SAN JOSE -- Phil Kessel might be one more strong performance away from winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Although it's all speculation, the Pittsburgh Penguins right wing helped his cause with two assists in a 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on Monday.
Kessel leads the Penguins with 21 points on 10 goals and 11 assists. The Penguins lead 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).
"I love Phil's overall game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "Not just tonight, I've liked it through this whole playoffs. When I watch him play, I say to myself, 'He's committed.' He's committed to helping us win. He's playing at both ends of the rink."
In Game 4, Kessel won his in-game matchup against the Sharks' defense pair of Brent Burns and Paul Martin.
Video: PIT@SJS, Gm4: Malkin tips in Kessel's shot for PPG
As they were in Game 3, Burns and Martin were again the Sharks' primary defenders against Kessel and his linemates, center Nick Bonino and left wing Carl Hagelin.
According to War-on-Ice.com, Burns was on the ice for 9:59 of Kessel's 13:38 even strength ice time and Martin was on for 9:15. Neither of Kessel's assists came with Burns and Martin on the ice, but Kessel had the better of the matchup anyway.
The Penguins were plus-6 in even strength shot attempts when Kessel was on against Burns and Martin.
Kessel led the Penguins with four shots on goal and nine total shot attempts. Burns and Martin contributed one shot and 10 total attempts, including a team-high nine from Burns.
"What really impresses me about Phil is just his commitment away from the puck, the play in his own end zone," Sullivan said. "The wall play that he's participating in. He's strong on the puck. He's playing the game the right way now. It's impressive to watch because his complete game is, I think, what helps that line be as effective as it's been throughout the course of the playoffs."
Here is a look inside the head-to-head matchup:
Goals: Kessel 0, Martin/Burns 0
Assists: Kessel 2, Martin/Burns 0
Points: Kessel 2, Martin/Burns 0
Ice time: Kessel 15:18; Martin 20:26, Burns 26:53
Key intangible stat: Kessel led the Penguins with four shots on goal and nine total shot attempts. Burns, who had 17 shot attempts in Game 3, had nine shot attempts in Game 4, but one shot on goal. Martin had five blocked shots, including four shots from Kessel.
Best moment: Kessel's best play of the game helped the Penguins take a 2-0 lead. He had the primary assist on Evgeni Malkin's power-play goal at 2:37 of the second period. It wound up being the game-winning goal.
Kessel was able to get his pass from the left circle through the slot, past Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist and Sharks defensemen Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, onto Malkin's stick at the right post. Malkin redirected the puck into the net for Pittsburgh's first power-play goal of the series and his first goal in seven games.
Malkin set up Kessel for his first assist of the game with a sneaky, good pass off the wall in front of the Sharks bench. Kessel, knifing north down the middle of the ice, got the puck, carried it into the zone with speed, got into the right circle and put a shot on Sharks goalie Martin Jones. The rebound popped out to Penguins defenseman Ian Cole in the left circle. He put it in to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 7:36 of the first period.
Burns and Martin each had strong defensive plays on Kessel too.
Burns had a clean break up of Kessel's pass to Bonino on a would-be 2-on-1 at 7:55 of the second period. Martin had a clean block on Kessel's shot off the rush and from the right circle at 15:42 of the second. Burns drew a penalty on Penguins forward Bryan Rust at 17:33 of the second period, but the Sharks couldn't convert on the power play.
Series stat line (goals-assists-points): Kessel 1-2-3; Burns 0-2-2, Martin 0-0-0