SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Sharks boarded a plane to Las Vegas on Thursday full of confidence and belief in how they’ve improved every game against the Golden Knights.
They also know they must win at least one more time at T-Mobile Arena to advance from the Western Conference semifinals and are fueled by their last visit to the Knights’ home ice.
San Jose lost both regular-season meetings on the Strip by one goal and then were thrashed 7-0 in Game 1. The Sharks broke that streak with a 4-3 double-overtime victory in Game 2, a win that served as a launch point for their effort in a 4-0 win to even the series on Wednesday night.
“I think when you get to the last eight teams left, you’re going to get a crazy environment no matter where you go,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said Thursday. “Vegas is special, there’s no doubt, but I think you become a little bit numb to it. We won in there, so that monkey is off our back. I think now we’re just looking forward to going in there and playing.”
The confidence stems from more than a road win. DeBoer believes the adjustments made to neutralize the speed and transition abilities of the Knights have worked.
He was quick to dismiss a question comparing adjustments made for the speedy Knights to when the Sharks lost to Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals.
“With all due respect to (William) Karlsson and (Jonathan) Marchessault, they haven’t done what (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin have done quite yet, so I don’t think you can compare those teams right now,” DeBoer said.
Marchessault and Karlsson have wreaked havoc on the Sharks at times in the series, though San Jose never let them get out of first gear in Game 4.
“I think we’re starting to figure it out a little bit and finding the way to play against this team,” said forward Joonas Donskoi, who scored the game’s second goal in the closing seconds of the first period in his return from a minor injury.
“They have home ice, so we have to find a way to win there again,” he said. “But I think it’s fun to play there.”
Forward Timo Meier, who has two points and a team-high 24 hits in the series, agreed.
“The first two games, the atmosphere was incredible,” Meier, 21, said. “I think we’ll get a lot of energy out of the crowd. We know how it works there. We know the arena better, so we’re positive. It was huge (to win at T-Mobile), especially in overtime. That’s big for us. We didn’t play our best game and we got the win, and now we’re getting better.
“I don’t know if it’s confidence as much as it is just getting better. We kind of feel what works against them. I think we’ve been confident all year. We believe in ourselves and the guys in our locker room.”
Meier knows it will take more than confidence and belief to win two of the next three games.
He said it’s important the Sharks continue their momentum in terms of not allowing the Knights to push the tempo.
“They’re a fast team,” he said. “You don’t want to give them anything off the rush, and if you turn it over, they go the other way real quick. You’ve just got to be careful with the way we manage the puck, especially in the neutral zone.”
The Sharks play in Game 4 assured the series would come back to San Jose for at least one more game. If they continue to play the same way, there could be even more.