SAN JOSE -- There was a streak of dried blood under Timo Meier’s chin when he spoke to the press after the Sharks’ 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday. The battle scar was evidence of when the stick of Vegas defenseman Jon Merrill caught the Swiss forward in the face with mere moments left in the first frame. Meier immediately bent over and grabbed his face, then headed straight to the dressing room before the period expired. But then, he took the ice at the start of the second frame, all stitched up as if nothing had happened.
“it’s physical out there, sticks are coming up high, that’s the kind of stuff that happens in the playoffs,” Meier said cool as a cucumber following the victory. “Nothing that bothers me.”
Meier was one of two Sharks who exited the first period with a facial injury, the other being Joe Pavelski, who scored the opening goal of the game off his lip and didn’t return to the bench until partway through the second stanza with a visor covering his face. Losing two top-liners could have really put the Sharks in a tough spot. Seeing two key pieces of the lineup exit with injuries so early in a playoff series can really do a number on a team’s mental wherewithal.
But the Sharks didn’t sag, and rallied behind their two injured teammates to take Game 1, 5-2.
“I think we earned that one, so that’s a good feeling,” Pavelski said to the press through a swollen lip and a mouth missing a couple of teeth. “We got what we needed as far as commitment.”
Meier agreed. “I think the big part is that everybody chipped in. We played a solid team game, all four lines were on tonight. Defensively, we didn’t give them much. That’s the way we have to play.”
Meier was especially complimentary of Pavelski and how the captain came back into the game. “He’s a tough guy coming back from that,” Meier complimented. “That’s playoff hockey character for him, coming out like that and playing a solid game.”
Head coach Peter DeBoer also, unsurprisingly, applauded Pavelski for returning to the game despite being banged up. “Tough as nails, to take a puck to the face and not go down,” DeBoer said. “He’s a warrior.”
Neither Pavelski nor Meier wasted any time getting right back to work once they returned to the ice, with Meier skating 23 total shifts over the course of the game and Pavelski skating 21. (Their linemate Logan Couture skated 26 shifts altogether.) With the two forwards back on the ice, San Jose was better able to roll four offensive lines and march to victory.
Of course, now the focus turns to how healthy both players will be for Game 2. While he appears no worse for wear, Pavelski admitted he has to have his stitched-up mouth looked at ahead of Game 2 and will “see how they feel.” Meanwhile, San Jose still has to get ready for their next game against Vegas, which could potentially be even tougher than Game 1.
“They’re going to come out harder,” Meier said. “We have to be better than we were today, that’s the playoffs. You’ve got to always take a step after every game.”
Coming from a player who played with a couple new stitches in his face, it isn’t hard to believe the Sharks are capable of that.