This wasn't the plan. Twelve days after clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history, the Sharks find themselves facing elimination after falling to the Penguins by a score of 3–1 in Game 4.
Ian Cole and Evgeni Malkin staked the Penguins to a 2–0 lead that proved to be enough despite a late push by the Sharks. Now San Jose faces the daunting task of coming back from a 3–1 series deficit with Game 5 and a potential Game 7 on the road in Pittsburgh.
Melker Karlsson finally got the Sharks on the board nearly midway through the third as they tried to come back for the second straight game. Karlsson carried the puck behind the net and fired it past Matt Murray as he fell to the ice and his linemates battled a pair of Penguins in front of the net.
The Sharks' shortened bench applied all sorts of pressure after getting within a goal, but Eric Fehr scored with 2:02 left to make it 3–1.
A strong start that saw the Sharks take the only shot in the first six minutes of play wasn't enough for them to get the first goal, as the Penguins opened the scoring for the fourth straight game. Seconds after Martin Jones bailed out his teammates with a huge save, Phil Kessel took a shot from a bad angle that Jones couldn't control. With Roman Polak chasing a hit on Malkin and the Sharks inexplicably going for a line change, the rebound went to Cole all alone on the other side of the ice, and Cole fired it past Jones for the 1–0 lead.
Malkin doubled the Penguins lead 2:37 into the second. Melker Karlsson took an interference penalty off an offensive zone faceoff, and Pittsburgh's power play needed only nine seconds to score its first goal of the series in eight attempts. Kessel fired a blast towards the net that deflected off Malkin and put San Jose in a 2–0 hole.
As he did late in Game 3, Pete DeBoer shortened his bench in the second period after Malkin scored to make it 2–0. Logan Couture moved back up to the top line with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, while Chris Tierney took Couture's spot between Patrick Marleau and Joonas Donskoi.
The line juggling resulted in a few more chances for the Sharks, including a golden opportunity for Couture after a Penguins turnover, but San Jose came up empty on the power play late in the period and couldn't break through before the second intermission.
DeBoer changed his lines again in the third, swapping Couture and Donskoi and moving Joel Ward up to the second line. Marleau had the Sharks' best chance since the Penguins went up 2–0 with a breakaway attempt that Murray gloved, then Murray stopped Pavelski after Thornton set him up with a beautiful pass.
Sharks goals (assists): Melker Karlsson (Chris Tierney, Brenden Dillon)
Fear the Fin's Three Stars
1) Evgeni Malkin
2) Matt Murray
3) Melker Karlsson