PITTSBURGH — The San Jose Sharks heard for days about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ faster-than-fast speed.
Now that they have seen it, they know they must do something about it — and in a hurry.
Nick Bonino scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:33 remaining in the third period, and the Penguins turned to their elite speed game to survive blowing a two-lead lead and beat the Sharks 3-2 Monday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
“We stood around and watched,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “We didn’t play our game. They’re a fast team, and they dictated play (early). … They were better than us, and we’ve got to fix that.”
Bryan Rust, who later left the game with an upper-body injury, and fellow rookie Conor Sheary scored 1:02 apart in a Pittsburgh-dominated first period, but the Sharks’ Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau responded with goals in a San Jose-dominated second.
Bonino broke the tie after the pace turned back the Penguins’ way in the third. Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel both missed excellent chances before Bonino scored his fourth of the postseason.
Defenseman Kris Letang accepted a big hit to get the puck out from the end boards, and he found Bonino in front for a shot that the center directed inside the near post and past goalie Martin Jones.
“He put it right on my stick — it was a great play by Tanger — and it wasn’t the hardest shot I’ve had, but I was able to flip it over (Jones),” Bonino said.
Rookie goalie Matt Murray — who like Rust and Sheary were in the minors part of the season — made the lead stand up even though the Sharks were on the power play for most of the final two minutes.
“He made a couple of big saves on (Sharks center) Joe Thornton coming down the wing at the end,” Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz said. “He’s always rising to the occasion for the team.”
Jones was under constant pressure throughout the first and third periods in the first Stanley Cup finals game in Sharks history, and he ended up making 38 saves to Murray’s 24.
“They played their game for longer stretches than we did,” DeBoer said.
Game 2 will be Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center before the series shifts to the West Coast. The Penguins are trying to win their fourth Stanley Cup in 25 years.
“We can’t pat ourselves on the back, because Game 2 comes in a hurry,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. “We’ve got to come out with the same urgency.”
The Sharks looked as if they were three time zones behind Pittsburgh speed-wise when the game began, and the Penguins quickly opened up a 2-0 lead in the 12th Stanley Cup finals game played on their home ice.
“We’ve got to use our speed to be successful,” Pittsburgh left winger Carl Hagelin said.
Rust got it started at 12:46, swatting in the rebound of a Justin Schultz shot that deflected off Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic directly to Rust for his sixth of the playoffs. That is one more than Rust has in regular-season play. He scored in a third consecutive game, and he has four of the past five Penguins goals.
“They came out flying,” Sharks center Logan Couture said. “The games are too big to have a start like that.”
Rust left after a blindside hit to the head by Marleau. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said Rust is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
“I’m sure the league will look at it,” Sullivan said of the Marleau hit, which promoted a two-minute penalty.
Sheary, another rookie who came up from the Penguins’ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) farm club when Sullivan was promoted to the Pittsburgh job in mid-December, made it 2-0 only 1:02 later. Sidney Crosby gained control of the puck along the half-wall and made a laser-precise pass to Sheary in the right circle for a shot that flew under the crossbar.
“We started so slow … nobody could skate, it was pretty slow for us,” Hertl said.
Crosby didn’t find the net, but he set up Sheary’s goal and appeared to be faster than any other player on the ice much of the game.
“We want to play fast and fearless,” Sullivan said. “We’re at our best when we’re on our toes and skate.”
In the second period, the Sharks were in control and the Penguins looked as if they were a long stride slow on every play.
Playing with patience and not deterred by being down two goals on an opponent’s ice, the Sharks cut it to 2-1 when Hertl beat Murray from along the goal line at 3:02 for San Jose’s 18th power-play goal of the playoffs.
Marleau, drafted in 1997, tied it late in the second by beating Murray with a backhander, his first goal in the finals after scoring 64 goals in 165 playoff games.