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Sharks, Jones flip script in Game 5 win against Golden Knights

Get out to early lead, goalie makes key saves to avoid elimination

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE -- They scored 1:16 into the first period, taking a quick lead, forcing the other team to chase. Their goalie was solid, stopping 30 of 32 shots, including two massive saves when the score was tight.

But this time it wasn't the Vegas Golden Knights.

It was the San Jose Sharks, who flipped the script in a 5-2 win and avoided elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round at SAP Center on Thursday. Vegas leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 6 at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Golden Knights series coverage]

 

"Finally," forward Tomas Hertl said, "we have great start."

The Sharks had lost three games in a row by a combined score of 16-6. In the first period of each game -- and in six periods total -- they had allowed the first goal in 1:31 or less. They put an emphasis on scoring first in Game 5 and taking control early.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson fed Hertl in the neutral zone. Hertl skated through traffic and ripped a shot around defenseman Shea Theodore and past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's glove. Just like that, San Jose had a 1-0 lead 1:16 into the first period.

"It's huge," Hertl said. "In our building too, because right away from first minute, you get fans behind your back and they help us. They just cheering all game."

The crowd roared so loud you couldn't hear the sighs of relief.

"It just takes a little a pressure off," coach Peter DeBoer said.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm5: Hertl stakes Sharks to early lead

Especially off goalie Martin Jones. He had allowed an early goal in each of the previous five periods he played, and he had allowed 11 goals on 54 shots and been pulled twice over the three straight losses.

Teammate Brenden Dillon said Jones was a simple, even-keeled guy who didn't pay attention to social media. Good thing.

Because entering Thursday, Jones had an .838 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, last among 17 goalies who had played at least 60 minutes. This, after he had an .896 save percentage in the regular season, last among 20 goalies who played at least 47 games, and an .895 save percentage in a six-game, second-round loss to Vegas last year.

"It was for sure lot of pressure for him," Hertl said. "But he show he's great goalie."

Jones gave social media a couple of ready-to-tweet highlights.

With the Sharks leading 2-1 in the second period, Jones got his right pad on a shot by Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch.

Then, shortly after the Golden Knights cut the Sharks lead to 3-2 in the third period, they had a 2-on-1 rush. Center William Karlsson pulled up and sent a pass from right to left in front of Dillon for forward Reilly Smith. Jones moved to his right, stretched his right pad across the crease, and stoned Smith.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm5: Jones' tremendous save preserves lead

If either shot goes in, it's a tie game at that point. Neither did.

"I was just trying not to think and just trying to read the game, take what was in front of me," Jones said. "I was able to get a good look at both of them, and I was able to come up with the save."

That's the goalie who went to the Stanley Cup Final with the Sharks in 2016. That's the goalie the Sharks signed to a six-year contract July 1, 2017. That's the goalie who had a .931 save percentage in the playoffs until he ran into the Golden Knights last year.

"He's a heck of a goalie," said center Joe Pavelski, the captain. "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, and it probably started with him and led the way out. But we were committed, helping him out a little bit. Made some great saves, especially that 2-on-1 after they scored. Game-saving save there.

"That's what he's always done for us. He's made those key saves."

Perhaps the most impressive part?

The Sharks held the line of Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone to zero points. Stone (six goals, four assists) and Pacioretty (four goals, six assists) lead the playoffs in scoring with 10 points each. Stastny is third with eight points (two goals, six assists).

Video: Sharks stay alive and prepare for Game 6 on the road

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who hadn't played since a shot struck him high early in the second period of Game 2, played well paired with Brent Burns.

"[Jones] made some big saves definitely," said Pacioretty, who had eight shots on goal. "We knew that he would bounce back and play a strong game like that. This is the playoffs. You always expect to see their best, and we feel we saw their best tonight."

The Sharks must keep bringing it. Six times in their history, they have been behind in a series 3-1. Three times, they have forced a Game 6. But they have never come back and won the series.

"It's a start," Pavelski said. "We've got to do a job resting now and get ready for an even better push from them in Game 6."

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