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PITTSBURGH -- Nick Bonino looks the part. Thatchy beard that juts out well below his chinstrap. Nose a bit askew. The rugged forward has etched out a career making a living in tight spaces, putting his body in places on the ice that aren't for the meek.
Those instincts, honed from years of finding order in the middle of chaos, lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins to the early lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
Bonino darted to the net and knocked in Kris Letang's centering pass with 2:33 remaining, lifting the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.
Pittsburgh recovered after blowing an early two-goal lead and spoiled San Jose's long-awaited debut on the league's biggest stage. Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Letang and Carl Hagelin took turns digging the puck out of the corner behind the San Jose net when Letang emerged with it and slipped it to Bonino, who collected himself and flicked it past Martin Jones' blocker for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
"Tanger put it right on my stick," Bonino said. "It was a shot that wasn't my hardest shot by any means but I kind of found a way to flip it over him."
Bonino has spent much of the last two months as the heady, understated center on Pittsburgh's hottest line while playing between hard-shooting Phil Kessel and Hagelin. Dubbed "HBK" -- a chant that occasionally greets them when they flip over the boards and onto the ice -- they have powered the Penguins to their first Cup Final in seven years. Yet it was Bonino, whose hockey IQ is considered his greatest attribute by Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan, who scored the group's biggest goal of the postseason.
"He does all the things right and found himself in a great position and capitalized on it," Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz said. "Any time you're in the slot, get him the puck. It seems like we find a way to win when he scores."
Rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary also scored for the Penguins, though Rust left in the third period after absorbing a shot to the head from San Jose's Patrick Marleau. Matt Murray -- who like Rust and Sheary spent a significant amount of time this season with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- finished with 24 saves.
Jones made 38 stops but couldn't get over in time on Bonino's knuckler. The Penguins threw 41 shots at Jones, the most he has faced in a regulation game during the playoffs. Marleau and Tomas Hertl scored during San Jose's dominant second period, but the Sharks spent a large portion of the third period on their heels and their dynamic power play failed to record a single shot when Ben Lovejoy went to the penalty box with 2:09 to play.
"They played their game for longer stretches than we did and that's what happens," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said.
The Sharks made it to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history by rebuilding themselves on the fly. Two years removed from a brutal collapse from a 3-0 series lead in the first round against Los Angeles, San Jose ended a 9,005 day wait to play in the NHL's championship round by relying on a tough, aggressive style that squeezes opponents with a relentless forecheck while limiting chances in front of Jones.
Yet veterans Marleau and Joe Thornton -- the top two picks in the 1997 draft held in Pittsburgh who had waited nearly two decades to make it to the league's biggest stage -- insisted the Sharks were hardly satisfied after dispatching St. Louis in a cathartic Western Conference finals.
Maybe, but the Sharks looked a step slow -- maybe two steps slow -- while searching for their footing early on against the Penguins, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to edge Tampa Bay in seven games to advance to their first Cup Final since 2009.
Rust, who surprisingly made the team out of training camp and became an unlikely playoff star by scoring both of Pittsburgh's goals in Game 7 against the Lightning, gave the Penguins the lead 12:46 into the first when he slammed home a rebound off a Justin Schultz shot for his sixth of the postseason, a franchise record for playoff goals by a rookie.
Less than a minute later, Sheary, who didn't become a regular until the middle of January, made it 2-0 when Sidney Crosby whipped a blind backhand cross-ice pass to Sheary's stick. Sheary's wrist shot from the right circle zipped by Jones, and the Penguins appeared to be in complete command by overwhelming the Sharks in a way few have in months.
Maybe it was the Penguins. Maybe it was jitters.
"You try to keep everything normal but you've been dreaming about it for a while," San Jose defenseman Brent Burns said. "Now we know what we're in for and we'll be better."
San Jose regained its composure during the first intermission and responded with a big surge. Hertl jammed a power-play shot from just outside the crease between Murray's legs 3:02 into the second to give the Sharks momentum. Late in the second, Marleau collected a rebound off a Burns one-timer behind the Pittsburgh net and then beat Murray on a wraparound that caromed off Murray's extended right leg and into the net.
