Donskoi plays hero as Sharks win Game 3 over Penguins

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SAN JOSE — Three words.

Three key words from coach Peter DeBoer was all the San Jose Sharks needed to hear as they sat in their dressing room awaiting overtime to start in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night.

With their season on the brink and plenty of butterflies churning in their guts, DeBoer left his players with the following message before they went out to try and snap a 2-2 tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“It’s our time,” DeBoer told them.

Then Joonas Donskoi went out and made his coach seem prophetic.

For more than three complete games, the Sharks either were tied or trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And then, with their season on the ropes, with a loss virtually crushing their Stanley Cup dreams, a Donskoi OT goal gave the San Jose Sharks new life in a final that they have never led in.

Thanks to those heroics, the Sharks have narrowed the Penguins advantage to 2-1 in this best-of-seven series.

Game 4 goes Monday night at the SAP Center.

Donskoi’s goal at 12:18 of overtime came as he spun out from behind the net and roofed a shot over Penguins goalie Matt Murray.

“We had plenty of scoring chances,” Donskoi said. “I think we deserved to win.”

In the process, think about how frustrated the Penguins must be.

They have never trailed while the clock has been running in this series, yet are just one loss away from seeing this matchup being all square heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5.

Had the Penguins won this game, the Sharks would very much have been battling history.

In order to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat — a fitting analogy, since the Sharks unofficial song is the theme from the movie ‘Jaws’ — the Sharks would have had to win four consecutive times in this series. Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have ever managed to come back from a three-game deficit in a final to win a Stanley Cup.

Instead, Donskoi made it a moot point.

Justin Braun and Joel Ward had the other Sharks goals, while Ben Lovejoy and Patric Hornqvist replied for the Penguins.

With a spectacular light and laser pre-game show greeting fans as they entered the area, the Shark Tank was a cauldron of noise when the teal-clad Sharks skated out of the giant Sharks head prop at the end of the tunnel from their dressing room and onto the ice.

Twenty-five years of waiting. Twenty-five years of accrued frustration waiting to be unleashed.

Indeed, for the first time in the 25-year history of the franchise, the Sharks were hosting a Cup final game.

And then, just over five minutes into the game, the Penguins siphoned almost all the intoxicating energy out of the building thanks to an unlikely source: Lovejoy.

To be fair, Sharks goalie Martin Jones didn’t have much of a chance when Lovejoy’s bouncer from the point clunked off San Jose defenceman Roman Polak and into the net. Still, it was a deflating blow to a team and a fan base that was ready to explode.

No worries. They would get their chance about four minutes later, courtesy of Braun.

With his father-in-law Tom Lysiak dying earlier this week, Braun boarded a plane in Pittsburgh early Thursday morning after playing in the Sharks Game 2 loss. From there, he jetted his way to Atlanta for the service, then hopped on another flight to San Jose.

Braun was back at practice Friday, completing a whirlwind 36 hours that featured a roller-coaster of emotions.

And then, at 9:34 of the first period Saturday, his wrister from the point found its way into the top corner past Murray, knotting Game 3 at 1-1.

Hornqvist put the Penguins ahead late in the second period only to have the Sharks Joel Ward tie it midway in the third and force overtime.

Cue Donskoi’s winner, one which had the Sharks fans whooping well into the night.

“From the moment warmups started, they were great,” Joe Thornton said of the fans. “They’ve been waiting 25 years for this.”

It certainly was worth waiting for — at least on this night.