PITTSBURGH -– Headed into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, all of the chatter regarding the Sharks revolved around their inability to secure a regulation lead in any of the first four games.
Turns out, they didn’t play all that differently with the lead than without it while losing three of the first four -– other than goalie Martin Jones, who made certain that his team stayed alive after the Penguins generally dominated for the final 57 minutes.
Brent Burns and Logan Couture staked the Sharks a 2-0 advantage early, and after Jones surrendered a pair to the Penguins –- both on deflected pucks -– he shut the door on the furious Pittsburgh attack, making 44 saves in all in a 4-2 Sharks win.
The goalie stole this one.
“[Jones] gives us confidence every night,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “He plays well every night. He’s our best player every night.”
He had to be in Game 5. Although the Sharks managed to retake the lead on Melker Karlsson’s goal late in the first, set up skillfully by Couture, they were often caught running around in their own end and struggling to get the puck out. Of the Penguins’ 46 shots, 31 came over the final two periods.
Even before Karlsson’s marker, which ended up being the game-winner, the Penguins had 12 of the previous 13 shots after Couture’s goal. It seemed like it was just a matter of time before the game-tying score came.
Jones didn’t allow it to happen, though, making a fantastic save on Nick Bonino in the second period, and more stops on Patric Hornqvist, Conor Sheary and Sidney Crosby in the third.
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “We needed some big-game performances from guys. Jonesy was one of those guys in a tough environment.”
“I felt good tonight,” Jones said. “I thought our D did a good job in front of the net. We got a few bounces. It was a combination of things.”
Also encouraging was that some of the Sharks’ top players finally managed to find the scoresheet. Couture was San Jose’s best forward on the night, with three points, a team-high five shots, and a fancy assist on the Karlsson goal, while Burns also played his best game of the series, scoring once and playing with a nasty edge that sometimes shows up in his game.
There was also a weight lifted off their shoulders in actually getting a lead, even though that early 2-0 edge was frittered away.
“We realize we can score, and get the first goal,” Joe Thornton said. “We just have to continue attacking, and getting those first goals."
Burns said: “We talked about trying to get a better start, get off to the lead. It was a good start for the team.”
Thornton and Joe Pavelski were still missing in action –- Pavelski’s empty-net goal that put the game away, aside -– but Jones’ heroics and the early scores were enough to give them all another chance at having an impact.
“We still want to come back here [for Game 7], but there’s a lot of work to get to that point and a lot of focus that will be needed, and a lot of commitment,” Pavelski said.
What they won’t have to worry too much about, though, is their goalie’s focus and commitment. That’s been there throughout the playoffs, and he may have overtaken Pavelski as the Sharks’ front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy – if they can complete the comeback and capture their first Stanley Cup, that is.
“[Jones has] been doing it all year,” Thornton said. “Just not tonight, he does it every game for us. He’s just a stud for us."