SAN JOSE -- Tomas Hertl has perhaps been the best player in most games for the San Jose Sharks during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 24-year-old forward has nine points (six goals, three assists) in nine games, including three goals and two assists against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Second Round. He's used his big body (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) to power his way to the front of the net for maximum impact.
Hertl, who had 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) in 79 games in the regular season, ranks second on the Sharks in playoff points (behind Logan Couture who has 12), and his punishing game is made for the postseason.
[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Sharks series coverage]
"This is a series (against) a team that plays 1-on-1, 3-on-3 down low," linemate Couture said. "That's his game. He's so strong and hard on pucks, and in the (offensive) zone he's able to take pucks to the net and beat guys 1-on-1.
"This is his type of hockey."
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said, "He's arguably been our best player here in the playoffs … he goes out and he plays a man's game at an important time of the year."
Video: SJS@VGK, Gm5: Hertl buries loose puck past Fleury
The Golden Knights lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 and would advance to the Western Conference Final with a win. If the Sharks are to extend the series, they'll need contributions from more than Hertl in Game 6 at SAP Center on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
At the top of the list is forward Evander Kane, who said as much after practice Saturday.
"Like I said, I wasn't very good the other night," Kane said. "Fortunately, we had some other guys going to get us back in the game, giving us a chance to win. We need everybody going if we want to have a chance to beat these guys.
"I wasn't very good and I want to be a lot better tomorrow."
Kane had plenty of company in a 5-3, Game 5 loss at T-Mobile Arena on Friday. He and linemate Joe Pavelski had no points and were a combined minus-4. Defenseman Brent Burns was minus-2.
Kane, who was acquired by the Sharks on Feb. 26 in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for two draft picks and forward prospect Danny O'Regan, relishes the challenge of his first Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I love my back against the wall," Kane said. "You've got to dig your way out. Those are fun games to be part of and you rise up to those challenges."
Video: VGK@SJS, Gm3: Kane goes top shelf on Fleury
Game 6 historically has not been kind to the Sharks when they've trailed 3-2. They have lost 11 of the 12 games, winning in the 1995 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Calgary Flames.
That was one season after the famous guarantee by Mark Messier, who promised the New York Rangers would win Game 6 on the road against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final. He followed through on his words with a hat trick, and the Rangers won that series in seven games before defeating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years.
So Hertl evoked a few Messier comparisons when he said after Game 5 that the series would return to Vegas for Game 7. This was not quite the same thing, Hertl said, looking amused when the topic came up Saturday.
"Oh yeah, I was reading something about Mark Messier; I'm not saying that," Hertl said smiling. "I just believe in the strength of our team. And I believe we for sure will come back because it isn't over yet. We play pretty good hockey all postseason, but I believe we can play our hockey, and when we are good at it, I believe we come back to Vegas."
Video: VGK@SJS, Gm4: Hertl knocks in rebound to extend lead
Couture bought into that line of thinking.
"If you don't feel that way, you might as well not get dressed tomorrow night," he said.
Couture has watched Hertl, in his fifth NHL season, gain confidence and evolve into a leader on the ice after injury-riddled stretches, beginning with his rookie season in 2013-14.
"I don't think you need to be vocal to be a leader," Couture said. "That's something that people put too much stock into. If you watch the way he plays, he leads by example.
"He plays the game the right way."
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