Yet Bonino, who arrived in an offseason trade with Vancouver, helped the Penguins improve to 9-3 at home all-time in the Cup Final by sliding to a familiar spot in search of a familiar result.
San Jose went 1 for 2 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 3. ... The Sharks are 5-1 following a loss during the postseason.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry knocked down yet another 3-pointer in the waning moments, pulled his jersey up into his mouth and yelled to the rafters in triumph once more.
A special, record-setting season saved for the defending champs, with a memorable comeback added to the long list of accomplishments.
Splash Brothers Curry and Klay Thompson carried the 73-win Warriors right back to the NBA Finals, as Golden State rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
Now, Curry and Co. are playing for another NBA title -- just as they planned since Day 1 of training camp in September.
Bring on LeBron James again.
"You appreciate how tough it is to get back here," Curry said. "You've got to be appreciative of this accomplishment, and look forward to getting four more wins."
The MVP scored 36 points with seven 3-pointers to finish with an NBA-record 32 in a seven-game series, and also had eight assists. Thompson added 21 points and six 3s, two days after his record 11 3-pointers led a Game 6 comeback that sent the series home to raucous Oracle Arena for one more.
The Warriors became the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a postseason series. They return to the NBA Finals for a rematch with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the 2015 title in six games as Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years.
Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland.
"We survived by the skin of our teeth," coach Steve Kerr said. "We were able to pull it out, and we're moving on."
His signature mouthpiece dangling out and the game ball cradled in his left hand, Curry pumped his right arm as yellow confetti fell through Oracle Arena once the final buzzer sounded.
With the Thunder trailing 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a 3-point try with 1:18 to go and the shot clock running out. Curry made all three free throws, then that 3-pointer to seal it.
"This is who he is. Having a clutch performance in a Game 7, that's Steph Curry," Kerr said.
And Golden State's beloved "Strength In Numbers" catchphrase coined by Coach of the Year Kerr was needed in every way.
"No one ever had any doubt that we could get this done," Draymond Green said. "People have seen teams down 3-1 before but they ain't seen many. They've definitely never seen a 73-win team down 3-1."
Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Shaun Livingston's breakaway, one-handed dunk late in the third provided a big lift off the Warriors bench.
Oklahoma City won Game 1 108-102 at deafening Oracle Arena, so Golden State never envisioned this one coming easily. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds for the Thunder.
"It hurts losing, especially being up 3 games to 1," Durant said.
It took a quarter and a half for Thompson to warm up after his 41-point performance in a 108-101 win Saturday at Oklahoma City that sent the series back to the East Bay.
He missed his initial seven shots before hitting a 3 6:02 before halftime, energizing the Warriors in their first Game 7 at home in 40 years.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thompson and Iguodala pulled the Warriors within 54-51 with 7:57 left in the third. They tied it on Curry's 3 at 7:21 and he followed with another 3 to give his team the lead.
Curry and Thompson each topped the previous record for 3s in a seven-game series, 28 by Dennis Scott and Ray Allen. Curry hit one over 7-foot Steven Adams in the third, and Thompson wound up with 30 3s.
Iguodala replaced Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup and what a move by Kerr, who did the same thing last year in crunch time. Iguodala made a pretty bounce pass through the paint to Green for Golden State's first basket, and his smothering defense on Durant kept the Thunder star without a shot until his 3 at the 5:45 mark in the first. Durant had just nine points on five shots in the first half.
But Oklahoma City dictated the tempo with snappy passes and the hard, aggressive rebounding that had been such a part of its success this season. The Thunder couldn't sustain it.
"They won a world championship last year, and they've broken an NBA record, and people are already talking about it before the playoffs started, this may be the greatest team to ever lace them up in the history of the NBA," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
The Warriors, who fell behind 35-22, lost their last Game 7 at home: 94-86 to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals on May 16, 1976.
