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Winning Play: Hertl’s defense defies Devils

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Dec 10, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl (48) turns to shoot and score a goal as New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy (12) defends in the third period at SAP Center at San Jose.  John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

To begin last night’s game, it was the San Jose Sharks, not the New Jersey Devils, who looked like the team coming off a back-to-back.

In the first 9:57, the Devils danced to a 7-0 shots advantage. Drew Stafford led the way with an improbable goal from the wall. New Jersey did not resemble a squad that had been in Anaheim on the previous day; meanwhile, San Jose last skated on Saturday night.

The Sharks turned the tide with about five minutes to go in the opening frame, however, thanks to good defense leading to good offense.

”First 10 minutes, we looked a little bit slow,” observed Peter DeBoer. “But then we got going.”

It all started with an exemplary Tomas Hertl (48) defensive shift, aided, in particular, by Justin Braun (61).

Braun was the F1 on the forecheck; the San Jose blueliner was put into the unusual position of chasing his own dump-in because he was trying to give his teammates more time to change. Timo Meier (28) and Logan Couture (39) emerged from the bench to help, so Braun hustled back to his post.

Concurrently, as Braun went forward, Hertl stayed back. This was basic, winning hockey: When a defenseman pinches, a forward should cover for him.

Meanwhile, Sami Vatanen (45) eluded Meier, sparking a Devils rush.

Vatanen entered the zone, heading a 4-on-3. But reaching over with a long stick, Braun denied Vatanen the middle. Braun’s maneuver steered Vatanen right into a waiting Hertl.

Hertl indicated, “[Vatanen] kind of slowed down there a little bit. He had no speed. So I tried to jump out and pokecheck him.”

”Tommy had a good stick at the blueline,” noted Couture. “They have active D, so if you can turn the puck over on their D, usually, it leads to odd-man’s the other way.”

“It was kind of a messed-up play. Burnzie was playing the right. I didn’t know he was there. He’s yelling at me to get left,” noted Braun. “It helped Hertl because he was kind of playing left D at that point. But then he realized he could go forward.”

Meier, with an uncredited assist from Couture, took care of the rest.

Couture drove the center lane, occupying Vatanen. Meier sold pass to Couture — he looked at Couture before shooting — and Egor Yakovlev (74) bought it, hook, line and sinker, giving the Swiss star valuable time and space.

”I tried to put in a little fake, make him go to Couture there,” admitted Meier. “I was maybe looking for a pass there, but the shooting lane opened up.”

The Sharks never looked back, dumping the Devils 5-2.

DeBoer was thoroughly pleased with his team’s 200-foot effort.

”That’s our game. We talk about that all the time,” said the San Jose bench boss. “Our offense starts in our own end of the ice with our breakouts, our defensive coverage. Our attention to detail tonight, for sure, was in a really good place.”