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5 Keys: San Jose Sharks, Game 4

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins play Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Sharks trail 2-1 in the best-of-7 series after a 3-2 overtime win here on Saturday.

Here are five keys for the Sharks in Game 4:

1. KEEP THE PEDAL DOWN

Nothing has come easy for the Sharks against the Penguins, but they played their best game of the series in Game 3 and were rewarded with an overtime win. Although that win got them back in the series, they can't afford to let up with the Penguins likely to raise their level in Game 4.

The Sharks hope to carry some momentum from their comeback win Saturday and continue to feed off the emotion of the crowd at SAP Center.

"Hopefully things will turn around for us," right wing Joel Ward. "We're just excited about the big win in our building and to get another opportunity to do that and even up the series."

2. GET A LEAD

The Sharks' only lead in the series came on Joonas Donskoi's overtime goal to end Game 3. Otherwise, they've either been playing from behind (69:20) or tied (125:33).

Getting the first goal for the first time in the series would help particularly at home, where the Sharks are 7-1 when scoring first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just playing ahead would change the tone for the Sharks and, perhaps, get the Penguins to take some chances that lead to mistakes. The Penguins haven't played from behind in their past six games, dating back to a 4-3 loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It's a lot easier playing with the lead than when you're chasing the game the entire time," center Logan Couture said. "So we want to try to score the first goal."

3. KEEP SHOOTING

The Penguins' focus on blocking shots has been an obstacle throughout this series, but particularly in Game 3 when they blocked 38 attempts, including 12 by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns. The positives for San Jose were that it had the puck in the Penguins end a lot more than the first two games, and the Sharks were not discouraged.

In fact, they often got the puck back for second and third attempts.

"They make a commitment to block," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of the Penguins. "We've got to keep shooting. We've got to work for lanes. There's not much you can do. It can't deter us from shooting the puck. I think there's no bad shots for us. Even if it gets blocked, a lot of times we can recover it. We're going to keep our shooting mentality and keep firing."

That mentality eventually paid off for the Sharks in Game 3; Ward's 41-foot slap shot got past goaltender Matt Murray for the tying goal and Donskoi caught Murray going down early on his overtime goal. Testing Murray more in Game 4 might yield similar results.

4. RIDE THE BIG GUNS

With the Sharks in desperate need of a win in Game 3, DeBoer decided to load up his top line, moving Couture up to play with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, and give those three heavy minutes in the third period and overtime. That was partly because Tomas Hertl was out because of a lower-body injury and the players were well rested after having two days off following Game 2.

If Hertl remains out for Game 4, DeBoer shouldn't hesitate to do this again even with less rest from one day off following Game 3. Having the last line change at home should allow DeBoer to get Couture, Pavelski and Thornton on the ice against some favorable matchups.

5. VLASIC AND BRAUN

DeBoer used home-ice advantage to get the defense pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun on the ice against Penguins captain Sidney Crosby more often in Game 3, and it paid off; Crosby had his quietest game of the series. According to War-on-Ice.com, Vlasic was on the ice for 13:03 of Crosby's 18:00 of even-strength time and Braun was on for 13:41.

If Vlasic and Braun can do a similar job against Crosby in Game 4, that will boost the Sharks' chances of evening the series.

"Getting us out there is a lot easier having that last change [at home]," Braun said. "We'll see what the matchup is going to be, but all our D pairings can play against all their forwards. We just have to go out there and do the job."



by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

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