SAN JOSE, Calif. — As the Golden Knights stumbled toward the finish line of the regular season, the common refrain was they could find their game when it mattered most.
But as the postseason opened Wednesday, all the problems of the past two weeks remained.
The Knights were unable to match the intensity of a San Jose squad intent on making a statement and lost 5-2 in a hostile SAP Center to open the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Mark Stone notched both goals for the Knights, and Max Pacioretty finished with two assists. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is here Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“They outplayed us in every facet of the game tonight,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “They played hard. They worked and competed, and we weren’t near good enough. They did a good job. They played hard. We weren’t close to good enough, and we’ll do better next game.”
Brent Burns, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each had a goal and an assist for San Jose, which scored two goals 45 seconds apart in the second period to take control.
Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson added two assists.
The Knights lost seven of their final eight games to end the regular season and were unable to challenge Sharks goaltender Martin Jones until the third period when Jones made 15 of his 24 saves.
“They didn’t do anything different from what we expected, but they played a lot harder,” Gallant said. “We weren’t good enough. Like I said, our guys have got to be ready to play more competitive (hockey) than we did tonight. … Overall, they played a harder game.”
The Knights, who eliminated San Jose in six games in the conference semifinals last season, were unable to establish a forecheck and ultimately paid the price in a frenetic second period that was full of hard hits and penalties.
Burns gave the Sharks a 2-0 advantage at 6:59 of the period when he took a drop pass from Karlsson during 3-on-3 play and wristed a shot that slipped under the left arm of Marc-Andre Fleury.
San Jose went ahead 3-0 at the 7:44 mark when Kane stripped the puck from Jonathan Marchessault and quickly sent a pass to Joe Thornton at the right circle. He found Vlasic walking down the slot uncovered, and the defenseman beat Fleury high to the glove side.
The Knights answered less than a minute later, as Max Pacioretty’s shot deflected off Paul Stastny and pinballed to Stone at the side of the net for his sixth career postseason goal.
But San Jose regained control when Kane cut toward the net and coolly redirected Karlsson’s pass for a 4-1 lead with 17.1seconds remaining in the period.
“That’s the way they play in this rink,” Stone said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of weathering it. We played them pretty well in the first period to ease into the game, but we eased into it a little too long and kind of let them take over the game in the second half of the second.”
The Knights became the seventh team to reach the postseason in each of its first two seasons, joining the Edmonton Oilers as the only club from the post-expansion era (since 1968-69) to accomplish the feat.
But the defending Western Conference champions started slowly in a physical first period and were held without a shot on goal for the final 10:58.
San Jose, which allowed the first goal in eight of its final nine games, used its potent power play to take the lead with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the box for tripping.
Burns fired a shot from the point, and the puck hit Joe Pavelski in the face before sailing past Fleury with 5:18 remaining in the first.
“We have to focus on our own game,” Stone said. “We just weren’t executing with the puck, weren’t executing on the forecheck and allowed them to make simple exits.”
1. In the face. San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier each went to the locker room during the first period after getting hit in the face. Pavelski needed repairs after Brent Burns’ shot deflected off his face for the opening goal. San Jose’s captain returned at the start of the second period wearing a jaw protector.
2. Bump and grind. After the way the teams went at it in the regular season, it’s no surprise that Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Sharks was a physical affair. San Jose finished with a 42-41 advantage in hits, led by Timo Meier with nine. William Carrier paced the Knights with nine hits.
3. Bad blood boils. Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves exchanged pleasantries late in the third period, with both players receiving 10-minute misconducts. Tomas Nosek also received a 10-minute misconduct late, and the intensity likely will carry over into Game 2 on Friday.
David Schoen Review-Journal
First-round playoff schedule
■ Sharks 5, Golden Knights 2
■ Friday: at San Jose, 7:30 p.m.
■ Sunday: at Golden Knights, 7 p.m.
■ Tuesday: at Golden Knights, 7:30 p.m.
■ x-April 18: at San Jose, TBA
■ x-April 21: at Golden Knights, TBA
■ x-April 23: at San Jose, TBA