Any hope the San Jose Sharks had of coming back to win the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals might have been dashed on Monday with their 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Game 4. With the series shifting back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday, the stars are aligning for the Penguins to clinch a Stanley Cup at home for the first time in franchise history.
It’s been a close series, and Game 4 was the only contest that wasn’t decided by one goal. Game 2 and Game 3 both ended in overtime. The Penguins and Sharks were separated by one goal for much of Monday’s third period, until Eric Fehr’s goal with 2:02 remaining gave Pittsburgh some breathing room. Overall, the Penguins have looked like the more aggressive squad, and should have an edge at Consol Energy Center.
Pittsburgh is a heavy favorite to win the series (-1400), and Las Vegas oddsmakers expect them to close out the series in Game 5, giving them -145 betting odds to do so. San Jose is a +125 underdog in Game 5 and a +700 underdog to win three straight games, via Bovada.lv, and they are 2-6 in their last eight road games.
The Penguins have taken a 3-1 series lead by getting contributions from all over. Phil Kessel might be the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. He leads the Penguins with 21 points in the playoffs, totaling 10 goals and 11 assists, and he has three points in the finals. The team won two of the first three games, even though Evgeni Malkin’s two points on Monday were his first of the series. Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a goal in the last five games, but Pittsburgh hasn’t needed him to score.
Crosby has maintained that his teammates won't look ahead or underestimate their opponents.
"In saying that, you can't get caught looking ahead of things," Crosby said on Monday. "We've had a great approach all playoff long -- all season long -- in making sure we're staying in the moment here. That will be important here, now more than ever."
Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray wasn’t at his best in Game 3, but otherwise, he’s been everything the Penguins could have asked for. Saving 92.9 percent of the shots sent his way this series, he gives Pittsburgh an advantage that should help them win their first title in seven years.
The Sharks have not been able to withstand a disappearing act from one of their top performers. Joe Pavelski had 22 playoff points, including a team-high 13 goals, before the start of the finals. But he’s gone quiet against Pittsburgh, failing to get on the board and registering a minus-three during his time on the ice.
"Right now, we're in the hole we're at," Pavelski said after Game 4. "A goal or two probably changes the outcome. The way it's been going for most of the postseason, I feel like I should probably have a little bit more."
Pavelski had five shots on goal in Game 4, but Murray didn’t allow any through. It’s what the goalie has done all postseason long, and he’ll probably only need to do it one more time.
Prediction: Pittsburgh over San Jose, 2-1