Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-2 win vs. Vegas in Game 5

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-2 win vs. Vegas in Game 5

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SAN JOSE – It was do-or-die for the Sharks on Thursday night, with the fate of their Stanley Cup playoffs run hanging in the balance. San Jose rose to the occasion in fine fashion in Game 5 of the first round, beating the Vegas Golden Knights 5-2 to extend the best-of-seven series. 

Here are three takeaways from Game 5.

Preventing that early goal made a huge difference

Giving up a goal in the first five minutes of Games 2 through 4 wasn't the only reason the Sharks lost all three games. But it’s amazing how different their overall game looked when they buckled down, and didn’t allow Vegas to get that early jump Thursday. Even though Vegas had the advantage on the shot clock through the first 20 minutes, San Jose was visibly doing a better job breaking up the Golden Knights' offense. 

It didn’t hurt that goaltender Martin Jones had a bounce-back performance after giving up two goals on seven shots in his previous start. He made a couple of big saves early in the second period when the team in front of him wasn’t getting any good scoring chances. But, perhaps his best save came on Reilly Smith in the third period while the Knights pressed for a game-tying goal.


The blue line put forward its best effort since Game 1

It was incredible how much more sound San Jose’s defense was with Marc-Edouard back in the lineup. After he exited Game 2, the blue line really struggled in his absence. In his return Thursday, San Jose’s defense did a significantly better job taking the ice away from Vegas.

Also helping was the fact the duties were more evenly divvied up among the defensemen with Vlasic back in the lineup. Brent Burns was better with Vlasic back as his defense partner. Erik Karlsson – who looked much faster and healthier than he did in Games 3 and 4 – could once again play around 22 minutes, but Vlasic (23:43) was there to slot the remaining defensemen in their proper places. Brenden Dillon, Karlsson's partner, gets honorable mention for laying some monster hits on Vegas.

[RELATED: Stop the presses! Sharks take first lead in a week]

What to work on for Game 6

With some momentum back in their favor, the Sharks can extend their season again in Game 6. They’ll have the best chance of doing that if they keep their defense tight – and tighten up on their special teams.

Even though Tomas Hertl got the power-play goal late in the third period, San Jose still needs to capitalize on more of its chances. The Sharks will also need to beware of going to the penalty box in Game 6, because both of Vegas' goals in Game 5 came on the power play. With Game 6 back in front of a raucous Vegas crowd, the Golden Knights will work extra hard to draw an emotional response from the Sharks, as was the case late in Game 4. 

If the Sharks can fix those areas, though, they could return to the Tank for a Game 7. 

Sharks emerge from long playoff journey with lengthy list of injuries

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Sharks emerge from long playoff journey with lengthy list of injuries

SAN JOSE -- One of the biggest storylines heading into Game 6 of the Western Conference final was that the Sharks would be short a few of their top players because of injuries. But, like so many other teams that make deep playoff runs, there were far more bumps and bruises than the general public realized.
 
While a comprehensive list of every player’s injuries hasn’t been made available, it’s clear that some players dealt with simultaneous injuries through San Jose’s 20-game postseason run -- even players who didn’t miss any game action.

“We had guys who were playing that were injured as well," Logan Couture told reporters. "They weren’t hurt -- they were injured, the injuries took their toll.”

By the time the Sharks had reached the Western Conference final, enough players were dealing with injuries that it became hard to pick up the slack.

Joe Pavelski said the health of the team was a stark contrast from the last time San Jose made a deep playoff run.

“You look at 2016 when we went to the Final, you don’t realize how fortunate we were and how healthy we were at that state, probably,” the captain said. “You can’t really think of too many guys that had major things going on. This year we kind of got caught in the other route where we had a bunch of injuries and different guys were stepping up. It’s how it goes. I’m definitely happy with the character in this locker room and guys stepping up playing hard, playing through things and finding ways to win games.”

Pavelski all on his own was a walking list of ailments. In addition to taking a puck to the mouth and sustaining a scary head injury in the first round, No. 8 aggravated a knee injury from the regular season during Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues -- and had surgery on his left hand.

Both general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Peter DeBoer likened Pavelski and all of his injuries to a car accident victim.

Another player to battle multiple injuries was Tomas Hertl. Sharks fans are well aware Hertl didn’t play in Game 6 of the conference final due to injury, which he confirmed was a head injury sustained when he was hit by Ivan Barbashev in Game 5. What viewers probably didn’t know is that Hertl also broke his finger before the first-round series with Vegas even got underway and had been playing through it.

