In what was expected to be a physical matchup, it seemed only fitting that the first goal between the Sharks and Golden Knights would come off of a body, instead of a stick, in San Jose’s eventual 5-2 win Wednesday night.
A second period surge led to a 3-0 Sharks lead, with Brent Burns, Evander Kane, Tomáš Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each tallying a goal and an assist. Erik Karlsson added two assists as seven of the Sharks’ top nine point leaders got on the scoresheet.
Joe Pavelski scored the opening goal when a Burns shot deflected off his chin and past Marc-André Fleury. Pavelski said it was the most painful goal he has scored:
“Yeah, I suppose. Didn’t feel good … It was nice to hear the fans cheer, that was the silver lining.”
The hits piled on for a total of 83 between both teams in the first game of the best-of-seven series. Following a series of penalties, the teams found themselves playing three-on-three hockey 14 minutes into the second period. Karlsson joined Hertl and Burns in the rare opportunity to play with extra open ice. He said:
“It’s not too often that happens. It’s all about puck control and luckily we got it first. Burnsie made a great move there and capitalized on the opportunity.”
Karlsson protected the puck just inside the Vegas zone before leaving it for Burns, who scored with his signature wrist shot. Hertl picked up the secondary assist.
Just 45 seconds later, Vlasic extended the Sharks lead to 3-0. Evander Kane created pressure behind the Golden Knights net, fighting to make a pass to Joe Thornton. From below the goal line, Thornton made a cross-ice pass to Vlasic who wired a shot past Fleury.
After the two quick goals, the Sharks were on the penalty kill due to a Joe Pavelski tripping penalty. Seconds after Pavelski left the box, three high-profile Vegas newcomers got the Golden Knights on the scoreboard. Paul Statsny tipped a Max Pacioretty shot that landed right at the feet of Mark Stone, who buried the puck for a power play influenced goal.
The Sharks recaptured the momentum at the end of the second period, scoring with 17 seconds on the clock. Gustav Nyquist won a board battle to get the puck to Karlsson, who shot it from the center of the rink. Kane tipped it in, glove-side against Fleury.
Kane said he was ready for a crafty Karlsson assist:
“We’ve played long enough together now. I know he’s always looking to make those passes and have that deception back there.”
In addition to piling on the goals, the Sharks out-hit the Golden Knights 17-6 in the second period.
Almost halfway through the third, an offensive surge by Vegas lead to three shots on goal, but goaltender Martin Jones maintained the Sharks lead. Jones posted a .923 save percentage by stopping 24 of 26 shots on goal, a welcome sight for those worried about his unimpressive .896 save percentage this season.
For head coach Pete DeBoer and the rest of the Sharks, Jones’ reliability was never in question. DeBoer said:
“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.”
Stone scored his second of the night 14 seconds into a Golden Knights power play, cutting the lead to 4-2. That was as close as Vegas would get. The Sharks remain undefeated with a 33-0 record after allowing two or fewer goals this season.
Hertl’s empty-netter with just 1:49 left sealed the San Jose’s 5-2 win.
Tensions flared frequently in the rematch of last year’s Western Conference second round matchup, when Vegas defeated San Jose 4-2 on the way to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. The Golden Knights accumulated 34 penalty minutes while the Sharks recorded 22. DeBoer stressed the importance of having high physicality while keeping the penalty minutes relatively low:
I didn’t think we stepped outside of the lines, discipline-wise, and that’s going to be a key for us going forward.”
Game 2 will be played SAP Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. before the series continues in Las Vegas on Sunday.
Evander Kane and Joe Thornton both recorded a team-high five shots on goal … Timo Meier and William Carrier each had nine hits … Joe Pavelski lost teeth and received stitches after scoring the first goal.