SAN JOSE, Calif. — Social media timelines filled up with jokes and memes when San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said Wednesday he would start goaltender Martin Jones for Game 5 after yanking him from two of the first four games of the series.
Jones got the last laugh with a solid performance Thursday night to keep the Sharks alive in a 5-2 win over the Golden Knights at SAP Center.
“That’s totally what we expected,” forward Joe Pavelski said. “He’s a heck of a goalie. I know everybody wants to write their things, but we have a lot of belief in this guy. We played the right way tonight. He made some great saves, especially that 2-on-1 right after they scored (in the third period to cut the lead to 3-2). That’s what he’s always done for us. He’s made those key saves. We did our job tonight for once. We stuck with it and everybody focused on taking care of their business.
“It’s a start.”
The Sharks still need to win the next two games, including Sunday in Las Vegas, to win the best-of-seven series. But a 30-save performance from Jones, including the key denial of Reilly Smith on the 2-on-1 break with 7:40 to play, should start to build confidence for a comeback.
Jones found a way to keep Smith’s shot out of the net less than a minute after Jonathan Marchessault scored on a power play to pull the Knights within a goal.
William Karlsson put a pass on Smith’s stick, but Jones slid over in time to make the save.
“I’m just trying to make the best read I can there,” Jones said. “Our defenseman forced Karlsson to make a quick play and I was just able to get across.”
His defense also was bolstered by the return of defenseman Marc-Edourad Vlasic, who left early in the second period of Game 2 after catching a puck up high.
The Knights had outscored San Jose 13-3 since he was injured entering Thursday night’s game.
“Having Vlasic back is huge,” DeBoer said. “We missed him for two games. You can’t (overstate) how important he is to our group. I don’t think it’s an accident that you add a world-class defenseman back to your group and you defend better. That’s not coaching.”
DeBoer did have to make the call to stick with Jones. The 29-year-old, who helped carry the Sharks to a Stanley Cup Final in 2016, was the team’s biggest question mark entering this series and hadn’t provided many answers in the last three outings after winning Game 1.
Jones was pulled early in Games 2 and 4 and had posted a dismal .838 save percentage and 5.34 goals-against average in the series.
“He was outstanding in Game 1, so it’s not like he hasn’t played well in a month,” DeBoer said of Jones. “It was just two or three games ago he was great. Some of it was situational, too. We were playing behind in those games so we had to open it up. Playing with a lead tonight allowed us to defend better and when they did get those point-blank looks, he made some saves. For me, that was critical.”
His teammates appreciated the effort as well.
“He made some huge saves,” forward Tomas Hertl said. “There was a lot of pressure on him, but he showed he’s a great goalie. I’m really happy for him and our whole team.”
Jones is expected to start again in Game 6.