SAN JOSE -- The kid walked along the balcony, a gray San Jose Sharks shirt flipped over his shoulder. His eyes looked bleary. His face read frustration. He was not unlike the Sharks themselves, having waited so long for this moment, being so disappointed now.
After a 25-year wait -- far exceeding the boy's life span -- the Sharks had finally made it to the Stanley Cup Final. And now, four games into their attempt to bring the Cup to San Jose, they have yet to play with a lead in any of the games, have yet to take control, have yet to play the way they truly wanted aside from short spurts toward the end of games.
They will head east down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the best-of-7 Cup Final, having lost 3-1 at SAP Center on Monday, giving up a chance to even the series and extend it to a guaranteed sixth game.
Now, nothing is a guarantee. And yet, the Sharks profess to believe.
"There's no quit in our group," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've been the best road team in the League. We're going to show up and try to get this back here for Game 6. Until you win four, this isn't over.
"We've been chasing the game the whole series by not scoring first. That takes you out of your four-line rhythm. It affects all parts of your game. We've been on the other end of that in the playoffs, where we've jumped out to the lead on some teams and made them change their game. That's the biggest thing we have to fix. We have to find a way to get on the board earlier in the game instead of chasing it all night."
Because if they don't, they will find themselves in rare company -- and on summer vacation.
Twice has a team never led in a game in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final. In 1952, the Montreal Canadiens never had a lead against the Detroit Red Wings, and in 1960, the Toronto Maple Leafs never had a lead against the Canadiens, each series wrapping up in four games.
Needless to say, the Sharks would prefer not to join that company.
So the game plan for Game 5?
"Score first," Logan Couture said. "Go from there."
And despite all evidence to the contrary -- the lack of leads, the speed of the Penguins, the sheer fact that they're on the edge of elimination -- Couture said the team, like its coach, has faith that this series is not yet over, or won't be Thursday after Game 5 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"We're going to battle to the end," he said. "We're confident we can go there and win a hockey game."
Though they got down early -- again -- in Game 4 at SAP Center, the Sharks -- again -- did not lie down in the third period. They pressed late, getting within one goal at 8:07 of the third, when Melker Karlsson scored while falling to one knee. But that one goal was far from enough, not after the Penguins scored once in the first (Ian Cole, 7:36) and once in the second (Evgeni Malkin, 2:37 on the power play), before icing the game with an Eric Fehr goal at 17:58 of the third.
"Most of the postseason we've been able to jump out [to leads]," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "We haven't quite got that yet. Moving forward, I think that's going to play a big role in giving ourselves a chance. If we can get going that way, it's going to help."
Yes, it just might.
Somehow, though, the Sharks have managed to be in every game, to be close at the end, even without the lead. Each of the first three games was decided by one goal. The fourth was a one goal game with less than three minutes remaining.
They could have won all three, even if they were generally -- and sometimes vastly -- outplayed by the Penguins.
They could have asserted the way they want to play on to the Penguins, instead of the other way around. But they haven't been able to do so. They have failed at that and so, they find themselves on the brink of a disaster, with the possibility that their first trip to the Cup Final could be over in five games.
"We've got to find an answer for that," DeBoer said of the lack of leads. "I don't know what it is. Again, it hasn't been an issue until this series. But it's been a big issue these three games."
It has. Now it's time to correct it, if they can, to find a way to get back to the game that they played through the first three rounds of the postseason, to figure out how to get back to themselves.
"We'd better," Couture said. "If we lose, we're done. If you have a problem getting up for that game, you don't belong in this sport."
by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer