SAN JOSE – Fighting for their lives in the third period, the Sharks got back to within a single goal of the Penguins with just about 12 minutes left on the clock in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at SAP Center. Melker Karlsson slinked a shot through Matt Murray, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead in half.
Typically, that’s when Joe Pavelski seems to find a way to come through, whether it’s taking a beating to get in position and hammer home a pass, skillfully redirecting a shot from the point, or locating some loose change around the net and slipping it over the line.
On this night, the captain had his best chance to tie the game at 2-2 with 7:36 to go. He got free in the circle, corralled a pass from behind the net by Patrick Marleau, and released.
Matt Murray was there. Eric Fehr added an insurance goal for Pittsburgh with two minutes left. Pavelski remains without a single point in the series.
And now the Sharks are in a mammoth hole, down three-games-to-one with the series going back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday.
Is Pavelski, who had five shots on goal after getting just four through the first three games, frustrated?
“I’m more frustrated with the wins and losses than anything,” he said. “It’s different if we’re [up] 3-1, and you don’t have anything. That’s a different story. But, right now with the hole we’re [in], you know a goal or two probably changes the outcome.”
Pavelski is hardly the only high profile Sharks player that has yet to light the lamp, as Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton have all not scored in the series.
The Penguins are shutting down the guys the Sharks rely on nightly.
“I thought there [were] goals out there,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought we had a chance to score at least a couple tonight. We had some really good looks. Their goalie made some saves. We didn't finish.”
The Sharks have yet to play with a lead at any point in the series, too, and that’s a problem. Pittsburgh has scored first in all four games, and in Game 4, it added a second score early in the middle frame to make it 2-0.
That’s when DeBoer was forced to make some major changes, getting away from the four-line identity that he and the players have repeatedly pointed to as a primary reason for their success. His attempt to replace an injured Tomas Hertl on the top line rotated between Karlsson, Couture and Joonas Donskoi, while Tommy Wingels (4:05 of ice time) and Dainius Zubrus (5:10) were essentially benched.
“When you have the lead, you can play differently,” DeBoer said. “You feel a lot more comfortable getting in a four-line rhythm, putting your guys out there, trusting them. There's not that pressure that we have to create a scoring chance or score a goal.
“We've got to find an answer for that. I don't know what it is. It hasn't been an issue until this series, but it's been a big issue these [four] games.”
Paul Martin agreed that falling behind has been a huge obstacle that the Sharks have overcome just once in four tries, a Game 3 win in overtime.
“We haven’t been able to get out and get a lead, and we’re a different team when we do that,” he said. “It’s been tough for us. We’ve got to find ways to produce when they get the first goal.”
After an inexplicable four-shot second period, the Sharks did turn it up in the third. At the same time, the Penguins were plainly sitting back more while trying to protect their advantage.
For the Sharks to have any chance at bringing the series back to San Jose, they’ll have to bring that kind of game they displayed in the third from start to finish on Thursday.
And they’ll almost certainly need one of their big guns to step up and do something. Anything.
“This team hasn’t given up, and [has] found ways,” Pavelski said. “Right now, we need to find a way more than ever.”