, a dangerous place lately in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

    After scoring the 1-0 goal in Game 3, Ben Lovejoy sent another shot after a nice keep-in; Patric Hornqvist did the rest by deflecting the 2-1 tally in.

    (You can see the goal in the video above.)

    We’ll see if that goal deflates a Sharks team staring down the barrel of a possible 3-0 series deficit. Again, San Jose hogged the puck as people grimaced at missed calls, yet the Penguins “won” the second period when you look solely at the score.

    On the bright side, the Sharks only need one goal to tie things up, and it could very well come thanks to a seemingly harmless shot … at least if Game 3’s three goals are any indication.

    https://twitter.com/TomGulittiNHL/status/739276534054162433

    See the first two goals from the first period here.