By Mary Walsh
AP photo: The Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate after defeating the San Jose Sharks in game four at SAP Center on Monday night
SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 3-1, giving the Penguins a 3-1 series lead to boot. After the game, Sharks head coach said: “There’s no quit in our group. We’re the best road team in the league. We’re gonna show up and try to get this back here for Game 6 and play to win four, this isn’t over.” Then he went on:
We’ve been chasing the game the whole series by not scoring first so that takes you out of your four line… it effects all parts of your game. We’ve been on the other end of that in the playoffs where we jumped out to a lead on some teams and made them change their game. But I think that’s probably the biggest thing we have to fix. We’ve got to find a way to get on the board early in the game instead of chasing them.
Scoring first may require more than a tweak, but the Sharks game on Monday was fairly different from the first three games in the series.
Five minutes into the third period, Logan Couture sent Patrick Marleau up the slot all by his lonesome but Matt Murray stopped his shot. Both teams had chances in flurries but that one was a microcosm of the Sharks’ woes in Game 4. They did the things they had failed to do in prior games: staying even and leading in shots, winning faceoffs, getting zone time, blocking shots. And still they trailed on the scoreboard. Perhaps the one lopsided stat was the key: giveaways. The Sharks more than doubled the Penguins there. At one point in the game, it was almost triple.
Through the first six minutes of Game 4, there was just one shot, from San Jose. Both teams were pushing shooters to the outside when possible and blocking shots.
At 7:36, Phil Kessel and Ian Cole skated into the Sharks zone and, while three Sharks attended to Kessel, Cole found the pass and shot from the other side of the ice. It was Cole’s first goal of the post season. Assists went to Kessel and Evgeni Malkin.
Down by a goal, the Sharks had to kill an interference penalty to Marc-Edouard Vlasic at 11:37. They did, but the Penguins’ shot count had gone up by two, so the it was now 6-2 Penguins.
The Sharks had their chance on the power play at 14:45 when Ben Lovejoy went to the box for holding the stick.
The top unit held the zone and took a couple of shots but did not score. With almost a minute left, DeBoer sent the second unit out. They did not score either but neither did they get evicted from the zone before the power play expired.
The teams traded chances for the rest of the period, and at the end of 20 minutes the score was 1-0 Penguins, the shots 8-6 Sharks.
Melker Karlsson was called for interference just 2:28 into the second period, putting the Penguins power play back on the ice. It took them eight seconds to score, as a tipped shot from Kris Letang got past Martin Jones to Malkin, who was waiting at the far post to nudge it over the line. It was Malkin’s first goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs. Assists went to Phil Kessel, who tipped it, and Letang.
The Sharks got their second power play at 17:33 of the second. Bryan Rust was called for hooking Brent Burns. The Sharks power play did not start out with much traction. The second unit did not look much better, and with 10 seconds left in the penalty, gave up a nearly three on one going the other way. Sharks skaters caught up before any real damage could be done but they ended the power play with a defensive zone draw, and still trailing by two goals.
Melker Karlsson lifted the crowd’s spirits with a goal at 8:07. He was back on a line with Nick SPaling and Chris Tierney. The line charged into the Penguins zone and held a little riot around the net until finally Karlsson could see an opening. He took the shot while falling but managed to lift it over Murray. Assists went to Chris Tierney and Brenden Dillon.
The third period forward lines were: Couture centering Ward and Marleau, Tierney centering Karlsson and Spaling, Thornton centering Pavelksi and Donskoi. Wingels, Nieto, and Zubrus were seen but little in the third. Wingels and Zubrus did not take a shift, and Nieto took only one. The cut-backs started in the second period, where Zubrus and Wingels only had three shifts in the latter part of the middle frame
Another oddity in the lineup was evident in the third, with the defensemen being shifted around. It was not clear if this was due to some power play time or intentional line mixing. Braun and Dillon were on the ice together, and then Paul Martin and Roman Polak. For the final two minutes of the game, Vlasic and Burns were on the ice, but that was after Eric Fehr had scored another goal, assisted by Carl Hagelin and Olli Maatta.
Apart from the sound of some exuberant Penguins fans, a hush settled over the Tank. One last call for cheers and towels waving had some effect. With 1:25 left in the game and probably the last home game of the season for San Jose, the crowd waved and cheered.
The Sharks pulled their goalie with a little more than a minute left in the period and racked up some shots, to no avail.
Final score: 3-1 Penguins, with a series status to match. Game 5 will be in Pittsburgh on Thursday at 5:00PT.