By Mary Cunningham
Sidney Crosby predicted the overtime faceoff win, a perfect drop to Kris Letang.
Rookie Conor Sheary was wide open for a pass, and he ripped a shot high into the net at 2:35 of OT to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 2-1 win and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final. The series now shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4.
“(Crosby’s) a smart guy with a very high hockey IQ,” Penguins winger Carl Hagelin said. “That’s why he’s the best player in the world.”
It’s not necessarily a high percentage move to draw up a play seconds before execution.
“It usually doesn’t work out like that when you draw up a play or even talk about a play,” Sheary said. “I think they kind of lost me when I came off the wall. I had a lot of time to shoot.”
The Penguins have been a better faceoff team (50.7% to 46.7%) than the Sharks in these playoffs, and Wednesday’s win was an illustration of why that is important.
Crosby was 17-7 in the faceoff circle in Game 2, one day after he stayed late at an optional practice to work on his faceoffs. He beat San Jose’s Joel Ward on the draw.
“He is inspiring for our group and I know the players recognize the effort he is putting in,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
According to Sullivan, the reason for Crosby’s success is more about sweat than skill.
“His work ethic is unmatched,” Sullivan said. “He has an insatiable appetite to get better and be the best.”
The Penguins are now 4-2 in overtime this spring and the Sharks are 0-4.
“I think our team has the ability to wear teams down with our puck-pursuit game and forcing defensemen to turn and go back for pucks,” Sullivan said. “It’s tiring. It wears on people.”
San Jose defenseman Justin Braun had tied the game on a shot from the point with 4:05 left in the period. He used a screen by Ward to sneak the shot past Penguins goalie Matt Murray. Logan Couture battled behind the net to win the puck and feed it to Braun.
“There’s going to be ebbs and flows,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “They’re going to take it over for some periods. We’re going to take it over for some periods. I thought we were better tonight. But we have to find a way to create some more five-on-five offense. They’re not taking penalties, so we’ve got to find a way to do this five-on-five or push them into taking some more penalties.
The positive for the Sharks is that they were in the position to win both of these games late in the third period. The negative is that they have only managed to produce 48 shots in just over six periods against the Penguins. San Jose captain Joe Pavelski, who has been almost unstoppable in the playoffs, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau all only had one shot each in Game 2. Pittsburgh’s fourth line center Matt Cullen, meanwhile, had four shots.
“The problem is, if you’re not scoring, every mistake you make potentially costs you the game,” DeBoer said. “You can’t put those things under a microscope this time of year. You have two teams that are playing really tight hockey. One mistake changes the game. You’re not going to play mistake-free.”