Tomáš Hertl said a Game 7 would happen. So it was only fitting that he delivered.
While on the penalty kill, the Czech Republic native split the Golden Knights defense and sniped the game-winning goal past Marc-Andre Fleury in double overtime. The Sharks won 2-1, sending the series to a deciding Game 7.
Hertl’s fifth career playoff game-winning goal came after he promised the crowd at SAP Center that the Sharks would be back on Tuesday night for Game 7. After Game 5, Hertl said in a postgame interview:
“We have one more game, then come back for Game 7, and I believe it because [we’re a] better team than them.”
After scoring two goals in Game 6, it only seemed natural that Hertl would keep his hot streak going with the game-winner in Game 7. The 6-foot-2-inch center became the first player in NHL history to score a shorthanded winner in a game that required multiple overtimes. Hertl said:
“First moment, actually, when I [got] it, I was already a little bit tired. I was thinking maybe just dump it in and change, but I saw space. So I just take a couple steps and try to shoot it … if you don’t try you never know.”
With the excitement of a Game 7 in just two days, Hertl said:
“Super exciting moment, but now we want to finish it, the Game 7, because that’s why we play in playoffs … It’s the most fun games, in the NHL [that] you can play, so I can’t wait for it.”
The most thrilling ‘Game of Jones’ episode yet
Throughout this season, a 58-save game by goaltender Martin Jones was unthinkable, especially against Vegas. Jones had been pulled in four of eight prior games in T-Mobile Arena, though he was coming off an energizing, 30-save Game 5 win.
Sunday night, Jones nearly doubled that. The Golden Knights were on their game, outshooting the Sharks 59-29. However, Jones finally seemed to activate his “playoff mode,” which the Sharks had maintained would appear this series. Head coach Pete DeBoer said:
“Our group has never lost faith in him. We knew he was capable of this. We needed him tonight. He was our best player.”
Jones set the Sharks franchise record for most saves in a game on the way to recording a .983 save percentage. Hertl said:
“We’ve been just trying everything, doing [it] just for [Jones] because we know it was a little bit tough from the start. Everybody was all over him. But he [proved] that’s why he’s No. 1 for us. He came in, and huge game for us.”
Despite Jones’ career-making performance, the Sharks know they will have to limit the Golden Knights’ scoring chances on Tuesday night. Logan Couture said:
“We can’t spend that much time in our own end and give up 59 shots again. Joner was the reason we won that game. We scored some timely big goals, but we can’t do that again.”
Vlasic’s non-flashy return
In his return from injury, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has shown how valuable his defensive presence is. The Sharks are undefeated when he has played a full game in this series. Vlasic only played 7:02 in Game 2 due to an injury that sidelined him for the next two games. In Game 6, he played the second most minutes of any player, with 37:14 minutes of time on ice.
While paired with Brent Burns, Vlasic has been deployed to defend the top Vegas line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Couture said:
“He’s not flashy. A lot of people think the best d-men in the world is the offensive guys and flashy, score the highlight reel goals … he is more so the guy that’s gonna defend hard and make it tough on the other teams to score.”
Like his playstyle, Vlasic’s description of his role was not flashy either. Vlasic said:
“Shutting down the top line. That’s my job … you look at the last two games, if I keep them off the scoresheet, I did my job.”
The Stone-Stastny-Pacioretty line has been held to zero points in the last two games. Through the first three games of the series they had been Vegas’ highest threats, with a combined 28 points.
With two consecutive wins, the Sharks will have the momentum heading into Game 7 Tuesday night inside SAP Center. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Couture said:
“This Game 7 so things are going to happen. There’s going to be swings throughout the game … they’re fun games to play in. you relish this moment and enjoy it. This is what hockey’s all about.”