SAN JOSE — The Pittsburgh Penguins scored a power-play goal less than three minutes into the second period, opening a two-goal lead. The San Jose Sharks didn’t even take their first shot of that period until a little over seven minutes later.
The Sharks’ failure to get the puck on the net has them on the brink of elimination from their first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins regained control of the series with Monday night’s 3-1 victory in San Jose, taking a three games to one lead heading into Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
The Sharks outshot and outblocked the Penguins in this one, but were stymied on two power plays while allowing the Penguins to convert on one out of two.
“Got to produce,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “The game needs to be simplified and we have to recognize that. We have to keep putting it to the net.”
A hyperactive Penguins defensive effort continued to slow Pavelski, still the playoff leader with 13 goals, and make things difficult for Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns.
“Something we did in the first three rounds was to jump out early,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t quite got that yet. Moving forward, scoring first will play a big role in giving us a chance. There’s no time for frustration. We have to keep going. The chances are there, we have to find a way.”
Pavelski did send five pucks at the net, one more than his total from the first three games.
“He’s getting chances,” Couture said. “The guy has 13 goals in the playoffs. That’s pretty ridiculous. It’s not easy to score goals. You have to keep believing they’ll start going in.”
That San Jose foursome tops the playoff points leaders, all with more than 20 points, with a combined six this series. None of them has found the back of the net against Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who turned away 12 shots in the first two periods and 23 total.
Two nights after allowing a soft game-tying goal to Joel Ward, Murray was one of two bounce-back players for the Penguins. The other was Evgeni Malkin, who scored his first goal of the series in the second period and assisted on Ian Cole’s goal to open the scoring in the first.
Melker Karlsson’s shot from the high slot cut the Penguins’ lead to 2-1 midway in the third period, and the Sharks kept the pressure on until Eric Fehr’s goal with 2:02 left in the third period silenced the crowd and left the home team staring a a daunting deficit in the series.
The Sharks’ power-play ranked third in the NHL during the regular season, and they have 18 man-advantage goals in the playoffs. The Penguins, fifth during the regular season in penalty kill percentage, have shown again and again that a good defense beats a good offense.
“There was tight checking and the refs were letting things go, but make no mistake, they are a good penalty kill team,” Couture said. “We need to do a better job of creating shots. We have the extra man, we have to find the guy who’s open.”
Pavelski and Patrick Marleau had a combined 23 power-play goals during the regular season, but have been unable to create many scoring chances on the rare times they’ve had a man advantage.
“You know, I think special teams battle has been fairly even in the series,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “I don’t think that’s been the deciding factor either way for either team. We’ve been chasing the game the whole series by not scoring first. That takes you out of your four-line rhythm. It affects all parts of your game.”
Tomas Hertl missed his second consecutive game with a lower body injury. Broadcast reports after the game, citing European sources, said Hertl had a knee injury and was finished for the series.