SAN JOSE – Desperation time came early for the Sharks on Monday at SAP Center, as coach Pete DeBoer was forced to shuffle his lines and defense pairs and shorten his bench just around the midway point of regulation of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
It wasn’t enough to erase a two-goal deficit, and the Sharks now find themselves on the brink of losing their first-ever appearance in the NHL’s final round.
Ian Cole, Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr scored for the Penguins as they earned a split of the two games in San Jose, winning 3-1 to claim a three-games-to-one series lead.
Game 5 is in Pittsburgh on Thursday, with a chance for the home team to raise the Stanley Cup.
Despite their best first few minutes in any game of the series so far, the Sharks still failed to strike first. Phil Kessel’s bad angle shot rebounded off of Martin Jones’ blocker to the stick of Cole, who hammered it home at 7:36 on what looked to be a bad line change by San Jose. The Penguins have scored first in seven straight postseason games.
The second period was downright awful for the Sharks, as they fell behind 2-0. Pittsburgh upped its lead with its first power play goal of the series, when Kessel found Malkin camped out at the side of the net at 2:37.
The Sharks didn’t record a shot on goal until there was 10:39 left in the period and finished with just four total, although the Penguins had just a 13-12 lead in shots after two. Nick Spaling rang a shot off the crossbar with 5:50 to go, while Logan Couture’s wrist shot from the circle after a Penguins turnover was shouldered off by Murray with 5:01 left.
San Jose had a chance to get on the board after Brent Burns drew a hooking penalty on Bryan Rust at 17:33 of the second, but the power play didn’t generate much of anything.
The Sharks managed to show much more life in the third period, finally getting on the board at 8:07 on a Melker Karlsson goal. A shot by Brenden Dillon never made it to Murray, hitting Cole and Chris Tierney, and Karlsson managed to flip the loose through while falling down for his fourth of the playoffs.
Joe Pavelski had the best chance to tie it with an open shot just outside of the crease, but the captain remained snakebitten as Murray got his chest on it with 7:38 to go. Pavelski remains without a point in the series.
Fehr put the game away at 17:58 of the third, converting a breakaway after Justin Braun was caught ahead of the play in the neutral zone.
The Sharks outshot the Penguins for the game, 24-20. Pittsburgh had outshot its opponent in the previous 12.
The Sharks have still not played with the lead through any of the first four games, as their lone win came in overtime in Game 3 on Saturday.
The Sharks went 0-for-2 on the power play, and are 1-for-8 for the series.
Malkin’s goal was the Penguins’ first on a man advantage against the Sharks. They finished 1-for-2, and are also 1-for-8 in the series.
Jones finished with 17 saves, falling to 13-9 in the postseason.
Murray improved to 5-0 after a loss in the playoffs, and 14-5 overall with 23 saves, several of which were difficult in the third period both before and after Karlsson’s score.
Tomas Hertl missed his second straight game, and according to a report, his season is over with a knee injury.
The Sharks are 1-0 in elimination games this playoff season, beating the Predators in Game 7 of the second round.
The Sharks are 0-5 in franchise history when trailing a series, three-games-to-one.