Sharks

Where does series stand after Sharks' season-saving win in Game 5?

Where does series stand after Sharks' season-saving win in Game 5?

Twenty-five years to the day since their very first playoff game, the Sharks evaded elimination Thursday night at SAP Center, and reinvigorated the fanbase with a convincing performance in their 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

This series has shown two sides of San Jose — Games 1 and 5, where they were decidedly the better team through 60 minutes and controlled much of the play. That's a sharp contrast to Games 2, 3, and 4 — where it looked like summer could have an unfortunate early start after three convincing wins from Vegas.

Here are five observations from the Sharks' 5-2 win that sent the series back to Vegas with the San Jose trailing 3-2:

Jones steps up

Martin Jones was the headliner of Game 5, and he deserves to be. This was a critical decision for Peter DeBoer to give Jones the starting assignment -- some would even say against the grain -- after Jones had been pulled in each of the previous two losses.

It was a solid performance by the Sharks’ primary netminder through the first 40-plus minutes, but it turned into an exceptional one when he stoned Reilly Smith in the third period.

That “wow” moment later led to a Sharks power play which saw Tomas Hertl give San Jose some insurance by lighting the lamp to extend the lead to two.

Puck possession that didn’t feed transition

The Sharks' prior two losses saw them struggle in the face-off circle, winning just 45 percent and 46 percent in Games 3 and 4, respectively. All San Jose did in Game 5 was win a whopping 63 percent of its draws, which led to the domino effect of having the puck, and not turning it over. This limited the quantity and quality of opportunities for Vegas, and therefore helped the cause in the crease.

The Sharks in front of Jones didn’t have to ask for a ton of (extra) key saves because they didn’t allow a ton of (extra) key chances.

Complete (early) role reversal

When the Sharks scored 76 seconds into the game, they gained the early lead that Vegas had rallied around in each of the last three contests. Making the Golden Knights play from behind for the first time in a week set the tone for the entire game. And just on body language alone, it seemed to give the Sharks a noticeable confidence boost.

Good for Goodrow

In the Sharks' second 5-2 win of the series, the winning marker may have got lost in the shuffle.

But it shouldn’t.

Barclay Goodrow notched his first ever Stanley Cup playoff goal, and the redirect was assisted by another guy who isn’t a primary scorer in Justin Braun. Depth scoring was a strong point for San Jose in the regular season, but it had yet to really make its mark in the second season.

[RELATED: Sharks keeps emotions in check, season alive in Game 5]

So, what now?

If the teams had alternated wins and losses to arrive at this juncture, nobody would be surprised. It would have seemed like a back-and-forth slugfest that the Golden Knights slightly held the edge in. But those three decisive Vegas wins really soured the San Jose perspective on the remainder of the series.

Regardless, here we are now with the rare two days off in between games. Where San Jose gets a little healthier, and Vegas has to dwell on their missed opportunity of closing the door in Game 5.

The pressure shifts to Vegas to close out the series in Game 6, otherwise, they'll be forced to come back to The Tank for a do-or-die Game 7 they likely want no part of.

NHL rumors: Patrick Marleau only wants trade to Sharks by Maple Leafs

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AP

NHL rumors: Patrick Marleau only wants trade to Sharks by Maple Leafs

As he's linked to a trade away from salary cap-strapped Toronto, Maple Leafs winger Patrick Marleau reportedly has one destination in mind above all else this offseason. 

Marleau, the longest-tenured player in Sharks history, wants to return to San Jose, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos said during a Tuesday appearance on "Prime Time Sports" on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto. A reunion won't be so simple, according to Kypreos.

"So right now, my understanding is San Jose's not sure yet," Kypreos said. "[Sharks general manager] Doug Wilson's in a position to say, 'Yeah, maybe I'm interested, but not certainly at the price of the last year of the contract.' So, I would probably believe that a third team would need to get involved, a team that needs to get to the [salary] floor. The Leafs would have to entice that team to take [Marleau's] contract, and have to give up something. And then if [the third team] were to buy out Marleau, then San Jose could come in and sign him at a number that they're satisfied with."

Marleau, who will turn 40 in September, is entering the final year of a three-year, $18.75 million contract that he signed with the Leafs in 2017. He has a full no-movement clause, and can veto any potential trade.

The veteran forward is coming off his worst offensive season (37 points) since he was a rookie, and the Leafs reportedly want to trade him in order to clear enough cap space to re-sign pending restricted free agent winger Mitch Marner. Marleau took Marner and Leafs star Auston Matthews under his wing in his first two seasons in Toronto, but he’s no longer creating offense or driving play as well as he once did. 

While the Leafs can retain up to 50 percent of Marleau's cap hit -- or $3.125 million -- in any trade, that's still likely a bit rich for what the forward brings to the table at this point in his career. Throw in the Sharks' own cap concerns, as evidenced by trading Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers one day after making Erik Karlsson the NHL's highest-paid defenseman, and it's hard to envision a trade outside of the three-team scenario that Kypreos outlined.

With recent reports indicating the salary cap might rise to $82 million rather than the $83 million the NHL first projected, San Jose would have about $15.3 million in cap space with just seven forwards under contract. Toronto retaining salary still might not leave enough space for the Sharks to re-sign their cadre of free agents. Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi all can hit the market as unrestricted free agents, and Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are due to hit restricted free agency. 

[RELATED: What should the Sharks do with Joakim Ryan?]

Pursuing a post-buyout Marleau is another matter entirely. He remains a popular figure among fans and his former teammates alike, but Marleau's production is more in line with a bottom-six forward at this stage of his career. The Sharks didn't get enough production from depth forwards in the playoffs, and it's possible that returning to his longtime NHL home with his family in pursuit of his -- and the franchise's -- first Stanley Cup would rejuvenate Marleau.

But as things stand right now, Marleau is a Maple Leaf, and the Sharks have more pressing priorities. 

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

It's sounding like Joe Thornton will be back with the Sharks next season.

Thornton had previously expressed that if he were to return for a 22nd NHL season, it would indeed be with San Jose.

"I’m a Shark,” Thornton said at the Sharks' end-of-season availability. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”

At the NHL Awards media availability on Tuesday, Thornton eliminated whatever mystery remained and confirmed he would put off retirement for at least another year, per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Thornton went even further while clarifying his comments to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

Thornton can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but it's fully expected he and San Jose will come to an agreement on a contract -- a task made somewhat easier by the trade of defensemen Justin Braun on Tuesday morning, which provides some much-needed salary cap relief.

[RELATED: Sharks trade Braun to Flyers, acquire two draft picks]

"He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton back in May. "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."

Thornton's announcement Tuesday would seem to indicate there are plenty of more days left to cherish.