The San Jose Sharks with the season on the line in Game 5, were facing an uphill battle. Prior to last night, when the Sharks were down 3-1 in a series, they had gone 0-6 in trying to force an extra game.
But that wasn’t the case last night.
The Sharks played some of their best hockey of the season, soundly defeating the Vegas Golden Knights by a score of 5-2.
Since Game 2 (and for much of Martin Jones’ season), there has been an early goal within the first five minutes of the period, as the Knights scored early on Martin Jones three straight times. Sure enough, there was an early goal — but this time, it was scored by the Sharks. Erik Karlsson’s brilliant pass found the twig of Tomas Hertl, who wristed one past Marc-Andre Fleury for the 1-0 lead.
The Sharks kept their foot on the gas all through the first period, and it paid off. Timo Meier entered the offensive zone and sent Deryk Engelland sliding off into the abyss before driving to the net for Logan Couture to clean up his scraps.
The Knights were able to answer late in the first period, however, as an intended pass by Reilly Smith took a very unfortunate bounce off of Erik Karlsson’s stick and went into the back of the net behind Martin Jones.
Vegas had a huge advantage in shot differential in the first period, but the Sharks were able to make the best of the little opportunities that they had compared to Vegas. They led the Golden Knight in score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 expected goals percent 54 to 46 — a slight edge, but it fueled them into the following frame.
The Sharks were in need of an insurance goal in the second period, and that’s when Barclay Goodrow answered the call. A shot from the point by Justin Braun was tipped in by Goodrow for his first NHL playoff goal, putting the Sharks up 3-1.
That was the only major highlight of the second period, but the Sharks didn’t relent on the attack. In a regular season marred by second period slumps, the Sharks led with a 67.17 percent score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi for percent and a 72.95 percent expected goals for at 5-on-5. In all situations, the Sharks had a 90 percent high danger Corsi for percentage in the second period.
And now, for something you most likely weren’t expecting: Martin Jones had an absolutely stellar game. In what could have been the final game of the Sharks’s season, Jones stepped up to the challenge, especially in the third period. Jones’ high-danger save percentage in all situations was a perfect 1.000, including this marvelous save on Reilly Smith.
Jones did allow a power play goal midway through the third period, when Jonathan Marchessault cycled along the face-off circle before shooting it past Jones’ five-hole.
By this point, Vegas was absolutely hammering the Sharks, once again leading the way in shot differential, 14-9 in all situations.
The opportunity to virtually end the game arose when Jonathan Marchessault was sent to the penalty box for a high-sticking that knocked out two of Logan Couture’s teeth. It was only fitting that the man who scored the first goal of the game would then score the game-winner.
Tomas Hertl got the whole thing started by sending the puck back to Brent Burns on the point, who immediately found Joe Thornton, who in turn found Joe Pavelski on the doorstep. Pavelski’s initial attempt was stopped by Fleury, but Hertl was there to poke it home to restore the Sharks’ two-goal lead.
Joe Pavelski then iced the game with an empty-net goal that was shot almost from the blueline.
The vast majority of both teams’ shot attempts came right at the doorstep, but the Sharks were also able to get many chances from the top of the faceoff circles.
Vegas dominated in Corsi for the vast majority of this game, but the Sharks made it tight down the stretch.
Just when they looked down and out after an uneventful two-game set in Vegas, the Sharks will head back to Sin City on Sunday to try to send the series back to San Jose for a Game 7 — as promised by Hertl himself.