A brilliant hockey game was decided by an odious goal, but it’s no consolation to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Joe Thornton‘s soft knuckler from 50 feet away somehow found the net with 5:39 to play, pushing the San Jose Sharks to a scintillating 5-3 comeback win Thursday night at SAP Center.
Pittsburgh (41-17-4, 86 points) led 2-0 after one period and had a pair of one-goal advantages in the third, but San Jose (40-17-7, 87 points) scored four times in the final frame to stun the visitors. Brent Burns netted two goals late – the tying tally with 13:08 remaining and an empty-netter in the closing seconds.
Justin Braun and Patrick Marleau also scored for the Sharks, the latter of which came shorthanded 5:18 into the third and leveled the score at 2. However, 21 seconds later, Penguins rookie defenseman Olli Maatta buried his second goal of the night during the same power play to put Pittsburgh back on top.
A little more than a minute after that, Joe Pavelski centered for a one-timer from Burns that blew past first-year Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made 42 saves but weakened in the third. Zatkoff’s tough finish reached its crescendo when Thornton’s harmless-looking wrister looped into the top-right corner of the net.
The Pens had their chances late to equalize, but they couldn’t beat Sharks netminder Antti Niemi (22 saves) for a fourth time. Sidney Crosby capped a rare off night with a turnover in the offensive zone as the clock ticked down, leading to Burns’ clincher. Crosby finished with a minus-5 rating, the first Penguin to reach those depths in more than five years.
Maatta’s first career two-goal game was the highlight for Pittsburgh, now 1-2-1 in its past four. The 19-year-old Finn connected twice from close range, once at even strength and once on the power play, finishing a beautiful pass from Brandon Sutter for the second goal.
Newcomer Marcel Goc contributed with an assist on the Penguins’ first goal, while Chris Kunitz scored later in the first period. Pittsburgh had been undefeated this season when leading by two, but that streak ended. The Pens’ lead over Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference has been reduced to one point with 20 games left in the regular season.
Goc didn’t take long to make an impact on his new team. After the Penguins survived an early San Jose push, the former Shark picked off a pass and fed Tanner Glass for a quick one-timer from the blue line. Maatta, whose timely pinch had forced the turnover, cradled the rebound and slammed it past Niemi for a 1-0 lead at 15:09.
Kunitz made it 2-0 just over a minute later, depositing an Evgeni Malkin pass behind Niemi with Pittsburgh on its first power play of the night. Malkin overpowered Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan in the right corner to snare James Neal‘s dump-in, then fed Kunitz in the low slot for his 29th goal, tying him with Crosby for the team lead.
The second period was the near inverse of the first, with the Pens starting strongly but the Sharks churning the waters near the end. San Jose earned its scoring breakthrough when Braun’s point shot rattled into the net at 17:43 with Adam Burish running legal interference in front.
The Pens finish their West Coast back-to-back in Anaheim on Friday night. Puck drop at the Honda Center is set for 10 p.m. Eastern.