Penguins ‘work for every inch of ice’ and close in on NHL Stanley Cup crown with win over Sharks

Pittsburgh defeated San Jose 3-1 on Monday to move within one victory of capturing their fourth Stanley Cup. The Penguins used their suffocating speed to overcome the Sharks, taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NHL championship series.

Chris Tierney, left, of the San Jose Sharks skates the puck behind the Pittsburgh Penguins net in Game 4 of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 6, 2016 in San Jose, California. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP
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Los Angeles // The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Sharks 3-1 in San Jose on Monday to move within one victory of capturing their fourth Stanley Cup championship.

The Penguins used their suffocating speed to overcome the Sharks, taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NHL championship series.

“This is the hardest hockey I’ve witnessed in all the years I’ve been in this league,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “You’ve got to work for every inch of ice.”

Pittsburgh will have a chance to seal the title when they host game five on Thursday, while the Sharks will be battling to force a game six.

Related: Sharks strike late in Game 3 to claw back into Stanley Cup series: 'Just keep sticking, that's how we want to play'

Read also: 'They were better than us': Penguins edge Sharks to take Game 1 of NHL Stanley Cup finals

The Penguins opened the scoring for the fourth straight game, when defenseman Ian Cole threw a Phil Kessel rebound past Sharks goalie Martin Jones at 7:36 of the opening period.

The goal not only was Cole’s first of the playoffs, but his first in 105 games, including regular season and playoffs.

Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin scored his first goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs nine seconds after Melker Karlsson of the Sharks was sent off for interference at 2:28 of the second period.

Malkin had an easy tap-in as he slipped behind the Sharks defense on the far post, where teammate Phil Kessel hit him with a perfect feed from above the left circle.

“Malkin’s overall game was really good, at both ends of rink,” Sullivan said. “(He’s) so hard to defend. The puck follows him. It’s one of his strongest games.”

Karlsson spoiled Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray’s shutout bid with his fourth goal of the playoffs, picking up a rebound of Brenden Dillon’s blocked shot and beating Murray to make it 2-1 at 8:07 of the third.

But Murray finished with 23 saves and Eric Fehr scored his third goal of the playoffs for the Penguins at 17:58 of the final frame to send Pittsburgh home with a commanding series lead.

The Penguins are well aware, however, that their lead is not insurmountable. They built a 3-1 edge over Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs in 2011 only to lose the next three games, and did the same against the New York Rangers in the second round in 2014.

“We’ve earned an opportunity, and that’s it,” Pittsburgh forward Matt Cullen said. “We haven’t done anything yet and it’s easy to get far ahead of yourself.”

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said the Penguins’ quick starts were putting San Jose under pressure and he again shuffled personnel on his forward lines.

“When you have the lead, you can play differently and feel more comfortable getting into a four-line rhythm,” DeBoer said. “You can put your guys out there, trust them, because there’s not that pressure we have to create a chance and score a goal.”

Sharks forward Chris Tierney said San Jose must be quicker off the mark if they want to have a chance to rally in the series.

“We’ve got to get the first goal,” Tierney said. “It’s huge. We’re good when we have the lead and they’re good when they have the lead.”

But Tierney insisted the Sharks have plenty of fight left.

“This group doesn’t get too frustrated,” he said. “We just have to keep going.”

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