The San Jose Sharks dispelled some of the doubts that had followed them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with their 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Wednesday night.
After a Brent Burns shot deflected off Joe Pavelski’s face for Game 1’s opening goal — causing the Sharks captain to lose teeth, Pavelski missed Thursday morning’s optional practice for a visit to the dentist. Head coach Pete DeBoer said his team’s leading goal-scorer will be fine for Game 2.
Two games into his return from injury, defenseman Erik Karlsson made two assists in 26 minutes of ice time. The Sharks were hardly easing in the two-time Norris trophy winner slowly, but DeBoer said he felt that the playoffs schedule allowed for it:
“I think the way the games are laid out, it’s actually easier than the regular season. You’re not playing back-to-backs, you’re not playing [three games in four nights]. We’ve got nice breaks between games so I don’t think that’s an issue. ”
Already a classic rivalry
Last season, Vegas cut San Jose’s season short with a 4-2 series win in the second round of the playoffs. DeBoer pointed to this as a huge motivator for the team:
“[Familiarity] is good in your preparation, but for us it’s also motivation. This team beat us last year, that’s as big a motivator as there is out there.”
Vegas’ success against San Jose was fueled by goaltender Marc-André Fleury’s stellar play. Fleury had a .937 save percentage across the six game series, including two shutouts. On Wednesday night, the Sharks picked apart the 13 year veteran goaltender. Tomáš Hertl, who recorded a goal and an assist, said:
“I thought even last year, we should’ve won the series. But, you know, I think Fleury was amazing. But this year, I feel like it’s our time.”
The teams combined for 83 hits in Game 1, a number that may only increase as the series continues. Timo Meier, who put up a game-high nine hits, said:
“[In] playoffs, it’s more physical. So I’m trying to obviously finish my checks on the forecheck, trying to turn some pucks over, make it tough on their defensemen.”
Vegas forward Will Carrier also logged nine hits and Evander Kane had seven. Perhaps San Jose’s most surprising hit deliverer was forward Marcus Sorenson, who seemed to be a 5-foot-11 ball of fury while distributing six hits. Sharks forward Micheal Haley was impressed with the 175-pounder’s physical play:
“I think Marcus was a little Tasmanian devil out there.”
Haley agreed that the Sharks played a complete game, as the team dominated in possession. The Golden Knights were held to just 10 shots in the first two periods, making goaltender Martin Jones’ job much easier.
‘Game of Jones’ new season
Martin Jones posted a .923 save percentage by stopping 24 of 26 shots on goal. Hertl said:
“We know that he’s back there, giving us a chance to win every night. He’s been great for us and he’s a playoff-type goalie.”
Jones seems to reach a higher level of play in the postseason. In four years as San Jose’s starting goalie, Jones has a .926 save percentage and six shutouts.
After the game, DeBoer dispelled any idea that Jones’ reliability had ever been questioned by the Sharks:
“Well, the only critics that matter are the ones in the room and there aren’t any. I don’t think he cares whether he silenced [the media] and I don’t think we do either.”
Throughout the game, Jones stopped two breakaway chances by Vegas’ third-leading point scorer, Reilly Smith. Jones was also tested in the third period, as Vegas fired 16 shots on goal.
Game 1 seems to indicate Sharks goaltending does not appear to be the crippling weakness that was feared entering the series.
The sixth defenseman
One remaining variable in the Sharks lineup is who will play in the third d-pairing with Justin Braun. Joakim Ryan only saw three minutes of ice time Wednesday night. The decision to limit Ryan’s playing time was a coaching decision, according to DeBoer, who also said the mindset was to be able to play all six defensemen;
Game 2 will be played inside SAP Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. before the series continues in Las Vegas on Sunday.