This series between Las Vegas and San Jose is giving me a headache.
Not entirely because the Sharks now face the definition of a "must win" game Sunday afternoon at SAP Center.
But mostly because the amount of twists and turns in five games alone, have left me regrouping for answers and insights far too many times already. Just when you think you have a handle on who holds momentum, and what is coming next - you're proved wrong.
I suppose that's the nature of a series which has alternated wins back and forth through five tilts.
Even Friday's contest, was two games within a single game. Vegas got the first four scores. San Jose got the next three until the home team added their empty netter to conclude a 5-3 victory.
1: "Window Dressing"
That's how Pete DeBoer described the trio of third period goals his team scored to put the score within one. Was it a matter of Vegas letting up? Or the Sharks finally putting things together? The Sharks head coach didn't even bother analyzing the comeback, but did essentially dismiss its importance right after the game. I found that interesting, some players and pundits might have felt the (too little, too late) response from San Jose was enough to justify some value moving forward but not the man who knows his team best.
2: Every Vegas goal mattered, good and bad
The game felt difficult to grasp for San Jose, even when it was 2-0. But then came the third and fourth tallies. Every single goal the Golden Knights potted ended up mattering more in the end. Some were well earned, others were bad goals. Neal's marker with THREE(!) seconds left in the first period came after several defensive breakdowns by the Sharks: bad goal. Tuch's first goal on the power play was a sequence where all five Vegas skaters touched the puck before it was buried: good goal. Haula's goal was essentially thrown at the net from the goal line, and beat Martin Jones on the near post: bad goal. Tuch's second was hockey's version of an alley-oop, with Eakin's saucer pass on the rush being one-timed, before it even laid flat on the ice: amazing goal. I won't even get into evaluating Marchessault's empty netter: although it was bold from inside his own blue line.
3: Jones Pulled Again
The timeline of Friday night sure was interesting, how the San Jose response began when Aaron Dell came into the game. But it wasn't like the Sharks were scoring with Jones in the crease, so how is he to blame? He's not. Even still, this makes for a compelling situation - should San Jose go on to win this series in seven games, at least two of them would have featured their star goalie being pulled. Definitely not something anyone could have predicted entering this second round. I still very much expect Jones to get every last starting opporutnity in this series. And hopefully beyond.
4: Don't believe the Game 6 hype
Prior to this season, the Sharks have participated in the playoffs nineteen times. Ten of those eliminations ultimately came in a Game 6, where the Sharks trailed the series 3-2, just like right now, and couldn't force a Game 7. You'll probably hear that stat dug up and mentioned before Sunday's game, but I'm here to get ahead of it. And my point is: how does that apply right now? I realize the historical trend that started in 1998 does not sound promising, but, this is a different year, different group, and certainly different kind of playoff opponent than San Jose has ever faced before.
5: Must Win Scenario, for both sides?
Refer to page 26 of your sports cliche encyclopedia. Looking back at points of the regular season, I suppose it's silly to have called any game a must-win. They weren't. But that's precisely what Sunday's Game 6 will be for the Sharks. You know the crowd will be on point. You know the Sharks players will be laser focused. But you also know in some way, there will be a tremendous pressure on Vegas to try and keep the door closed on a Game 7. One thing we've previously experienced about Game 7s is that anything can happen, when a whole series is decided by one last night. Vegas can't like the thought of that, even though they'd be hosting it. This is where I originally suggested San Jose would take the series, but they still have to earn getting to that spot with a win on Sunday.