SAN JOSE – It became clear in just one game that the Sharks' second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche will be much different than their seven-game, first-round slugfest with the Vegas Golden Knights. One of the most immediate differences was in San Jose's net.
Goaltender Martin Jones gave up the first goal in Game 1 -- a 5-2 Sharks win on Friday over the Avalanche -- just 2:10 into the contest. In the first six games of the first round, that likely would have spelled disaster for San Jose. We're excluding Game 7 here, of course, because that game was just completely insane and thus belongs in its own category.
But in Friday's series opener, Jones maintained that calm and collected demeanor he exuded late in the first round and symied the Avs' speedy offensive attack.
If he can keep playing like that, then the Sharks have their best chance of extending their playoff run.
"He's found his rhythm, and that shouldn't be surprising," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Friday. "We knew the first period was going to be tough and we needed him to make some saves."
"He's such a big part of this team, we're going to go as far as he wants to take us," Sharks center Joe Thornton said."He's just calm and makes the game look easy back there."
That ease was visible almost instantly after Colorado scored early. The Avalanche continued creating chances off the rush, fueled by a week of rest and recuperation following their five-game first-round win over the top-seeded Calgary Flames. But Jones appeared completely unphased by the chances coming his way, turning aside two Carl Soderberg breakways.
With the Sharks facing a four-minute penalty kill and 2-1 in the second period, Jones led a short-handed effort that visibly tilted the game back in San Jose's favor. Jones didn't let the puck get past him again, ending Game 1 with 26 saves on 28 shots.
Not bad for a goalie – and a defense, no less – coming off back-to-back overtime games and one of the craziest Game 7s ever seen. Not surprisingly, though, Jones credited the defense in front of him.
"It can be obviously after a Game 7 like that, but we did a great job," Jones said Friday. "We hung in there early in the game."
DeBoer has talked all the postseason about wanting to see how his team reacts to adversity, and Jones is no exception. For him to rebound nicely from the early goal in the first game indicates the Sharks' goaltender has found his playoff rhythym. Jones has played it cool, and told reporters he's "just trying play my game and not overthink it," but whatever that entails is working for him.
Now, it's just a matter of continuing that confident play. Colorado's offense isn't going to take a back seat and slow down. After a Game 1 loss, Nathan MacKinnon and co. likely will come out even faster in Sunday afternoon's Game 2 at SAP Center. The Sharks' defense did a pretty good job of breaking up the Avalanche's chances late in the game, but Jones ultimately has to stop the puck.
If he keeps playing like he did in Game 1, though, the Sharks will be in good shape.