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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins try to climb last step to Stanley Cup

Pittsburgh one victory from championship; San Jose's Ward, Jones key to prolonging series

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

The Pittsburgh Penguins can see the top of the mountain.

A victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) will complete the Penguins' climb to winning the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history. It also would be the first one they've won in front of their home fans.

The San Jose Sharks have yet to play with the lead at any point during the series. Their lone victory came on Joonas Donskoi's overtime goal in Game 3, a game in which they spent most of the time playing catch-up. The Sharks, who were averaging 3.5 goals per game through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, have scored seven against the Penguins, who have dominated play with their speed.

Here are two players trying to help the Penguins climb that last step to the Cup, and two Sharks trying to stop them.

Joel Ward, F, Sharks -- Ward scored the game-tying goal at 8:48 of the third period of Game 3, which the Sharks went on to win in overtime. He has seven goals and 13 points in 22 playoff games after he had 21 goals and 43 points in 79 regular-season games. Ward is versatile enough to fit anywhere in the forward rotation, and his arrival as a free agent last summer helped give San Jose the kind of depth up front it has lacked in past seasons.

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm3: Ward blasts home equalizer

Martin Jones, G, Sharks - Were it not for Jones' outstanding play, this series might be over. He gave the Sharks a chance to win Games 1 and 2, and he made 40 saves before Donskoi's overtime goal in Game 3. He has a 2.17 goals-against average in 22 playoff games and leads all goaltenders with three postseason shutouts. 

Evgeni Malkin, F, Penguins -- Malkin isn't putting up the kind of offensive numbers he did in 2009, the last time the Penguins won the Cup, when he had 14 goals and 36 points and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. But he had an assist on the Penguins' first goal in Game 4 against the Sharks, and his power-play goal early in the second period proved to be the winner. Though Malkin has five goals, he's in a three-way tie for second on the Penguins with 17 points in 21 games.

Matt Murray, G, Penguins -- Not since Ken Dryden led the Montreal Canadiens to the Cup in 1971 after playing six regular-season games has a rookie goaltender played so little in the regular season before shining so brightly in the playoffs. Murray went 9-2-1 in 13 games during two regular-season call-ups from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. But he's 14-5 with a 2.09 GAA and .925 save percentage in 19 playoff games. One more win will tie him with Patrick Roy of the 1986 Montreal Canadiens, Ron Hextall of the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers and Cam Ward of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes for the most victories by a rookie in one playoff year. It also might earn him the Conn Smythe Trophy, as leading his team to the Cup did for Ward 10 years ago.

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm4: Murray robs Marleau all alone

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