SAN JOSE -- If there were any question whether Joonas Donskoi would be back up to speed after missing one game with a lower-body injury, he answered it late in the first period of the San Jose Sharks' 4-0 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round at SAP Center on Wednesday.
Donskoi skated end to end and took a snap shot from the high slot that went between the legs of Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb and over the glove of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to give San Jose a 2-0 lead with six seconds left in the period.
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"When he's playing well and confident, he's carrying the puck, he's attacking," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday. "He has that 1-on-1 ability that not a lot of guys have that can make people miss. That was a big goal, big time for us."
Donskoi's return to the top line at right wing, with center Joe Pavelski and left wing Evander Kane, was a huge development for the Sharks in the best-of-7 series, which is tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 at Vegas on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). Chris Tierney, who centered the first line in Game 3, returned to his regular spot on the third line.
Donskoi said he didn't know if he'd be able to play until taking warmups before Game 4.
"Well, we've been going day to day, and I felt good enough to go," Donskoi said.
Video: Breaking down the Sharks' big win, Donskoi's impact
DeBoer said, "We have depth, but nobody has depth to take multiple top-six guys out of your lineup and replace that. I think we have the depth to survive short-term and get through some of those situations, but to have him and [center Joe Thornton] out at the same time is a tough ask."
Thornton hasn't played since injuring his right knee Jan. 23 against the Winnipeg Jets; he was a game-time decision for Game 4 and did not play.
Donskoi had 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 66 games this season, his third in the NHL; his goals were an NHL career high. He has four points (two goals, two assists) in seven playoff games, and 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) . in 36 playoff games over his three seasons.
Donskoi's goal against Fleury in Game 4 was timely and unexpected, given his distance from the net and with two defensemen between him and Fleury.
"I knew there was not much time on the clock," Donskoi said. "So I was just trying to shoot the puck. [McNabb], I guess he made a screen for Fleury so he didn't see it so well. That was a big goal."
Forward Timo Meier said Donskoi's return gave the Sharks a boost.
"He was great," Meier said. "Obviously, some guys are a little banged up, but he definitely brought a great game last night. He helped us get a win, he scored a really nice goal on an individual effort. A player like [him] is huge for us."
Video: VGK@SJS, Gm4: Donskoi goes end to end late in 1st
The Sharks stayed off the ice Thursday before their scheduled afternoon flight to Las Vegas. They lost twice during the regular season and in Game 1 of the series at T-Mobile Arena before breaking through for a 4-3 double-overtime victory in Game 2.
"I think when you get to the last eight teams in the League, you're getting a big environment wherever you go," DeBoer said. "Now, Vegas is special, there's no doubt. I think you become a little bit numb to it. We won in there, so that monkey's off our back. I think [we're] looking forward to going in there and playing."
Donskoi definitely is.
"I think it's fun to play there," he said. "I think guys are getting energy from the crowd, and it's always fun to play when the crowd is loud."
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