SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Pittsburgh Penguins are one win away from their fourth Stanley Cup.
Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin had two points apiece and Matt Murray made 23 saves as the Penguins captured Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final in San Jose on Monday night, edging the Sharks 3-1 at SAP Center.
Malkin scored his first goal of the series and added an assist while Kessel set up a pair. Ian Cole and Eric Fehr also hit the scoresheet for the Penguins, who can win their first Stanley Cup since 2009 at home on Thursday night.
"They're a great team so we're going to have to play our game," said Kessel. "It's a close game out there as you guys can tell. We're just going to have to go home and play our best hockey."
"You've just got to understand that it's going to take our best and we're going to see their absolute best," added Sidney Crosby.
Melker Karlsson scored for the Sharks and Martin Jones stopped 17-of-20 shots.
Though San Jose came out with good energy on home ice, it was Pittsburgh getting on the board first for the fourth consecutive game to open the series. The play was engineered by Kessel who broke into the Sharks zone, dangled around defenceman Brenden Dillon and then flung a shot at Jones, with the rebound skipping straight out to Cole on the weak side.
The Penguins defenceman quickly fired into an open cage, free of any opponent with a fresh round of Sharks just hopping onto the ice.
It was the first of two assists for Kessel, who continues to lead Pittsburgh in post-season scoring. He now has 21 points in 22 games. Malkin landed his first point of the series.
Pittsburgh entered the night 11-3 in the playoffs when scoring first.
The Sharks nearly struck right back a minute or so later. Coming alive some in Game 3, San Jose's top line came up with a chance when Joe Thornton fed captain Joe Pavelski entering the Penguins zone. Pavelski fired at Murray who was bothered by a screen from Karlsson.
The attempt was gloved though by the Penguins goaltender.
Pavelski had perhaps his best period of the series in the first. He had three shots, more than double his total from the previous two games (2), finishing with five overall. The Sharks leading goal-scorer during the regular season, Pavelski had only four shots in the opening three games and remains without a point in the series.
Equally quiet in the early stages of the series, Malkin nearly landed his first goal against San Jose when he broke into the Sharks zone on a power play, eluded Dillon and let rip on Jones, who stopped it with his blocker.
Malkin ended up beating Jones a period later.
Positioned to the left of the Sharks goalie on an early period power play, the Russian centre took a cross-ice pass from Kessel and finessed it into the net.
Malkin has 17 points in 21 games this spring after missing the early part of the playoffs with an injury.
"He's been a big part of this playoff success," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Sunday afternoon. "But certainly I know that there's another level that he has to help us win."
Malkin, Cole and Fehr were the seventh, eighth and ninth different Penguins to score in the series.
San Jose, which outshot Pittsburgh 8-6 in the first, went the first 9:21 of the second without landing a shot. They came close to getting on the scoreboard when Nick Spaling hit a post with less than six minutes remaining in the frame, coming even closer on a chance from Logan Couture.
After Kris Letang overskated a puck near the Penguins defensive blue line, Couture snatched the puck and fired on Murray, only to be stopped. Murray made another key save early in the third when Patrick Marleau broke free of the defence, but the 22-year-old picked the shot with his glove.
It was a strong performance for Murray after a wobbly effort in Game 3.
"I know Matt will respond the right way," Sullivan said beforehand.
Murray was finally beaten about eight minutes into the final frame by Karlsson. The Swedish winger, who's replaced an injured Tomas Hertl on the San Jose top line, took possession of the puck after a scramble in front of the Pittsburgh net. He fired it just under the left arm of Murray, cutting the Sharks' deficit to 2-1.
San Jose kept pressing, overwhelming and outshooting Pittsburgh 12-7 in the period.
Fehr iced it for the Penguins though, taking a Carl Hagelin feed as he raced down the middle of the ice, and eventually beating Jones to increase the deficit back to two.
San Jose still has yet to play with a lead in the series.