Asked the other day whether forward Evgeni Malkin had sacrificed his individual brilliance for the sake of playing a team concept, Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan said he didn’t want to discourage Malkin from doing what he does best.
“He’s such a talented player. He has the ability to be a difference-maker on any given shift,” Sullivan said.
That proved prophetic Monday against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Malkin helped set up one goal and scored what stood as the winner in the 3-1 victory at SAP Center, sending the Penguins home in position to win the Cup on Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
The Sharks, who have not held a lead in the first four games, made a frantic push in the third period to erase the Penguins’ 2-0 lead and did narrow it by one. But with the Sharks pressing forward, the Penguins took advantage of a turnover and added an insurance goal at 17:58, on a long shot by Eric Fehr.
After allowing Pittsburgh defenseman Marc Dumoulin to get wide open for a shot that went just high just short of seven minutes into the game, San Jose was burned at 7:36. Phil Kessel took a shot from the right circle that Jones was able to stop, but Jones let a juicy rebound came out to the left circle. Cole stepped up and scored his first career playoff goal. Kessel go the first assist; Malkin’s secondary assist was his first point in the Cup Final.
Each team had a power play in the first period and took two shots but neither team could capitalize.
Also noteworthy: Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, who was held to no points and four shots in the first three games, had three shots in the opening period and seemed to be finding holes and moving well.
Those signs gave the Sharks’ loud and lively fans many reasons to be encouraged, but that optimism vanished quickly in the second period. An irate Melker Karlson was sent to the penalty box for interference (on an offensive-zone faceoff) at 2:28, and the Penguins scored their first power-play goal in eight chances in the Final and took a 2-0 lead.
Sidney Crosby won the faceoff and got the puck back to the blue line. Kris Letang got it to Kessel, in the left circle, and he faked before flicking the puck toward the net. Malkin, alone by the right post, tapped it in for his first goal of the Final and only his second goal in the past 16 playoff games.
The Sharks didn’t get a shot on goal in the second period until nine minutes and 21 seconds had elapsed, so well were the Penguins keeping them to the outside and minimizing their chances. In an effort to create more offense, Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer—who again didn’t have the services of the injured Tomas[cq] Hertl, stacked his first line and put Logan Couture alongside Pavelski and Joe Thornton. DeBoer also shortened his bench to give his more skillful players more ice time.
Those moves seemed to create a bit of a spark, as Game 3 hero Joonas[cq] Donskoi got off a dangerous shot and Nick Spaling hit the crossbar with just under six minutes left, but the Sharks couldn’t capitalize on a late power play and found themselves in need of a huge rally as the third period began.
The Sharks pressed frantically at the start of the third period, producing chances by Marleau and Karlsson in the first six minutes, but Penguins goaltender Matt Murray got his glove on Marleau’s shot and a pad on Karlsson’s shot. Finally, the Sharks broke through when a shot by Brenden[cq] Dillon hit Cole in front and bounced to Karlsson, who benefitted when Crosby turned the wrong way. That left Karlsson alone to score from the inside edge of the left circle at 8:13 and bring the Sharks within one.
But that was as close as they got, despite the energetic cheers of a passionate crowd that had waited 25 years to see the beloved Sharks reach the Final.