SAN JOSE — When the HBK Line struck again in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, it was worth noting that Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon were on the ice for the Sharks.
That’s San Jose’s third defensive pair, out there against the hottest line in hockey.
In fact, it was Polak’s poor cross-ice pass to Dillon that started the whole scoring sequence. Polak was hurried into passing by the speedy Carl Hagelin, who then raced over and took the puck off Dillon. Hagelin quickly offloaded to Nick Bonino, who eventually slid it across the crease to Phil Kessel, who tapped it in behind Martin Jones.
This is the challenge of playing the Pittsburgh Penguins now. Because don’t forget, in addition to the HBK Line, the Pens have Sidney Crosby on another line, and Evgeni Malkin on yet another.
Pick your poison.
“They’ve given us matchup problems, not just us, but other teams,” conceded Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. “When you have Kessel, Crosby and Malkin on three different lines, I mean, all three of those guys make more than anybody on our team.”
“It definitely makes their coach think a little about matchups,” said Bonino. “We’ve tried to exploit matchups if we can. But really, we’ve played against almost every pair on every team. We’re not focusing on who’s out against us, just trying to do what we do and hope it works.”
For Bonino, it’s been quite the leap, from a first-round elimination last year with the Canucks, to starring in the Stanley Cup Final and having his name chanted by the fans in Pittsburgh.
He was asked if it’s hard to imagine how it’s all played out.
“No, I don’t think it’s hard,” he said. “I think I had a pretty decent year in Vancouver. Just as a team in the playoffs we didn’t have a great year. I’ve always thought I was an effective player in the playoffs. I don’t think one series changes that for anyone. I’m just happy to be here and in the Cup Final.”
And the Penguins are happy to have him. If they can beat the Sharks twice more, he — along with his two linemates — will be remembered as the key additions that put them over the top.
“One of the things that we really like about the makeup of our forward lines right now is the balance,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “We have threats on every line. I think that presents potential challenges for our opponents from a matchup standpoint. Someone is going to get a favorable matchup.”