For the Stanley Cup Finals, this is pivotal contest. Tonight, San Jose either makes this a best two of three series the rest of the way or is staring at first elimination on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
The Sharks have been chasing the Penguins the entire time and finally grabbed their first lead of the series when rookie Joonas Donskoi scored the winner 12:18 into overtime Saturday. For those making NHL picks, there is a great deal to think about and elements to ponder, let’s examine some of those.
The Penguins are obviously the faster team, just like they have been in every series in the playoffs and continue to dominate in shot attempts, owning a 113-74 edge in this series after three encounters.
However, Pittsburgh has been involved in three one-goal games and in spite of obvious edge in skating. To win Game 4 and gain nearly insurmountable lead, the Pens have to crack the San Jose defense down not only with their speed, but by moving the puck more with passing to have Sharks players off balance and out of position.
It is clear goalie Martin Jones is dialed in for San Jose and he is the main reason we have not seen three Pitt blowouts, but even he cannot be expected to stop a 2-on-1 inside of 10 feet repeatedly and this can be accomplished with swifter passes and improved defensive forechecking like in Game 2.
Also, an Evgeni Malkin sighting would be nice as he’s not registered a point in the Cup Finals and been held scoreless in past six contests. If Malkin scores, this could lift entire Pittsburgh squad.
Now that the Sharks know what it is like to finally have a lead in the lead, granted, it has not actually been even for one second, they understand they are back in the series and need to place pressure on Pittsburgh for a change. Grabbing a first period lead and holding it or extending it to 2-0 would change the dynamic of the series.
Thankfully for Sharks fans, this is not like past San Jose clubs which certainly would have crumbled under the pressure and with Jones unflappable between the pipes, he’s kept them in series.
With Pens players sacrificing their bodies to block shots, Sharks players have to make adjustment to simulate shot attempts to get Pittsburgh players on the ground, but hold puck to put shoot over them if they are prone or pass to next open player and set up potential – give and go – situation for easier scoring opportunity.