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Golden Knights better brace for punishing series vs. Sharks

SAN JOSE, Calif. — It wasn’t more than 20 seconds into this playoff series and Timo Meier felt enough time had passed. He came barreling down the ice, head up, taking aim, crashing into a net occupied by Marc-Andre Fleury.

There would be no goal scored, but there was a message sent.

San Jose has come to play in this best-of-seven Western Conference affair with the Golden Knights, and whichever team survives to advance will do so with plenty of black and blue to show for it.

This was a physical beginning to things. More hits — a lot more — to come.

Whether it’s a feeling of revenge because of what transpired last year at this time or merely because they despise the Knights — probably some of both — the Sharks were the better side in every conceivable manner Wednesday night at SAP Center.

They would win 5-2 before an announced sellout of 17,562 and take the lead in a series that will return here for Game 2 on Friday, which means the Knight have 48 hours or so to dissect what went wrong and how to correct it.

They can begin with this: The Knights had 26 shots.

They also had 34 penalty minutes.

That’s really bad math for the team that lost.

“It’s definitely not what we wanted to do or how we wanted to play,” Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “Even when they didn’t score on the power play (San Jose was 1-for-5), it gave them momentum and didn’t allow us to get any.

“Same thing last year. If you’re not disciplined against them, they will eventually cash in. We don’t want to be in the box all game. Momentum is a big key in the playoffs. They were just a lot better than us.”

The Knights played most of the first two periods as if this was Game 7 and their legs never made it to the arena, managing just 10 shots over the opening 40 minutes. They couldn’t create much of anything against Martin Jones, and they’ve always created something against the Sharks goalie.

But he made some huge stops when needed most, including one against Reilly Smith with just over two minutes remaining that would have pulled the Knights within 4-3 and perhaps offered some (very) late life.

Instead, the Sharks added an empty-net goal from Tomas Hertl.

That kind of Knight.

It’s simple: The Knights were far too sloppy to win a road playoff game. Even after getting out of the first period trailing just 1-0, they responded by taking penalties in the second and doing the things you can’t against San Jose and have a chance.

Meanwhile, the Sharks were pretty darn good for much of Wednesday.

They scored 3-on-3. They scored 4-on-4. They scored 5-on-4. They scored 5-on-5. Nobody wearing a Knights jersey had much of an effort to speak of — Mark Stone scored both of his team’s goals — but some offered totally forgettable nights.

No one was very sharp defensively, three of the goals against Fleury beat him high to the shoulder, and the team’s third and fourth lines were nonexistent.

Even the officials had an off night, losing control of things a bit in the second period.

Lineup changes coming?

The Knights eliminated San Jose in six games of a second-round series last season, winning the opener 7-0 in Las Vegas.

This is just one game. Columbus won at Tampa Bay on Wednesday after falling behind 3-0. Dallas won at Nashville. St. Louis won at Winnipeg. The Knights just weren’t good enough to pull off their own road upset.

You might see Colin Miller back in the lineup Friday.

You might see Brandon Pirri on that third line to get some sort of offense going. Lots of things need to be better.

It ended with both teams continuing to push and shove and continue with extracurricular activities.

Oh, this is going to be a really physical series.

Black and blue all over for whichever team survives and advances and whichever begins its summer vacation.

“I had a feeling the series would go that way, that it’s going to be very intense,” Fleury said. “It’s one game. We’re behind now, so we have to come back and be more disciplined.”

The message was sent about 20 seconds into things.

San Jose has more than come to play.

It’s on the Knights to respond.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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