Considering the way the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks have played throughout the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to this point, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was just about everything you'd expect it to be and more.
In a thrilling back-and-forth series opener, the Penguins got a late goal from Nick Bonino to earn a 3-2 win over the Sharks and take a 1-0 series lead.
This game provided merely an appetizer of the speed and intensity with which this series will be played. If the rest of the games are anything like Game 1, we're in for a wildly entertaining Cup Final. That's especially true because of how different these teams can be, even though they're similar in a lot of ways, too.
After the Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in a dominant first period, the Sharks took the game right back to them in the second, scoring twice to erase the deficit while controlling the pace of play. The third period looked evenly matched for a while, but the Penguins were all over the place, putting 18 shots on Sharks goalie Martin Jones. They only needed one to get past him and Bonino was the player to provide that solitary goal with just 2:33 remaining in regulation.
Here are the key takeaways from Game 1:
1. Was the ice tilted or something? Whoever was defending the end closest to the visitors' bench was bound to be outshot badly and out-scored Monday night. All five goals came at that end of the ice, while the team that was shooting at that net handily outshot the other club in each instance.
The Penguins absolutely rolled over the Sharks in the first period, especially in the latter half. They outshot San Jose 14-5, while rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary each got on the board. In the second, the reverse was true. The Sharks had a 13-8 advantage and scored twice in the period to head into the third even. Finally, in the third period, the Penguins really poured it on with 18 shots on goal before Nick Bonino ended the game.
One of the quirkier stats about all that, total shot attempts in all situations in each of the three periods saw the shooting team with exactly 27 attempts in each period (via hockeystats.ca).
The ice is obviously not really tilted (or is it?), but you're looking at two teams that know how to make the necessary adjustments. Each had their good and bad periods to start, with the third more evenly matched.
This series is all about punching and counter-punching. With two teams as offensively gifted as the Sharks and Penguins, that should make for an unpredictable series.
2. Another big goal for Nick Bonino. Nick Bonino has gotten to play hero a few times for the Penguins this year. After scoring the game-winner in their series-clinching win over the Washington Capitals, Bonino added another huge goal by winning Game 1 with just 2:33 left.
The goal happens in part because defenseman Brent Burns broke his stick and was forced to abandon it. That gave defenseman Kris Letang enough time to spot Bonino in front and put the puck right on his tape. Bonino's fluttering shot just barely beat Jones.
The Penguins then had to kill off a penalty in the final minutes of regulation, but as they did that, Bonino became a late-game hero again.
3. Sharks bounced back from early-game nerves. During his interview on the bench in the second periods with NBC's Pierre McGuire, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer admitted that his team may have been a little nervous to start the game. Part of that probably contributed to their rougher start. The bad start cost them, but their response at least kept them in the game.
One of the things the Sharks have done so well throughout the playoffs is bounce back. They've had bad periods before, but almost always come back with a better response. DeBoer said after the game that the team didn't make any adjustments, they just got back to playing their game. It showed in the results as San Jose got their power play clicking as Tomas Hertl scored the first Stanley Cup Final goal in Sharks franchise history.
Patrick Marleau then scored a beauty of his own to tie it late in the second period as the Sharks were rewarded for their dominant period.
They weren't able to sustain it into the third period, though. That probably had more to do with the Penguins than it did with the Sharks. Pittsburgh has a way of overwhelming their opponent and that happened at various stretches in Game 1.
4. Brent Burns is in elite company now. With his two assists in Game 1, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns became part of an elite group of NHL defenseman. The veteran blueliner now has 22 points in the postseason. That is officially the most in a single playoffs since Brian Leetch had 34 points for the New York Rangers. Additionally, Burns becomes one of just nine NHL defensemen to ever reach 22 points in a single postseason (via hockey-reference.com). The other eight are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
5. Patrick Marleau delivered a questionable hit, but is it suspension-worthy? During the third period, Marleau caught Penguins rookie forward Bryan Rust with a check to the head. He was given only a two-minute minor, while Rust had a quick trip to the dressing room to get checked out. The rookie did return to the Penguins' bench, but he took only one shift the rest of the game.
Afterwards, Penguins head coach termed Rust as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. He also said he felt that the hit Marleau delivered was a blindside hit to the head.
Here's a look at the hit in question:
It's definitely head contact, definitely a penalty, but is it definitely a suspension? Well, not definitely at least.. There's no launching into the hit, no elbow, no targeting. Marleau didn't change his body position, nor did Rust. The Department of Player Safety sure would prefer Marleau go for a full body check here as opposed to the fly-by, too. It definitely deserves a long look from every angle.
Now that we know there may be an injury, however, the league will take a closer look at it. That doesn't mean they'll move to suspend Marleau, though. It's a questionable play, but it's hard to see this one rising to the level of supplemental discipline based on some of the other Player Safety decisions this year.
6. The Penguins' speed was a huge factor. It was one of the biggest noticeable differences between the two teams coming into the series, and it was a big difference in Game 1 as well. The Penguins can fly and that really challenged the Sharks, who are by no means slow.
All of the Penguins goals came off of the Sharks getting numbers up the ice on rushes with the Sharks having to play catch-up and ultimately not catching up fast enough. San Jose can play the rush game, but they're going to have to be a little more careful with a team that is noticeably faster than they are.
7. Bryan Rust's last three games have been unexpectedly incredible. Coming into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you may not have even known the Penguins had a player named Bryan Rust. The 24-year-old rookie was not necessarily a top prospect for them, nor was he overly productive throughout the season. However, over his last three games, he has become indispensable thanks to his timely scoring.
After scoring an important insurance goal that put away the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 and netted each of the Penguins' two goals in their Game 7 win of that series, he lit the lamp again in Game 1. By scoring the game's first goal, Rust helped Pittsburgh put the Sharks back on their heels. Conor Sheary scored 1:02 later to capitalize on the sloppiness from the Sharks in the wake of Rust's goal.
Speed being a big factor in the Penguins' success is because of burners like Rust, who get up the ice and to the net quickly. It was his rush up the ice that helped create a goal that came via a fortunate deflection.
Now everyone knows who Bryan Rust is, at least in Pittsburgh. The Penguins will also have to hope he's not going to miss any more time following that Marleau hit.
8. Sharks are tough to beat twice in a row. Game 1 is always a tough one to win because neither team quite knows what to expect. The Sharks came out a little too flat to start, but recovered nicely. Few teams learn from their mistakes as well as the Sharks seem to.
They're 5-1 after losses in the playoffs this year and have often responded emphatically when they drop one. With a full day off to prepare, the Sharks should be coming back even tougher in Game 2. Their first order of business is going to be trying to figure out how to slow the Penguins down without losing their own ability to apply pressure offensively.
They can also come into Game 2 knowing that their goaltender is ready for this stage. Martin Jones had a really strong night despite taking the loss, making 38 saves. There have been times where he looked a little shaky at various points in these playoffs, but there was none of that as he settled into Game 1.
Pittsburgh presents the Sharks' biggest challenge yet in terms of match up and style, as was plainly evident in such a spirited Game 1. They'll have their work cut out for them.