The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-1, in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday to take a 3-1 series lead. The Penguins can close out the series Thursday in Game 5 in Pittsburgh.
San Jose, meanwhile, must find a way to stop the bleeding. The Sharks have had to rally in all four games and have only been successful once.
“I thought the first period, I actually liked the way San Jose was playing,” former NHL player and current Sharks TV analyst Jamie Baker said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “But this Pittsburgh team, they prey on mistakes and they make you pay. Listen, we’re in the Stanley Cup. You’ve got the two best teams. San Jose is coming from the West. Pittsburgh was probably the best team in the NHL the last two months of the regular season, they knocked off the regular-season champion Washington Capitals in six games and they make you pay. It’s a smothering, in-your-face brand of hockey that the Sharks haven’t faced in this postseason.”
Ian Cole gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead in the first period. Evgeni Malkin made it 2-0 in the second.
Pittsburgh has scored the first goal in all four games of the series.
“If you score the first goal, your chance of winning is anywhere between 67 and 72 percent, varying on the year,” Baker said. “That’s what it is, every single year. It’s the weirdest thing. You have almost a 70 percent chance of winning if you score the first goal, and Pittsburgh has scored the first goal in all four games. So San Jose has been chasing the game. You want to force the other team to have to open things up. It’s a series of two or three mistakes, and then boom: They quick-strike you and now they’ve got the lead. Ultimately, that’s been one of the defining moments of the Stanley Cup Finals so far in the first four games.”
The Sharks must now win three straight games, including two in Pittsburgh, to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Easier said that done, but how can the Sharks get back to the way they were playing earlier in the postseason?
“I think it’s a two-part question,” Baker said. “To get back to where they were in the other rounds, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Pittsburgh’s better than those opponents. No disrespect to those opponents; Pittsburgh’s better and they’re playing phenomenal hockey. The second part is, (I think San Jose) has to use the desperation. There (can be) no fear of failure. Your backs are up against the wall. Like they did tonight in the third period, play like that.”
Melker Karlsson scored in the third period to pull San Jose within 2-1.
“They had three guys there and they won the battle,” Baker said. “Melker Karlsson spun off Sidney Crosby and corralled the loose puck. There’s no secret sauce there. That’s just simplifying your game. Things that might have worked against other teams, it’s not there. It hasn’t been there for most of this series, so I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to be unless Pittsburgh starts to play poorly – and you can’t ever count on that. So be aggressive. You don’t want to (have any regrets). Just be free. Yeah, your backs are against the wall, but go out there, lay it on the line, simplify your game, win some battles and see if you can beat the Penguins that way. Go all-out 100 percent all the time and see where that goes.”