You’re never going to see a more exciting, well-played hockey performance than you did in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Then again, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the encore contest on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center could be a topper.
When Pittsburgh’s lunch pail ace center Nick Bonino beat Sharks goalie Martin Jones in the fading moments Monday night, it stamped finish on a match that threatened to go into endless overtime periods.
That’s how splendid both teams played.
From Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray, on to virtuoso efforts from captain Sidney Crosby, and his sidekick Kris Letang.
On the other side, captain Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Brent Burns proved that they could go toe-to-toe with the best Pittsburgh had to offer.
Well almost — until Bonino once again revealed how deep the Pittsburgh roster is on the offensive end, as well as at the defensive end.
The 3-2 decision redeemed the Penguins who had blown an early, 2-0, lead. Once the visitors tied the score in the middle frame, players seemed catapulted up and down the ice in a classic example of “Fire Wagon Hockey” at its very best.
My prediction that Crosby & Co. would win the series in five games was predicated on what unfolded in the opener, not to mention what I see ahead:
PENGUINS SPEED: As demonstrated in the win over Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh’s collection of forechecking Kid Lightnings is able to beat Sharks defensemen to the puck in the San Jose zone. Winning goals such as Bonino’s result.
RESILIENCY: The Sharks second period rally could have demoralized Pitt but — time and again — the Penguins have displayed rare resiliency. Try as they might, Peter DeBoer’s team could not penetrate for the go-ahead goal.
AMAZING MURRAY: Just when it appears that the opposition has solved Matt Murray, he rebounds from a bad goal — Patrick Marleau’s wraparound that tied the count — and defuses the big guns. Murray’s third period stop on a Joe Thornton rocket earmarked for the upper right corner symbolized his excellence.
CLUTCH DEFENSE: The Penguins general staff has remarkably upgraded the quality of its back liners. The likes of Ben Lovejoy, Olli Maatta and Ian Cole have been superior supporting actors in every series. On Monday, their shot-blocking was a difference-maker.
Make no mistake, San Jose came within inches of getting the third-period game-winner. The Sharks rallied from a shaky start and could come back with a big second contest, especially if Jones goaltending continues to excel.
But, for those who revere hockey at its penultimate finest, watching these evenly-matched clubs trade scoring thrusts is as good as Stanley Cup hockey gets.
Maybe on Wednesday it will get even better!