Even Metallica couldn’t blast the San Jose Sharks to a fast start.
Two members of heavy metal band kicked off Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night with a rousing, electric guitar version of the national anthem that had the SAP Center crowd roaring. But the Sharks continued to be off-key early.
Their only lead of the series came with Joonas Donskoi’s overtime goal Saturday. The Pittsburgh Penguins struck first again in Game 4, held off a late charge and won 3-1. Now the Penguins, leading 3-1, can clinch the best-of-seven series Thursday at home.
“We’ve been chasing games the whole series by not scoring first,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who noted his team usually scored first and dictated the action in its opening three playoff series. “It affects all parts of your game. I think that’s the biggest thing we have to fix.”
Before the game, DeBoer said the Sharks have improved in each of the first three games. Game 4, however, was a lot like the first two games in Pittsburgh, where the Sharks didn’t look sharp until the third period.
Not only was San Jose sluggish early, the Penguins have made a habit of turning their opponents’ aggression against them when they try to push the pace. That happened midway through the first period when Pittsburgh thwarted a San Jose breakout attempt and quickly went the other way.
Goaltender Martin Jones deflected Phil Kessel’s shot from the wing, but the rebound went to Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Cole, who fired the puck into an open net.
The Sharks also hurt themselves with penalties in the first and second periods. Pittsburgh quickly took advantage on a power play in the second period when Evgeni Malkin tapped in Kessel’s shot across the goal mouth. It was Malkin’s first goal of the series and only his second in the last 16 games.
The Sharks’ stars, meanwhile, have yet to make their mark. Captain Joe Pavelski and center Logan Couture entered the series as the postseason leaders in goals and points, respectively. DeBoer teamed them on the first line with Joe Thornton midway through the second period. And while the energy picked up a bit, the goal scoring did not.
Pavelski mostly has played the series with Pittsburgh’s top defenseman, Kris Letang, attached to his hip. Pavelski had only four shots on goal in the series entering Game 4, but Monday he had a team-high five. His best chance, a blast from 10 feet, looked a lot like his other goals this postseason and would have tied the score late in the third period. This time, however, goaltender Matt Murray blocked it, one of his 11 saves in the period.
“As far as looks, it was much better,” Pavelski said. “But you need production right now. You’ve got to find ways.”
The Sharks put up a fight late and they outshot the Penguins 24-20, the first time in the series they’ve had the advantage. Melker Karlsson scored while falling 8:07 into the third period to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to one.
But Eric Fehr’s goal with a little more than two minutes remaining snuffed out the rally and put the Stanley Cup within the Penguins’ reach.
For the Sharks in Game 5, the challenge is transferring the energy and intensity they’ve shown late in games to the opening puck drop.
“There’s no quit in our group – we’ve been the best road team in the league,” DeBoer said. “We’re going to show up and try and get this back here for Game 6. Until you win four, this isn’t over.”
Said Couture: “If we don’t get that one, we’re done. If you have a problem getting up for that game, then you don’t belong in this sport.”
Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows