With a commanding 3-1 series lead on the San Jose Sharks, the Vegas Golden Knights had the opportunity to finish off their division for good Thursday night. Unfortunately, though, the Knights were stifled by a team desperate to formulate a comeback. San Jose took Game 5 by a score of 5-2, and that largely had to do with the superb play of their goaltender.
Jones steals the show
Martin Jones’ struggles against the Golden Knights have been well-documented. Following a solid effort from the 29-year-old in Game 1, Jones allowed 11 goals on just 54 shots and was pulled two times in the following three contests.
Game 5, though, was a totally different story. Jones put together the his best performance of the series, stopping 30 of Vegas’ 32 shots — and one of those saves wound up being his biggest save of the series. With the Knights down one goal with 7:40 remaining in regulation, Jones made a huge pad save on Reilly Smith to deny a quality 2-on-1 opportunity.
Jones may not have a great track record against the Golden Knights, but Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer stuck with his netminder in Game 5, and Jones rewarded him for it in a big way.
High-danger chances few and far between for Vegas
While Jones’ play in Game 5 was impressive, the Golden Knights didn’t exactly do a great job at testing him with high-danger opportunities as often as they normally have this series. Through two periods, the majority of Vegas’ shots were coming from low-danger areas, as evidenced by the graphic below.
The Knights did manage to generate more quality opportunities in the final frame, however — likely a side effect of their desperation to end this series early. For Vegas to win Game 6, though, they will need to continue to pepper Martin Jones with quality scoring chances. If they are unable to accomplish that, this series could very well go the distance.
Power play stands out
Quality chances may not have been abundant, but the Knights did take advantage of the opportunities presented to them on the power play. Vegas only received a pair of attempts on the man advantage Thursday night (amazing, considering the amount of penalties we’ve seen early in the series), but they converted on both of them. Reilly Smith got the first goal (though it was a bit fluky) and Jonathan Marchessault netted the second, beating Jones’ five-hole to make it a one-score game.
“That looks good,” said Gallant. “We’re putting pucks to the net, we’re getting our opportunities and moving the puck around. I like the power play, it’s been really good. I like most of our game. They played hard. It was probably the best game of the series for the two teams playing.”
Vlasic’s return helps slow Knights’ second line
Remember how unstoppable the Golden Knights’ second line of Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone was earlier in the series? Well, it appears the Sharks may have finally figured out how to slow the trio down. And having defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic back in the lineup after missing a pair of games certainly helped.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that you add a world-class defenseman back in your group and you defend better,” said DeBoer. “That’s not coaching.”
“He’s a big part of our team, and we’re going to need him just like we’re going to need everybody else to be successful, for us to have a chance,” said San Jose defenseman Erik Karlsson. “I think he played great [Thursday], and we’re going to need that and more from him and everybody else going into the game on Sunday.”
With Vlasic back in the lineup, all three members of Vegas’ second line were held off the scoresheet for the first time in the series. And considering how heavily the Knights have relied on that trio to generate scoring, it’ll be imperative that they get back on track in Game 6.
Series returns to Vegas
Speaking of Game 6, the Golden Knights can win a series on home ice for the first time on Sunday. All three times the Knights victoriously ended a series in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, they did it on the road.
It’s impossible to accurately predict whether Vegas will, in fact, end the series Sunday. But being at home certainly does give them a significant advantage.
“There’s not a whole lot you can say about it besides we feed off of [the energy],” said defenseman Nate Schmidt. “It’s the biggest part of our home-ice advantage is being able to play there. You get that type of energy anywhere, you’re going to feel it. You feel it on the bench, you feel it in the room, you can feel it around the city yesterday and today. Guys are excited, we’re excited. Good teams are able to close this out, especially at home.”