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Sharks use depth, speed to defeat Golden Knights in Game 4

Sorensen, Donskoi, Hertl each score to even Western Conference series

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

SAN JOSE -- Patrick Marleau is gone, though fans still come to SAP Center wearing his old jersey. The leading scorer in San Jose Sharks history left in free agency July 2 to join the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Joe Thornton is out, though he has been warming up before games, grinning through his big, bushy, brown-and-gray beard. The second-leading scorer in Sharks history hasn't played since Jan. 23 because of a knee injury.

 

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

 

And here are the Sharks, two wins away from making the Western Conference Final for the second time in three years after a 4-0 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 tied the second-round, best-of-7 series 2-2 on Wednesday.

Game 5 is at Vegas on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm4: Sorensen dekes, scores while falling

Vegas got here with depth and speed, finding players via the NHL Expansion Draft and trades, playing an up-tempo, modern style. San Jose got here with depth and speed too, finding new players, giving bigger roles to others, adjusting with the times.

"It is depth that has helped us get this far," veteran defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "The young guys, or the guys that don't play as much as other guys, have stepped up and played their role, and we get contributions from all four lines."

Said veteran center Logan Couture: "I don't know if we're a faster skating team. I think we play the game faster. We move the puck quicker. We're not holding onto the puck through the neutral zone. It's get it and move it and get in on the forecheck, and I think it's leading to success."

The Sharks moved their American Hockey League affiliate from Worcester, Massachusetts, to San Jose in 2015 to keep their prospects closer to home. After they were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, Thornton was at SAP Center watching the AHL team in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

"[It's special] for these kids to say, 'Wow, that's what he's thinking,' " general manager Doug Wilson told NHL.com earlier this season. "And we had some other veterans too that went to those games too. It wasn't just [Thornton]. The culture is set by the veteran players and by our coaching staff."

Five players who were in the Calder Cup Playoffs for San Jose of the AHL last year have played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for San Jose of the NHL this year: defenseman Joakim Ryan and forwards Barclay Goodrow, Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen. Four were in the lineup Wednesday: Ryan, Labanc, Meier and Sorensen.

"It's more comforting being out here with the [San Jose] Barracuda," Ryan said. "Maybe you don't see the NHL guys as much, but you're still around, playing in the same building. You know management's watching you and stuff. It gives you a little more motivation and keeps you ready to go. It's definitely an easier transition."

Sorensen, 26, who signed as a free agent on May 13, 2016 and was up and down from the AHL this season, scored 15:37 into the first period for a 1-0 lead to get the Sharks going. He took the puck from forward Alex Tuch at the end boards and came back up the right wing. He cut to the middle at the top of the right circle, then weaved his way through the slot.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm4: Hertl knocks in rebound to extend lead

Going forehand to backhand with his left-handed stick, he avoided the outstretched stick of defenseman Colin Miller. Going back to his forehand, he avoided the outstretched right leg of defenseman Jon Merrill. As he fell, he fired the puck past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Beautiful goal, and it was his fourth in eight games in the playoffs, tied with Couture and Evander Kane for second on the team behind Tomas Hertl (5). Sorensen had five goals in 32 NHL regular-season games this season and has six in 51 NHL regular-season games in his career.

"He's got NHL skill," Barracuda coach Roy Sommer told NHL.com earlier this season. "The way the game is going now, man, it's fast. You better keep up or you're going to be in the rear-view mirror."

Look at who scored the second goal: forward Joonas Donskoi, 26, who signed as a free agent on May 20, 2015. He fired a shot between the legs of defenseman Brayden McNabb and beat Fleury from 48 feet with six seconds left in the first for a 2-0 lead.

Look at who scored the third: Hertl, 24, a first-round pick (No. 17) in the 2012 NHL Draft. He jammed in a rebound 5:35 into the second for a 3-0 lead and drew two penalties in the third by using his 6-foot-2, 220-pound body down low.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored the fourth on the power play 11:43 into the third. Martin Jones made 34 saves for the shutout.

"If you take a look at how this year started, we were one of the strongest defensive teams in the League the first month and a half," Wilson said. "That's while integrating seven or eight young players. So the expectation was, if you're a young player, you're going to get the opportunity, but you better learn how to play a 200-foot game. The numbers will come. Come in and earn your spot. Earn your respect. And they did."

And they continue to.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm4: Donskoi goes end to end late in 1st

 

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