LAS VEGAS — Game 6 of the 2018 Western Conference semifinals was monumental in the Vegas Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season.
It’s a game the Sharks would rather not think about as they prepare for Game 6 of the teams’ first-round series Sunday at T-Mobile Arena.
It’s really simple: win, or for the second straight season the new kids knock you off the block, and straight into summer vacation.
The Sharks, who trail 3-2 in the series, staved off elimination by defeating the Golden Knights 5-2 in Game 5 on Thursday as Tomas Hertl scored two goals and goaltender Martin Jones stepped up against a team that has given him trouble since last season.
“Come back for Game 7, and I believe it, because we’re a better team than them,” Hertl said during his postgame interview at SAP Center.
Rejuvenated, and rested with two days off to get ready for Vegas’ loud and hostile environment, the Sharks need the same effort to make good on Hertl’s guarantee in order to force a Game 7 at SAP Center on Tuesday.
Photo: Ben Margot / Associated Press
Image 1 3
“We’ve got to use (the days off) to get rest, to get guys healthy, but also to prepare,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after practice Friday. “I think we’re gonna have to find another level in our game obviously to win Game 6 in there. That’s what the two days have to be used for, too.”
The time off will certainly help San Jose defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Erik Karlsson, who have been nursing injuries. Vlasic was paired with Brent Burns in the Game 1 victory and the first part of Game 2 before being injured when he blocked a shot by Vegas’ Shea Theodore. Vlasic returned with Burns to counter Vegas’ high-powered line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny that combined for 28 points the first four games and held the trio off the score sheet Thursday.
Karlsson, meanwhile, has been playing through a groin injury since the regular season and accounted for two assists in Game 5.
“I thought he was moving much better than the game before, and much more effective,” DeBoer said. “It’s critical. You add him finding another level to his play and putting Pickle (Vlasic) back in the lineup and you’re a different team.”
Karlsson said the two days off hasn’t given San Jose any more advantage than the Golden Knights, especially since the Sharks had to add an 85-minute flight and hotel stay to their itinerary.
Instead, he said, it’s about sticking to the game plan and blocking out the noise and atmosphere inside the venue voted by league players as the best place to visit.
“It’s one game at a time for us here right now,” Karlsson said. “We’re all excited to go into Vegas on Sunday and play a similar style of play we played here, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t. Every day is different, every game is different and next game we’re gonna have to find another way to be successful within ourselves and that goes for me too.”
Overall, the shots have been virtually even, with the Sharks holding a slim edge, 199-198. So, ultimately, the biggest key will be which team comes out firing. The team that has scored first has won every game of the best-of-seven series that has seen no lead changes.
This is most critical for Jones, as the Golden Knights have scored nine goals in the first five minutes of their nine games against San Jose this season. Jones will step between the pipes a dichotomy of himself, as he boasts a .931 save percentage and 1.10 goals-against average in San Jose’s two wins in this series, and a brutal .796 save percentage and 7.62 goals-against average in its three losses.
The problem is his counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury, has won three Stanley Cup titles is’t fazed by losses. In fact, they drive him a bit more. The 15-year veteran is 15-7-3 after a loss this season and comes in with a .908 save percentage and 2.82 goals-against average in the playoffs. Jones, meanwhile, has the second-worst save percentage (.866) and highest goals against average (4.37) in the postseason.
“He’s a heck of a goalie,” San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said after Game 5. “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.”
W.G. Ramirez is a freelance writer. Twitter: @WillieGRamirez
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sharks/article/Sharks-mission-Bring-momentum-with-them-to-Vegas-13782979.php.