The Vegas Golden Knights had an opportunity to wrap up their series against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, but fell to their desperate Pacific Division rival 5-2 on the road. The series shifted back to Las Vegas Boulevard on Sunday for Game 6, and with another opportunity to send the Sharks home packing, Vegas once again came up just short.
Three periods weren’t enough to decide Game 6. This one required overtime. Two periods of overtime, in fact. And with Vegas on the power play midway through the second overtime period, it was actually San Jose’s Tomas Hertl who wound up winning the game for his team. A tough pill to swallow for a Knights team that once led this series 3-1.
Golden Knights dominated
Though the Golden Knights didn’t walk out of T-Mobile Arena with a win Sunday night, there’s no debate that they were the better team in Game 6. Vegas fired an insane 59 (fifty-nine!) shots on net and allowed San Jose a grand total of just 29 shots in over 90 minutes of play.
The Knights were particularly strong in the second and third period. During that time, they fired 34 shots on net and allowed a total of just 11. Looking at the statistics alone, one would assume Vegas not only won this game, but likely ran the opposition out of the arena. Hockey being hockey, however, that wasn’t the case.
“We played a hell of a game tonight,” said Knights head coach Gerard Gallant after the game. “I’m proud of our guys, the way they competed. Got 59 shots on net and it just wasn’t our night. Still another day for us fortunately, and we’ll get ready for Game 7 and be ready to go.”
Jones was magnificent
Both goalies — Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury — were very good in Game 6. But Jones was on a totally different level. After an impressive performance in Game 5, allowing two goals on 32 shots, Jones had perhaps the best performance of his career Sunday night. Despite Vegas owning the possession battle and constantly peppering Jones with high-quality chances, he still managed to turns aside a ridiculous 58 shots, which sets a new record for a San Jose Sharks goaltender.
“Jones was just unreal,” said Hertl after the game. “He made a huge save, one save after another, and it was just amazing. We’d been trying everything to win just for him because we know it was a little bit tough from the start. Everybody was all over him. But he proved that’s why he’s No. 1 for us and he had a huge game for us.”
“He was fantastic tonight,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. “It was great for him. I think our group has never lost faith in him. I think we knew he was capable of this and we needed him tonight. He was our best player.”
Game 6 wasn’t at all like Game 5 in terms of Vegas’ ability to get pucks into the high-danger areas. Thursday, the Golden Knights were forced to take a large amount of perimeter shots that usually have a low percentage of resulting in goals. Sunday night, though, Vegas had a plethora of quality chances from high-danger areas. Problem is, they just couldn’t get any of them in the net.
Had the Golden Knights had a little bit more puck luck in Game 6, we likely wouldn’t be preparing for Tuesday’s Game 7.
But here we are.
Luckily, the Knights showed some encouraging signs throughout Game 6. The execution may not have been there, but the chances certainly were. If that continues in Game 7, one would have to believe the Knights may get a couple of fortuitous bounces.
Knights don’t need to change much
As crushing as this loss may feel, the Knights played an excellent game from start to finish. Regardless, it’s do or die time on Tuesday, and Vegas will need to come prepared to keep their season alive. But if they wish to do so, they really should stick to what was working for them in Game 6.
In fact, when asked if he would like to change anything going into Game 7, Gerard Gallant simply replied “the final score.”
“I thought, for the most part, we dictated play,” said Knights forward Cody Eakin. “Outshot them, outchanced them. Goalie played well and one bounce was the difference.”
“We’re a great hockey team,” said Jonathan Marchessault. “Just have to keep going and stick with it. I think if we keep playing the right way, like we did tonight, I think we’ll get rewarded.”
Hertl makes his prediction come true
We all remembered what happened after Game 5. Tomas Hertl announced to the crowd inside SAP Center that he and his team would be back for Game 7. And because of him, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
After receiving a stretch pass from Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the neutral zone midway through the second overtime, Hertl found himself in a footrace with Shea Theodore — one of the fastest skaters on Vegas’ roster. Theodore nearly did enough to keep Hertl from getting a shot off, but that actually wound up being a hinderance. By getting his stick in on Hertl, Fleury was not able to read the shot properly, leading to the shorthanded game-winner.
“When I got it, I was already a little bit tired. I was thinking of maybe just dumping it in and changing, but I saw an open space, I just took a couple steps and tried to shoot it. I don’t know if Theodore, he just hit my puck, maybe changed it, but if you don’t try, you never know. So I tried it and it somehow got through. For sure a huge goal.”
You mean to tell me that this almost never even happened because Hertl was tired?
“I was really tired,” said Hertl. “Good thing I stayed in for another five seconds.”