SAN JOSE – It was do-or-die for the Sharks on Thursday night, with the fate of their Stanley Cup playoffs run hanging in the balance. San Jose rose to the occasion in fine fashion in Game 5 of the first round, beating the Vegas Golden Knights 5-2 to extend the best-of-seven series.
Here are three takeaways from Game 5.
Preventing that early goal made a huge difference
Giving up a goal in the first five minutes of Games 2 through 4 wasn't the only reason the Sharks lost all three games. But it's amazing how different their overall game looked when they buckled down, and didn't allow Vegas to get that early jump Thursday. Even though Vegas had the advantage on the shot clock through the first 20 minutes, San Jose was visibly doing a better job breaking up the Golden Knights' offense.
It didn't hurt that goaltender Martin Jones had a bounce-back performance after giving up two goals on seven shots in his previous start. He made a couple of big saves early in the second period when the team in front of him wasn't getting any good scoring chances. But, perhaps his best save came on Reilly Smith in the third period while the Knights pressed for a game-tying goal.
The blue line put forward its best effort since Game 1
It was incredible how much more sound San Jose's defense was with Marc-Edouard back in the lineup. After he exited Game 2, the blue line really struggled in his absence. In his return Thursday, San Jose's defense did a significantly better job taking the ice away from Vegas.
Also helping was the fact the duties were more evenly divvied up among the defensemen with Vlasic back in the lineup. Brent Burns was better with Vlasic back as his defense partner. Erik Karlsson – who looked much faster and healthier than he did in Games 3 and 4 – could once again play around 22 minutes, but Vlasic (23:43) was there to slot the remaining defensemen in their proper places. Brenden Dillon, Karlsson's partner, gets honorable mention for laying some monster hits on Vegas.
What to work on for Game 6
With some momentum back in their favor, the Sharks can extend their season again in Game 6. They'll have the best chance of doing that if they keep their defense tight – and tighten up on their special teams.
Even though Tomas Hertl got the power-play goal late in the third period, San Jose still needs to capitalize on more of its chances. The Sharks will also need to beware of going to the penalty box in Game 6, because both of Vegas' goals in Game 5 came on the power play. With Game 6 back in front of a raucous Vegas crowd, the Golden Knights will work extra hard to draw an emotional response from the Sharks, as was the case late in Game 4.
If the Sharks can fix those areas, though, they could return to the Tank for a Game 7.