SAN JOSE – To say this first-round series between the Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights has been emotional is a bit of an understatement.
The fervor brought on by the Stanley Cup playoffs was at an all-time high for the Sharks in a blowout loss in Game 4 on Tuesday, as an inability to score on Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made their frustration boil over. That, in turn, led to the Sharks lacking defensive discipline and parading to the penalty box.
But in their season-extending 5-2 win over the Golden Knights in Game 5 on Thursday, the Sharks were on their best behavior. Vegas tried and tried to claw back into the game, and get a rise out of San Jose in the process. In the end, the Sharks didn't give the Knights that satisfaction.
"A game like this where you lose and you go home for the summer – we understood the importance of it," Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon said after the win. "We've got to put our emotions to the side, and I think we did a good job of that tonight."
The Sharks had just four penalty minutes Thursday, compared to 38 in Game 4. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer criticized his team's emotional outburst in that one, and said Thursday he was much happier with how the Sharks handled themselves.
"I though last game became a little bit of a sideshow," he said. "We talked about it and I thought we did a better job."
With the Sharks leading 2-1 in the second period, Vegas tried to get under San Jose's skin with a little extra pushing and shoving in front of Martin Jones' net. But instead of fully engaging, the Sharks pushed back just enough to not get penalized, and then moved on to score the next goal. Barclay Goodrow redirected Justin Braun's shot past Fleury, giving the Sharks a 3-1 lead with the eventual game-winning goal.
The Knights eventually showed frustration this time around, particularly netminder Fleury. Tomas Hertl said after Game 1 the Sharks could tell when they got Fleury frazzled, and said after Game 5 he saw that same reaction.
"Every goal he gets a little bit frustrated so we have to keep doing that," Hertl insisted, admitting he thinks the Sharks can improve on pressuring Fleury. "We have to be a little bit better because he made the last couple huge saves. But we have to keep frustrating him and keep being harder around the net and score a couple more goals."
While the Sharks found a way to keep those emotions at bay in Game 5, their work isn't over yet. After forcing a Game 6, the series returns to Sin City where the Knights have the overflowing support from their home crowd. The job of keeping frustration taking over becomes even more critical.
"Fans help them always, so we have to figure it out and be ready for them," Hertl said.
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Hertl himself told the Sharks fans at the Tank in his on-ice interview that Team Teal will be back in the building for a Game 7 on Tuesday. Keeping their emotions in check and staying out of the penalty box will be big keys to making his prophecy a reality.
"There's no room to mess around," Goodrow said. "We'll have to go in with the same mindset that we had tonight and come out with the win and force Game 7 here."