SAN JOSE -- As the clock ticked towards the end of the second period, Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry gathered the puck on his backhand for his golden opportunity. The veteran forward had not scored all series, and seemed sure to end his drought and tie the game with a power play tally in Game 4 Wednesday night.
But Martin Jones was in the way.
“[Perry] was pretty tight to the net,” Jones said. “He didn’t have any room, so I just tried to take away the bottom of the net there.”
The Sharks goaltender kicked out his right pad, and smothered the shot for his 23rd save of the night, his 121st of the postseason at that point, preserving a one-goal lead. He made seven more in the third period, and led San Jose to a first-round sweep of its division rivals.
His team was outshot 31-17 after fourth-line forward Marcus Sorensen opened the scoring 5:43 into the contest.
“Well, I’m happy he’s on my side,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic deadpanned when asked what he thought as Jones made save after save in the second period.
“He’s part of our team. He’s doing his job, keeping us in it. He’s played really well the first four games [of the playoffs.]”
Jones relented for the first, and only, time all game when Andrew Cogliano tied the game for the Ducks with just over 12 minutes remaining in regulation. After Jones carried them for most of the last two games, his teammates responded in kind.
Tomas Hertl’s deflection trickled through John Gibson’s legs and into his net to take back the lead just 1:16 later. The Czech forward checkmated Anaheim, and Jones faced only three additional shots afterward.
Hertl and San Jose would not have been in position to do so without Jones’ play in net.
“[Jones] was excellent,” head coach Peter DeBoer said. “For sure both games [in San Jose], without him it would be different results. Even [an 8-1 win in Game 3] definitely isn’t an 8-1 game if he doesn’t show up and play the way he does.
“But, he’s a big part of our team, and has been for a long time and has been doing that for a long time for us. That’s something that we rely on and take for granted.”
Jones struggled for stretches during the regular season, and dealt with an undisclosed injury ahead of the All-Star break. His five-on-five save percentage (.915) was the lowest of his career as a starter, according to Corsica Hockey. He was excellent on the penalty kill, though, posting a four-on-five save percentage (.900) that ranked 10th among goalies that played a minimum of 100 shorthanded minutes.
The latter part of his carried over into the first round against the Ducks, as Jones stopped all but two of the 21 shots he faced on the penalty kill, including all six on Wednesday. Jones really improved five-on-five, however, as Cogliano’s goal was just the second even-strength tally he allowed all series.
His five-on-five save percentage (.979) this postseason is, according to Natural Stat Trick, better than every goaltender but one: Marc-Andre Fleury (.990) of the Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose’s opponent in the second round.
Jones, of course, is no stranger to big-time playoff moments. He was San Jose’s best player in a six-game loss in the first round to the Edmonton Oilers last year, and nearly single-handedly kept the Sharks alive in the Stanley Cup Final the year prior.
And yet, somehow, this might be the best stretch of his career in the postseason. He’s never stopped a higher a percentage of shots in a series than he did against the Ducks.
The Sharks will need him to continue to be at his best against a Golden Knights squad that also swept a SoCal opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, out of the first round.
“[Vegas is] a fast team,” Jones said. “They come at you with all four lines. They forecheck hard.
“They’re a tenacious, hard-working team so we need to make sure we’re preparing properly here and ready to go right from the start of Game 1 because they don’t give you any room to breath really. They come at you hard.”
And Jones will be there stand in their way.