Mike Halford

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On the brink: Pens silence Sharks, now one win away from Stanley Cup


SAN JOSE — The Sharks haven’t quite faded to black yet.

But they’re close.

On a night when Metallica provided a surge of energy by performing the national anthem, the home team failed to respond in kind, mustering just a single goal in a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Evgeni Malkin‘s second-period goal, his first of the series, proved the game winner, while Melker Karlsson scored the lone marker for San Jose.

Ian Cole and Eric Fehr also netted for the Penguins, who got a pair of assists from Phil Kessel, now the team’s leading scorer — and legitimate Conn Smythe favorite — with 21 points in 22 games.

With the win, the Penguins took a commanding 3-1 series lead, and can now capture their first championship in seven years on Thursday night at Consol.

With the loss, San Jose found itself in in serious trouble.

Fair or not, the face of that trouble is the captain, Joe Pavelski. He had another difficult night on Monday, and remains pointless in this series — a stunning development for a guy that had 38 goals during the regular season, and 13 during the playoffs.

Pavelski’s struggles were also compounded by Malkin’s big night.

Like Pavelski, Malkin entered Game 4 having failed to register a single point. The big Russian looked a frustrated player and clearly had more to give — which is exactly what his head coach, Mike Sullivan, said prior to tonight.

Unlike Pavelski, Malkin finally broke through. He finished with two points tonight, two shots and a hit in what was easily his best game of the final.

Looking ahead, the storylines for both teams are pretty simple.

The Sharks now face the unenviable task of trying to do something only one other team in NHL history has — rally from 3-1 down to win a cup final.

That team? The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who actually came from 0-3 down against the Red Wings to win it all.

So all San Jose has to do… is something that hasn’t been done in 74 years.

As for the the Penguins, they get their own chance at history. The club’s three previous Stanley Cups were all won on the road — in Minnesota in ’91, in Chicago in ’92 and in Detroit in ’09.

Now they get a chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Mug in front of the Pittsburgh faithful.

Report: Hertl (knee) out for rest of Stanley Cup Final


SAN JOSE — Just prior to puck drop of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, some tough news broke for the Sharks.

Per Czech TV station Nova Sport, San Jose forward Tomas Hertl — who hasn’t played since Game 2 of this series — is done for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Final with a knee injury.

Hertl, 22, was probably the best Shark not named Martin Jones through the opening two games. He scored a power play goal in Game 1 and his shots run iron three games in Game 2.

“He’s arguably been maybe our best player through the first two games,” San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer said on Saturday.

With Hertl out, the Sharks have bumped Melker Karlsson up to the top line next to Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, though Logan Couture also played there for a good stretch in Game 3.

Related: With Hertl out again, Sharks wary of loading up top line

Well-traveled Sekac signs in KHL

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After a tumultuous campaign, Jiri Sekac is headed to Russia.

On Monday, KHL club Ak Bars Kazan announced it had signed Sekac, after the 23-year-old Czech split last season between Anaheim, Chicago and Arizona.

All told, Sekac played for four different organizations during his brief two-year NHL stint.

He broke in with Montreal during the ’14-15 campaign and got off to a good start — seven goals and 15 points in 50 games — but eventually fell out of the lineup, and was shipped to Anaheim for Devante Smith-Pelly.

With the Ducks, Sekac showed flashes (seven points in 19 games), but was a non-factor in the playoffs. Midway through this year, Anaheim flipped Sekac to Chicago for Ryan Garbutt.

The Chicago tenure was the least successful of ’em all. Sekac played just six games for the ‘Hawks before getting put on waivers, and was claimed by the Coyotes.

Sekac closed out the year by playing 11 games for Arizona, scoring just two points. He was in the last of a two-year, $2.7 million deal and a pending RFA.

Not lacking confidence, Laine’s goal is to be drafted No. 1

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SAN JOSE — Patrik Laine didn’t downplay his confidence at the NHL scouting combine.

And at the Stanley Cup Final, he didn’t apologize for it.

