Pens take 3-1 series lead over Sharks

Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Murray, right, defends against San Jose Sharks' Joonas Donskoi (27) during the second period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals on Monday, June 6, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. At center is Penguins' Olli Maatta (3). (AP)

SAN JOSE, Calif. (TNS) – The Penguins are one victory away from a Stanley Cup.

They defeated San Jose, 3-1, at the SAP Center on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

They will have a chance to claim the franchise’s fourth championship – and to win one on home ice for the first time – with a victory in Game 5 at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at Consol Energy Center.

Game 6, if necessary, will be played at 8:20 p.m. Sunday in San Jose.

A 3-1 lead, while commanding, hardly guarantees that a series will be won, as the Penguins have discovered a couple of times in recent seasons.

They built a 3-1 advantage against Tampa Bay in Round 1 in 2011, only to lose the final three games, and did the same against the New York Rangers in the second round in 2014, with the same outcome.

It is worth noting, however, that the Penguins have lost two games in a row just once in these playoffs, and have not dropped three in a row since a 0-4-1 skid in mid-December.

Coach Mike Sullivan arrived after the first game of that slide and things began to change shortly thereafter.

And now a team that once seemed like a long shot to even qualify for the playoffs is just one victory away from taking its place atop the hockey world.

The Penguins opened the scoring for the fourth consecutive game in this series, and a franchise-record sixth playoff game in a row.

The goal came from a most unlikely source, as defenseman Ian Cole threw a Phil Kessel rebound past Sharks goalie Martin Jones from above the left dot 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. His most recent one had come March 26, 2015.

Kessel, who put the puck on goal from the right side, received one assist. The second went to Evgeni Malkin, his first point of the series.

Both teams had one power play in the first period, but neither scored.

San Jose finished with an 8-6 edge in shots. It was the first time in seven games that the Penguins allowed more than a half-dozen shots in the first period.

Although the Penguins failed to convert on their first seven tries with the extra man in this series, they took full advantage of No. 8.

Just nine seconds after Melker Karlsson of the Sharks was sent off for interference at 2:28 of the second, Malkin camped out near the right post and chipped a Kessel pass into the net for his first goal in seven games and fifth of the playoffs.

Kris Letang got the second assist.

San Jose spoiled Murray’s bid for his second shutout of the playoffs when Karlsson beat him from inside the left circle at 8:07 of the third period, but Eric Fehr sealed the Penguins’ victory when he took a feed from Carl Hagelin and beat Jones from the slot at 17:58 to make it 3-1.