It may have appeared a foolish wager to some when Sharks coach Pete DeBoer bet all his chips on Martin Jones after he had been pulled from two of the first four games of the Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Golden Knights.
DeBoer’s gamble to stay with Jones as his starter is on the verge of paying off as Jones has carried San Jose to within one game of rallying to win the series.
Jones has delivered consecutive sterling performances, including a 58-save effort in a 2-1 double-overtime Game 6 victory Sunday night. It broke a franchise postseason record and marked the most saves by a goalie facing elimination since Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek stopped 70 shots against New Jersey in 1994.
Game 7 is Tuesday night at SAP Center in San Jose at 7 p.m.
The Knights have already relinquished a 3-1 series lead and will need to find a way to solve Jones if they want to advance to play Colorado.
“We were all over them,” Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said after Sunday’s game. “We got great pressure, a lot of turnovers. Jones was pretty good, you have to give him credit. He was good. Whatever. We move on. Tomorrow’s a new day and we have to focus on Game 7.”
Jones’ turnaround in the series has been dramatic.
He had ugly numbers over the first four games, recording a .837 save percentage to go with a 5.34 goals-against average.
Jones, who prior to last season’s dreadful performance against the Knights in the second round was one of the best goaltenders statistically in NHL postseason history, found his game again.
Over the last two games, since DeBoer gave him a vote of confidence in sticking with him for Game 5, he’s had a .967 save percentage and a 1.19 GAA.
“That’d be nice (to play against the Jones of Games 2 through 4),” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said Monday. “You have to give him credit. He’s bounced back. He’s played real good hockey and he’s had a tough time (previously). He’s played real good hockey the last couple of games and hopefully we can get to him next game.”
Gallant said part of that is on his team to put Jones in tougher spots.
The Knights outshot the Sharks 59-39 on Sunday, but San Jose held a 9-3 edge in scoring chances off a rush.
Jones credits his team with limiting much of what the Knights were doing well early in the series.
“When we eliminate that stuff off the rush, odd-man rushes, it makes life a lot easier,” Jones said. “We did a good job keeping guys in front of us, in zone. They didn’t have a ton of point-blank looks and we did a good job around the net.”
The Knights know they need to do more in front of Jones and not let him just sit in his crease and stop shots fired at him from the outside.
Marchessault’s goal Sunday came on a rebound as he backhanded it over Jones as he tried to dive back into the play.
“Probably,” forward Cody Eakin said of whether the Knights need to create more traffic around the net. “One of those was bound to go in eventually. Keep plugging away at those, get into the blue paint and we’ll get rewarded for it.
“(Jones) made some good saves. Just one of those where we’ve got to get a good bounce for us. We’ll keep at it and be ready for Game 7.”
If they’re not, the season will be over and Jones will be among the biggest reasons.