Down two goals - and even worse, down two defensemen - after two periods on Thursday night against San Jose, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan offered his players a much-needed reminder.
"You can win ugly in this league," Sullivan told them.
The Stanley Cup champions responded with 20 minutes of grit against an opponent only too familiar with how deep the Penguins can dig when the moment requires.
Evgeni Malkin, Scott Wilson and Patric Hornqvist scored in a 7:15 span in the third period to lift the Penguins to an unlikely 3-2 victory in a rematch of last June's Stanley Cup Final. Hornqvist and Malkin both finished with a goal and an assist while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots to buy the Penguins time until the offense finally got going.
"We played right," Malkin said. "We moved the puck quickly. We shot the puck. . We did the right things. There were lucky goals, off the post, off the goalie. It's not pretty, but it's important goals."
Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who controlled the first 40 minutes and appeared well on their way to a one-sided victory before falling apart late. Martin Jones made 17 saves but saw the play in front of him break down in the third.
"This league is really a race to three goals, that's pretty much how it works, and we couldn't get the third goal," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. "Again, let them hang around, which is something we've done lately."
The Penguins captured the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup in an entertaining final last June, finishing off the Sharks in Game 6 in San Jose. If San Jose wanted a glimpse at just how close it came to its first title, they need only look toward the rafters at PPG Paints Arena during warmups to get a look at the banner the Penguins raised last week.
San Jose insisted Thursday had nothing to do with revenge or any sense of payback. Last June is gone. For now the Sharks are still trying to find an identity even with nearly the same roster back for another run.
They're off to a hot start and certainly looked fresh playing for the third time in four days on the road. Not so much Pittsburgh, which failed to generate anything in a shutout loss in Montreal on Tuesday. It looked like more of the same 48 hours later with captain Sidney Crosby (concussion) and defenseman Kris Letang (upper body) out of the lineup.
Hertl gave San Jose a 1-0 lead 5:04 into the second thanks to a strange sequence in which Fleury lost control of his stick when a shot from Brent Burns smacked off the handle. The puck was briefly cleared but as Fleury tried to chase the stick down, the Sharks rushed back into the zone and Hertl eventually jammed a rebound off a shot by Joe Pavelski past the stickless goaltender.
San Jose's lead doubled shortly after Hornqvist's goal was overturned, stripping Chris Kunitz to create a 2-on-1 that ended with him taking a pass from Logan Couture and burying it by Fleury.
Things changed quickly even with Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta unavailable after leaving with undisclosed injuries.
Malkin's second of the year - a shot from between the circles 6:47 into the third - got Pittsburgh started. Wilson tied it 2:14 later when he collected the puck from the corner and darted to the net before slipping a backhand by Jones.
Hornqvist completed the comeback by slamming a rebound by Jones on the power play to give the Penguins the lead. Sullivan praised his defensemen while also giving credit to Malkin, Kunitz, Hornqvist and Phil Kesselfor fueling an improbable comeback.
"They played inspiring hockey," Sullivan said. "They played the right way in the third period and they were hard to handle because of it. When those guys play that way, they give us a chance to win."
NOTES: Crosby did not skate Thursday, a scheduled day off. ... The Penguins also scratched Conor Sheary(eye). ... San Jose scratched Fs Michael Haley and Ryan Carpenter and D Dylan Demelo. ... The Penguins went 1 for 5 on the power play. The Sharks were 0 for 3.
Sharks: wrap up a five-game road trip Saturday at Detroit.
Penguins: visit Nashville on Saturday.