Tomas Hertl provided the fast start and Martin Jones delivered the key saves that helped the San Jose Sharks flip the script in their playoff series against Vegas.
Hertl scored the first of his two goals just 76 seconds into the game, Jones delivered his biggest save to preserve the lead in the third period and the Sharks staved off elimination by beating the Golden Knights 5-2 in Game 5 of their first-round series Thursday night.
“It’s huge, in our building too because right away from the first minute we get the fans behind our back,” Hertl said. “They helped us. They were cheering all game. It’s huge. … Finally we have a great start.”
Hertl’s early goal gave San Jose its first lead since Game 1 and ended a run of three straight games where the Sharks fell behind less than 90 seconds into the game. That helped steady the team and the Sharks delivered a complete performance to send the series back to Vegas for Game 6 on Sunday with the Golden Knights leading 3-2.
Logan Couture, Barclay Goodrow and Joe Pavelski also scored but the key was the fast start and the strong play from Jones, who had 30 saves after getting pulled twice in the previous three games.
Jones had allowed 11 goals on 54 shots in those games but coach Peter DeBoer showed confidence to go back to him once again. That proved justified when he robbed Reilly Smith’s attempt at the tying goal in the third period on a 2-on-1 after Vegas had cut it to 3-2 on Jonathan Marchessault’s power-play goal.
“Totally what we expected. He’s a heck of a goalie,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “I know everybody wants to write their things, but we’ve got a lot of belief in this guy. We played the right way tonight. It probably started with him and led the way out, but we were committed and helping him out a little bit. He made some great saves, especially that 2-on-1 there after they score. Game-saving save there. That’s what he’s always done for us, he’s made those key saves.”
The Sharks then responded on a power play of their own when Marchessault was called for high-sticking Couture in the face. The referees initially didn’t make a call before huddling together after Couture rushed to the locker-room holding his face.
Hertl capitalized when he knocked a rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 4-2.
“Big players are needed in big games and that was as big a game as we’ve had all year and I thought he was the best player on the ice,” DeBoer said.
Pavelski sealed the win with an empty-net goal.
Fleury made 24 saves after a shutout in Game 4. Smith scored earlier in the game on a power play for the Golden Knights, who were hoping to eliminate the Sharks on their home ice for the second straight year.
“We knew they would play their best game of the series tonight and they did, credit to them,” forward Max Pacioretty said. “Wipe it clean and just worry about the next one.”
There was nervous energy in the Shark Tank but that quickly turned to celebration when the Sharks were the team that ended up with the early goal. Hertl skated in on the rush and beat Fleury for his third of the series to give San Jose its first lead since the opener.
The Sharks confidence only grew when they added a second goal midway through the period. Jones made a stop against Pacioretty and Erik Karlsson gathered the rebound and sent a stretch pass to Timo Meier. Meier deked Deryk Engelland and got a shot on goal that Fleury stopped but Couture knocked in the rebound.
“They had a good start,” Vegas defenceman Colin Miller said. “Better than us, and any time you’re chasing it it’s a tough game to play. You see the other games before when we jumped out to that hot start. It’s tough.”
The Golden Knights got on the board in the final minute of the period after Evander Kane took a penalty on a hard hit while forechecking in the offensive zone. Smith sent a centring pass from behind the net that deflected off Karlsson’s stick and into the net.
San Jose then added an insurance goal in the second when Goodrow got in front of Fleury and deflected Justin Braun’s point shot in for his first career playoff goal.
The Sharks nearly added to the lead late in the period on the power play but somehow were unable to get the puck into the net after a mad scramble in front of Fleury.