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Sharks get boost from return of Hertl and Torres

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks had been waiting all season to have rookie forward Tomas Hertl and veteran Raffi Torres in the lineup together for a game. That finally happened Thursday, and the timing couldn't have been better for the Sharks.

After battling back from severe right knee injuries, Hertl and Torres played huge roles in the Sharks' 6-3 victory against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series.

Hertl had a goal and an assist in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, flashing the offensive skill that made him a strong contender for the Calder Trophy early in the season before being injured. He skated on the third line with center James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels.

Torres scored a goal and had a team-high seven hits, setting the tone for San Jose in a physical game with his wrecking ball style. He skated on the fourth line with center Andrew Desjardins and Mike Brown.

"I think he brings a different element, which is obviously positive," Desjardins said of Torres. "Finishing his checks. It's a presence that I think is important, especially against a team like L.A. It was definitely good to have him out there.

"It's great to see [Hertl] back. He's pretty much at full bore already, just jumping in. It's great to see as well. I think it also adds another completely new dynamic with his offensive ability."

Torres was on the ice Friday for the Sharks' optional skate as they began preparing for Game 2 of the best-of-7 series at SAP Center on Sunday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-W, CSN-CA).

"I feel as good as I can feel right now," Torres said. "It was a pretty physical game last night, but overall I feel pretty good. I got a good night's sleep, surprisingly. Just a light day today, go and get a good sweat and prepare for tomorrow then for Sunday."

Hertl stayed off the ice Friday but said he feels good and he couldn't stop smiling about winning his first NHL playoff game and scoring his first postseason goal.

"I'm happy because my last goal was maybe before four months," Hertl said, laughing. "It's good for me. I feel good."

When the Sharks lost a second-round series to the Kings in seven games last spring, Hertl was playing in the Czech Republic and Torres was suspended after Game 1 for a shoulder-to-head hit on L.A. center Jarret Stoll.

Hertl's goal Thursday was his first since he scored against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 12. At that point he had 15 goals, but one week later he took a knee-on-knee hit from Kings captain Dustin Brown that severely damaged two ligaments and put his season in jeopardy. Hertl had surgery Dec. 31 and missed the next 45 games. He returned for the Sharks' final two regular-season games.

"He's obviously a kid who's got a tremendous amount of skill out there," Torres said. "He's not afraid to hold onto that puck. He's a big body. He holds onto that puck where a lot of guys would get rid of it and just play it safe. He can be pretty dominant out there. It's early for him, too, so he's only going to get better."

Hertl had a huge first period with four shots and a goal. He also drew a holding penalty on Kings defenseman Drew Doughty on a breakaway, giving San Jose its first power play of the game at 9:44.

Hertl scored his first playoff goal at 19:08 of the first period, giving the Sharks a 2-0 lead. Wingels pushed the puck down the left wing, stopped and spun above the circle and zipped a pass to Sheppard in the slot. Sheppard barely made contact, but the puck trickled forward to Hertl, just to the left of the crease, and he knocked it into a wide-open net before Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick could recover.

Hertl made up for lost celebration time, going down to one knee and pumping his fist as he glided along the boards.

"I love scoring," Hertl said. "It doesn't matter whether it's regular season, playoff time, I love to score."

Torres scored midway through the second period, ripping a rebound past Quick from the slot and giving San Jose a 4-0 lead. After scoring, Torres raised his arms in jubilation as he looked into the stands.

"It was nice," Torres said. "Just following up a play. That's pretty much what we worked on today, 10 minutes of shooting and getting the puck off your backhand and shooting. It probably only happens once or twice a game if you get lucky. So you've got to be ready when it does."

Torres injured his right knee on Sept. 20 in a collision with Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem during a preseason game and had surgery six days later. Torres missed San Jose's first 59 games, returned to play five of the next six, then had a setback and missed the Sharks' final 17 regular-season games.

But when the puck dropped Thursday, Torres began hitting every Kings player in sight.

"That's Raffi," Hertl said. "It's crazy, it's nice. It's [so] many hits. All the guys are happy that Raffi is again playing. Raffi is very, very important for our team."

Going into Game 1, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he wasn't sure how Hertl and Torres would handle the playoffs after missing so many regular-season games.

"There is risk in playing them," McLellan said Friday. "Last night that risk paid off. As we go forward you'd like to think they'll become more comfortable in games of this intensity after not playing very much and just get better as the series goes on.

"But it can also go the other way, where the fatigue and the energy level gets a little bit low. We'll monitor as it goes, but we liked the ingredients that they brought to the lineup. They contributed the way they needed to and the gamble paid off, for one night anyhow."

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