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Sharks won't stop believing against long odds

Taking elusive lead one way San Jose can change course of Cup Final against Penguins

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

SAN JOSE -- When the San Jose Sharks filed off the ice and their fans somberly headed for the exits following a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" blared from the SAP Center sound system.

No doubt it was intended for encouragement with the Sharks trailing 3-1 in the best-of-7 series and not knowing if they'll play another home game this season as they head to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). These were also the last notes and words heard by Tony Soprano before it all abruptly ended for him (however it ended for him).

So far, this Cup Final has felt like someone similarly ripped the needle off the record for the Sharks after three Stanley Cup Playoff rounds of fun that no one seemed to see coming following years of postseason disappointments. They've defeated the Penguins once, courtesy of Joonas Donskoi's overtime goal in Game 3, but have yet to play with a lead in the series.

Two teams in NHL history have gone through an entire Cup Final without playing with a lead: the 1952 Montreal Canadiens on their way to being swept by the Detroit Red Wings, and the 1960 Toronto Maple Leafs in a four-game loss to the Canadiens. The Sharks have done better than each of those teams by taking a game from the Penguins. 

Video: DeBoer discusses Hertl's injury, Game 4 loss

That gives them one more opportunity Thursday to change the course of this series and, possibly, write a different ending.

"The rubber is hitting the road here, so to speak," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Tuesday. "We've got to find a way here. We're out of time."

So, why should the Sharks believe they can do this?

Start with their road prowess during the regular season. They were the League's best road team at 28-10-3; their 28 road wins set a team record.

"We've got to go in and win one game and then go from there," longtime Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said. "Having not played with the lead, that's something, but we've been in every game. So, it's something to look forward to, to play with the lead next game." 

Video: Couture: We're going to battle till the end

Getting a lead certainly would help. The Sharks played a pretty good first period in Game 4. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski had a 2-on-1 rush early, but Thornton, usually a passer, shot from the left circle and it was an easy save for Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.

Then Sharks goaltender Martin Jones gave up a sloppy rebound on Phil Kessel's bad-angle shot and Ian Cole converted to put the Penguins ahead yet again.

"We had a couple good looks early," DeBoer said. "I think we've got to find a way to stick one of those in early and put them in the spot where they're chasing the game a little bit, which we haven't done, yet."

It's now or never for the Sharks' big guns. Pavelski was scoring at a Conn Smythe-worthy pace with 13 playoff goals entering the Cup Final, but he's yet to earn a point against the Penguins.

Thornton and Logan Couture have two assists apiece in the series. Marleau's lone point came on a goal in Game 1.

Although DeBoer acknowledged the need to get more from his best players, he also called upon the Sharks' "support group" to "take a little bit of pressure off them."

Regardless, at this point it's a pretty simple formula for the Sharks: Get a lead, get a win, get to Game 6 and go from there.

"We want to win one game and get a Game 6 back here at home," DeBoer said. "I think we would be comfortable in that spot that we could get it to go seven."

The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team in NHL history to come back and win a Cup Final after trailing a series 3-1. (They rallied from down 3-0 in that series against the Detroit Red Wings.)

The odds are stacked against the Sharks, but there will be some pressure on the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup at Consol Energy Center. No Pittsburgh team has won a major pro sports championship at home since the Pirates defeated the New York Yankees at Forbes Field in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on Bill Mazeroski's ninth-inning home run; The city of Pittsburgh has won 11 titles since then.

With two off days before the next game, the city will be in a frenzy by the time the puck is dropped Thursday. Maybe that could work to the Sharks advantage.

When DeBoer coached the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings, they fell behind 3-0 in that series, never leading in any of those games, before winning the next two to force Game 6. Two consecutive wins would get the Sharks to Game 7.

"I don't care what the record book says or that only one or two teams have come back from this situation, whatever those numbers are," DeBoer said. "Why can't we be the [second] team to do it? It starts with one game and I think that's the approach we're going to take."

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