Thunder: The Thunder's 12 third-quarter points were the fewest allowed by Golden State in a playoff third quarter during the shot clock era. ... Durant took nine shots in the first 33:25. ... Oklahoma City led by as many as 13 in the first half. ... Donovan celebrated his 51st birthday. ... The Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State's opponent the previous round, are the only teams to beat the Warriors twice this season.
Warriors: The Warriors are 4-4 all-time in Game 7s -- 3-1 at home. ... Iguodala earned his first since Jan. 2 against Denver. ... Golden State wasn't whistled for its first foul until 2:34 in the first. ... The Warriors' 42 first-half points were their fewest at home this season. ... Curry hit a 3 in his 51st straight playoff game.
A day after he made comments in Chicago that alluded to the trimming of Ryan Howard’s playing time against right-handed pitchers, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin sat at his desk, surrounded by reporters, and was pressed for 10 minutes on the issue of his declining, expensive and struggling first baseman and franchise icon.
Howard, of course, was penciled into the lineup in the cleanup spot against righty Tanner Roark for Monday’s 4-3 loss to the visiting Washington Nationals (see game recap).
A question of was barely out of a reporter’s mouth when Mackanin quickly interjected a “hell yes.”
It’s the hardest decision - what to do with the struggling Howard - he’s had to make in his brief time managing the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I think about it all the time,” Mackanin said.
“That’s the hard part of this job. It’s not just running the game, it’s handling the players.”
For now, Mackanin said, he hasn’t felt the need to talk to Howard about it. Howard, who sat Sunday for the second time in eight days against a righty, said Sunday he was unaware his manager was intending on reducing his playing time against righties (see story).
Once a platoon situation at first base, it appears the Phillies are going to take a longer look at rookie Tommy Joseph against right-handed pitchers in the near future.
“If I was going to sit (Howard) on the bench and he wasn’t going to play anymore, I’d have that conversation,” Mackanin said. “I think what I said was pretty obvious.”
“I didn’t say I was going to bench Howard.”
He didn’t Monday. Howard had good numbers against Roark, something he didn’t have against Sunday’s starter for the Cubs, John Lackey. So it looks like Mackanin’s decision will be based on matchups.
In his second at-bat Monday, a second straight strikeout on the night and 12th in his last 22 at-bats, Howard was way late on a 93-mph fastball on the outer half of the plate.
But he looked much better in his final two at-bats of the night.
In the bottom of the sixth, he drove a Roark changeup to the warning track deep in right-center, but Ben Revere closed quickly and made the catch.
In his last at-bat, after Maikel Franco led off the ninth inning with a double, Howard jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Jonathan Papelbon and drove a double to the gap in left-centerfield, scoring Franco and putting the tying run in scoring position with no outs.
Those two swings were the ones Mackanin said Monday afternoon he “knew” were there. He later corrected himself and said it was more of a situation of “hope.”
Howard went 1 for 4 on the night. His May average is now .106.
“He needed to come through with a big hit and that was a huge hit, put the tying run at second base,” Mackanin said. “It was good to see.”
The Phillies are slated to face a righty in their next six games before facing Jon Lester and the Cubs at home next Monday. Joseph, who is hitting .278 with three home runs in his first 36 Major League at-bats, figures to get the start in the majority of those.
It’s a decision Mackanin says he’s going to make on a day-by-day basis.
He was asked if the front office, which is also in a tough spot and may have to do something soon, gave him any input on what to do.
“They don’t tell me who to play and when to play them,” Mackanin said. “I know that they want me to mix in Joseph against right-handers so that he doesn’t stagnate. That’s pretty much all I go by right now.”
A suggestion from upstairs isn’t unprecedented. It has already happened before during the young 2016 season.
“They asked me to - as bad as (Tyler) Goeddel looked early in the season - they asked me if I could try to mix him in a little more,” Mackanin said. “I said sure. I did, and he started hitting better. So now he’s playing more. Here we go, if you want to play more than you gotta hit.
“There’s nothing set in stone.”