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Sharks teeter on the brink with Game 4 loss
San Jose's big guns AWOL once again
6/6/16 - By Mike Lee -

The only thing missing from the procession of fans streaming out of SAP Center on Monday night following the end of Game 4 was a casket. The somber reality that the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals is about to turn into a funeral for the San Jose Sharks hit home like a slap in the face. The Sharks succumbed for third time on Monday night, falling 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins after another lifeless performance that left no doubt who the better team is in this series.

When the SAP Center doors swung open following the Sharks loss, the sun was beginning to set on the South Bay. So too was the Sharks season. A single loss separates them from the hockey annals as that team that fell victim to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion.

Barring a miracle, the Sharks will be laid to rest within the next few days. If not on Thursday in Pittsburgh, then certainly by the weekend where the season can pass at home.

Sticking with the death theme, the Sharks played like the walking dead out of the gate for a fourth consecutive game, allowing their opponent to grab an early lead while they tried to get things kicked into gear.

In the Stanley Cup Finals, you don't get four chances to figure out how to start a game. The reward for the Sharks inability to start each game on time is a 3-1 hole. San Jose's insistence on playing a static game against a team that is far superior to them in the skating department led to yet another loss in a series that requires adjustments when things aren't working. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer is either too stubborn or devoid of the creativity required to adjust.

So he finds himself in the same hole he dug for himself when he led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. And he's about to suffer the same fate as that Devils team.

The Penguins regrouped for their 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3 on Saturday by keeping things simple and doing what they've done best against the Sharks. They simply skated faster and got to pucks before the Sharks did.

Pittsburgh also had their third and fourth tiers players step up. Ian Cole chose Game 4 to score his first goal of the playoffs. The Penguins defenseman isn't paid to score goals, but he made the most of his first chance in the playoffs, but snapping home a long rebound from the left side 7:36 into the game. Cole was the benefactor of a discombobulated Sharks defense that elected to shift four defenders to the right side of the ice as Phil Kessel wound up for a shot. Cole was all by himself on the weak side and had no opposition when he collected Kessel's rebound and snapping it home.

Roman Polak continued to baffle everyone by floating on the play, allowing Cole to punch home the rebound. The Sharks defenseman has been involved in so many Penguins goals in the series that he may as well put on a Pittsburgh sweater.

The Sharks finally out-shot the Penguins in the opening frame, but they never really challenged Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.

Even when they tried to play physically it backfired on them. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was sent off for interference when he checked Penguins captain Sidney Crosby into through the Sharks bench door. It was a head scratching penalty. Not for the fact that the officials actually called a penalty, but for the fact that it was deemed interference. Crosby was attempting to play the puck and should have been fair game, but the NHLs golden child received the benefit of the doubt.

The Sharks continued their strong play on the penalty kill, snuffing out the Penguins power play chance, but that luck would run out later in the game.

Melker Karlsson was whistled for an imaginary interference penalty 2:28 into the 2nd period that setup the Penguins second goal of the game. Kessel setup an Evgeni Malkin tap in at 2:37 of the period. Malkin literally parked himself next to the right post and waited. Kessel saw his linemate before snapping a diagonal pass through the slot from left to right, where Malkin had to do nothing more than get a stick blade on the pass to record his first point of the series.

Justin Braun failed to get a stick blade down in the passing lane, allowing Kessel to thread a needle with a laser beam feed.

The 2-0 lead looked as if it would be overkill, as the Sharks didn't even get a shot on Murray until the 8:30 mark of the period.

Chances were few and far between, but when they were served up on a silver platter, the Sharks fumbled the opportunity away. Logan Couture found himself with the puck and open ice between him and Murray midway through the period, but he rushed the shot and sailed a good three feet over the crossbar.

Patrick Marleau had an equally juicy chance 5 minutes into the 3rd period, but the Sharks longest tenured player missed on what could have been a signature moment for his career. Instead, Marleau sent a shot at Murray's sternum, failing to score or put a stamp on his own legacy.

San Jose would score 8:07 into the 3rd when Karlsson snapped a shot past Murray from the slot to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1.

The 12 minutes that followed were an exercise in frustration for the Sharks and the sellout crowd. The Sharks generated 12 shots over the final 20 minutes, but again, noting seemed to challenge Murray.

A turnover with just over two minutes left in regulation turned into a 2-1 break that ended with Eric Fehr beating Jones with a shot from between the circles. The goal was Fehr's 3rd of the playoffs. It was the death blow that likely ends the Sharks season.

Game Notes:

* With the 3-1 lead, the game may have been the last played at SAP Center until next season. The energy in the building was electric at the start of the game, but until Karlsson's goal the Penguins zapped that energy from the building.

* Sharks captain Joe Pavelski continued to struggle in the series. Pavelski fumbled several pucks throughout the game, and when he had a shot opportunity in the 3rd period, he had no zip on it. Don't be surprised if Pavelski is playing with an ailment that is impeding his puck handling.

* Sources within the Sharks organization have indicated that Tomas Hertl has a torn meniscus and is done for the remainder of the playoffs. Hertl injured his knee two years during his rookie season when Dustin Brown hit the Sharks foward with a knee-on-knee hit.

* The Sharks power play continued to fizzle, going-0-for-2 in Game 4.

* Pavelski won 14 of 19 faceoffs (74%), but Matt Cullen dominated in the circle late in the game, winning 11 of 20 faceoffs, primarily in the defensive zone.

* Patric Horqvist stopped a shot with is head in the 2nd period. The Penguins winger had a Justin Braun shot ring off the side of his helmet, but he continued in the game.





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Scoring
1 2 3 T
PIT 1 1 1 3
SJ 0 0 1 1
1st period - 1, PIT, Cole 1 (Kessel, Malkin), 7:36.
2nd period - 2, PIT, Malkin 5 (Kessel, Letang), 2:37, (pp).
3rd period - 3, SJ, Karlsson 4 (Tierney, Dillon), 8:07. 4, PIT, Fehr 3 (Hagelin, Maata), 17:58.
Penalties
1st period - Vlasic, SJ (interference), 11:37; Lovejoy, PIT (holding the stick), 14:45.
2nd period - Karlsson, SJ (interference), 2:28; Rust, PIT (hooking), 17:33.
3rd period - None.
Goaltending
Shots Saves
PIT - Murray 24 23
SJ - Jones 20 17
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
PIT 6 7 7 20
SJ 8 4 12 24
Power Play Conversion
PIT 1 of 2
SJ 0 of 2
3 Stars of the Game
Matt Murray
Phil Kessel
Evgeni Malkin
Attendance
17,562
Officials
Referees: McCauley, Sutherland. Linesmen: Murphy, Racicot.
Holiday Gifts at BustedTees

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