SAN JOSE -- Ian Cole chose his time wisely.
"I was saving a special one for a special game," Cole said.
Cole hadn't scored a goal since March 26, 2015 against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was 0-fer on 104 shots in 104 consecutive games entering Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center.
He ended that slump in a dramatic way Monday.
Cole's goal 7:36 into the first period was the Penguins' first in a 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks. It was only his second goal in 112 games since the Penguins acquired him from the St. Louis Blues on March 2, 2015.
Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 and can win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Video: PIT@SJS, Gm4: Cole finishes rebound for early lead
"It's great. It's great," Cole said. "Last year, I didn't press, I didn't do anything different and I was able to score five [four with the Blues]. This year, it seemed like I didn't press and nothing seemed to go into the net. I hit a lot of posts, a lot of sticks, pucks were going to the open net and they'd get tipped wide. It was a weird year in that sense. It's nice to finally get that one."
Cole's goal gave the Penguins the lead for the fourth straight game in the series. They haven't trailed in-game yet. He is a big reason for that.
He and Justin Schultz have made up a solid third defense pair for the Penguins. Cole hasn't done anything flashy, and instead has been strong on the wall, at getting his stick in the lane, being physical, getting pucks out.
Cole rarely joins the rush, which made what he did in Game 4 so special and unique.
"I'll tell you what, that was a big goal," Penguins center Matt Cullen said. "[Cole] has been absolutely awesome for us this whole playoff. Honestly, he's just been a stud."
Cole finally got rewarded. He has Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin to thank.
The play started with Malkin controlling the puck near the wall by the Sharks bench. He had three guys closing in on him as the Sharks were trying to change, but he was able to put a pass through Sharks center Chris Tierney's legs to send Kessel into the zone with speed.
Kessel curled into the right circle and put a shot on goal that went off of Sharks goalie Martin Jones' pads. The puck went directly out to Cole in the left circle. He quickly shot it into the net, before Jones could scramble back to make the second save in the sequence.
"I was just trying to get a shot on the net and what a bounce, right," Kessel said. "He made a great shot."
Cole said he thinks Kessel was trying to shoot for a rebound. Or, at least, that's what he wants to think.
"Phil likes that low-blocker shot. He's one of the best in the world at it," Cole said. "Inevitably, when those rebounds do come off they end up at the 45 degree angle over there [left circle]. So, I don't know, maybe he was trying to score and it ended up that way, but I have to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he saw me and put it over there on purpose."
However it happened, it worked, and Cole finally delivered a shot into the back of the net.
He picked a good time to make one count.
"Very nice to get the first one," Cole said. "Saved it for an important time."