“I just got it fixed yesterday,” Hertl said on Thursday, speaking to the press with multiple bandages around his left pinkie finger. He then joked: “I think it was actually working. Probably (had) my best faceoffs of my career in the playoffs. So maybe I have to do it more often.”

Of course, not every player was able to play through their injuries. Erik Karlsson ended up missing the third period of Game 5 and all of Game 6 against the Blues because he aggravated his lower-body injury from the regular season. At this point, Karlsson is hoping he doesn’t need to have off-season surgery.

“We’re still in that process,” Karlsson said. “All I know is it’s not going to be anything that will be a problem moving forward. I’m going to be able to have a normal summer with training and everything and getting ready. That’s great. It’s just unfortunate it happened when it did.”

Doug Wilson said that, as of Thursday, no Sharks players were scheduled to have off-season surgery. Nevertheless, there are still multiple players who will now be going through summer rehab stints to get healthy for next season. Joe Thornton, who sustained a groin injury during the conference final, knows all too well how much of a toll that process can take.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses whether he will return a Shark]

“It’s a grind, that rehab process,” Thornton said. “Some guys are going to have to go through it this summer and it’s a grind. It’s mentally tough to do that every single day and not sure what the outcome is going to be.”

Hopefully, for the injured Sharks, the outcomes are positive.

Joe Thornton discusses whether he'll be back with the Sharks next season

Joe Thornton discusses whether he'll be back with the Sharks next season

SAN JOSE -- Even before the Sharks’ 2019 playoff run got underway, the “Win For Jumbo” mantra and the idea of getting into the Cup Final at cap off Joe Thornton’s Hall of Fame career picked up a ton of steam.

But Thornton is a team guy. So it wasn’t too surprising when No. 19  told the media on Thursday morning that he didn’t buy too heavily into that line of thinking.

“I think that was more for you guys,” he laughed. “I think this whole area needs a Cup.”

Not that anyone in the greater Silicon Valley would dispute that. But the desire of the Sharks’ fan base to see No. 19 win a Cup Final ramped up as the 39-year-old forward skated in what many think could be his final season.

As Thornton stood clad in a hoodie as he addressed the press one last time this season, his future continues to remain uncertain. Although he made it clear he hasn’t ruled out a return next season.

“I’ve got to talk to Pete and Doug and Hasso – but we’ll see,” he said. “I haven’t made any decision. I feel like I can still play, that’s for sure, but I haven’t made any decision at all yet.”

One of those decisions, of course, revolves around his health. For the first time in a few years, Thornton is entering the offseason without a serious injury that needs rehab. Nevertheless, how he feels with the general bumps and bruises that come with a long playoff run will also play into his decision.

“It weighs on you man, it does,” he said of coming back from injuries. “It’s a grind that rehab process. Some guys are going to have to go through it this summer and it’s a grind. It’s mentally tough to do that every single day and not sure what the outcome is going to be. For me personally, don’t have that issue. We’ll see.”

Thornton’s 2019 campaign was nothing short of impressing. After missing time at the start of the season due to complications with his surgically-repaired knee, he evolved into Team Teal’s third-line center and began climbing up the NHL’s all-time points list. For him to get so close to going to another Stanley Cup Final and coming up two wins short was hard for even his teammates to watch.

Tomas Hertl, who was watching San Jose’s Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues from afar due to a head injury, called seeing Thornton’s disappointed face on the television screen on of the toughest parts of the playoff exit.

“On the TV, when I saw Jumbo, that was the hardest moment,” Hertl said sadly. “We lost and we see Jumbo, how he wants it and how he played in the playoffs, how he was hunting the Cup. To see him lose two games before the Final was really hard.”

Now the questions as to whether Thornton will return carry even more weight as the Sharks offseason – and likely an eventful offseason at that – gets underway. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has many questions to answer before next season, but he made it clear he would love to have Thornton in the mix.

“I have such tremendous respect for him, not just as a hockey player but as a man,” Wilson said. “He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him. But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him. Whatever decision he makes, we’re there for him.”

[RELATED: End-of-season observations on Sharks]

“I’d love to see him again,” Hertl said, “and try to help him because he’s a great teammate and he’s a great locker room player. I started with him and he showed me the way.”

There is one thing Thornton made clear. If he does in fact return for another season, he won’t be playing for any other team.

“I’m a Shark,” he said. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”