“People can think what they want to think,” Laine said on Monday, as the top draft prospects descended on San Jose to meet with the media. “I don’t care. People who know me, that know me better, they know I’m a good guy and I’m confident in the right way.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

If there’s one thing you can say about Laine, it that he’s consistent. His unflinching confidence was in lockstep with the bold declarations made at last week’s combine.

Laine said he thought he could be the next Alex Ovechkin. He said he has the ability to be the best player in the NHL. He said he was just as good as the presumptive No. 1 pick — Auston Matthews — adding that Toronto now “has a tough decision to make” with the first overall selection.

Ah yes, that number one spot. Laine wants it. And he’s gunning for it.

“Of course, I want to be the first guy,” he said. “I think that’s possible.”

And really, why wouldn’t it be?

Last month, Laine became the youngest player in the 80-year history of the World Hockey Championships to win MVP. At 18, he finished with 12 points in 10 games and tied Sweden’s Gustav Nyquist for the tournament goalscoring title. He set up the game-winning goal against the host Russians in the semifinal, and was also named the tournament’s top forward.

Think of it this way. Both Laine and Matthews are 18. Both played in the Worlds. Both had terrific tournaments — Matthews had nine points in 10 games, leading the U.S. in scoring — but Laine was judged to be the most valuable.

So why shouldn’t he think he can top Matthews?

“I would be lying if I said that ‘no, I couldn’t go first.’ That’s always been my goal,” Laine said. “After this season, I think it’s really possible to go first.

“I think [me and Matthews] are quite even. He’s better than me in some stuff, and I’m better than him in some things. I wouldn’t say one of us is better than the other.”

Of course, draft pundits and analysts concede Matthews will almost certainly go first overall, partly because he’s a center, whereas Laine plays the wing.

If that happens, don’t expect Laine to be disappointed. Oh sure, he’ll probably have a little envy about not being the No. 1 pick, but it will result in him falling to Winnipeg at No. 2, where one of his favorite players growing up — Teemu Selanne — began his Hall of Fame career.

“It would be nice to play there [Winnipeg], of course, where he used to play,” Laine said. “The city was crazy about him.”

The ‘Peg would probably be pretty crazy about Laine, too.

With Hertl out again, Sharks wary of loading up top line


SAN JOSE — First thing first: Thomas Hertl (lower body) is out for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, his second consecutive missed game.

Now, for the ramifications.

What will San Jose do in his absence? Does Melker Karlsson resume starting duties alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski? Or, will head coach Peter DeBoer stick Logan Couture there, like he did in crunch time of Game 3?

“It helped us the other night, sure,” DeBoer said of loading up his No. 1 unit. “It would be similar to them moving Crosby, Malkin and Kessel together. You have three great players playing together.

“But in order to do that, that hurts you in other parts of the lineup. You have to be comfortable you can survive doing that with the other parts.”

Couture had 8:36 TOI with Thornton in Game 3, and 9:17 with Pavelski. The result? Terrific possession metrics — 75 CF percentage with Thornton, 67 percent with Pavelski — and some of the most sustained pressure San Jose’s had on Pittsburgh in this series.

Thornton finished with a pair of assists, his first points of the series, and all three finished with more than 25 minutes of total ice time. As such, it has to be tempting for DeBoer to go back to the trio for tonight’s Game 4 — but he was cautious about it on Monday morning, sounding wary of the potential domino effect.

“We got away with it the other night. We shortened the bench,” DeBoer said. “We had some guys, I thought, give us some real supreme efforts underneath that group.

“But I don’t know if that’s something that we can go to all the time.”

As such, in-game adjustments will be something to watch tonight. The Sharks had a highly optional skate — only the Black Aces participated, along with James Reimer — so there were no clues as to how DeBoer would run his lines.

Whatever the case, DeBoer has no worries about Thornton and Pavelski struggling to find chemistry with whatever linemate they get.

They’re not going to look at you like, ‘what are we doing here?’ They’re comfortable,” DeBoer explained. “They feel that replacement, there’s not going to be a significant drop-off.