Even with all the first round craziness of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the San Jose Sharks comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights will not be forgotten.
After San Jose’s 5-4 overtime win on Tuesday night, Sharks center Joe Thornton said:
“Those were two heavyweight teams going at it. They’re an unbelievable team and hats off to them, they played great. It was just a bounce here and there and we win series, but that’s an incredible hockey game.”
The most memorable and decisive sequence will be San Jose storming back in the third period to win the pivotal Game 7.
After finding themselves behind 3-0 after 50 minutes, the Sharks rallied after seeing Joe Pavelski fall and his head hit the ice. The team captain was briefly knocked out and bleeding, ending his night.
Thornton, who helped Pavelski off the ice, said:
“It almost made you cry. Because we love him so much and like I said, you never want to see a teammate get hurt like that. And it was a tough break for him.”
The Sharks scored four goals on the resulting major penalty. Head coach Pete DeBoer said:
“That’s the craziest game I’ve seen. That was wild. I think there’ll be talking about that one for a long time here and the people that were in the building, I think it was extra special because it was electric.
However, the zaniness of this series extended far beyond just the final game. Tampa Bay may now be the measuring stick for any future failures after being swept by Colombus in the first round, but the Sharks climbing out of a 3-1 series deficit sets the bar for pure entertainment and perseverance by a team in the playoffs.
A tale of two struggling teams
Both the Sharks and Golden Knights struggled at the end of the regular season, as both teams only earned three wins their last 10 games of the regular season.
A promising 5-2 Game 1 win seemed to indicate the problems that had plagued the Sharks were in the past. The tone for a physical series was set when Pavelski scored the opening goal after Brent Burns’ shot deflected off his face. Pavelski lost teeth due to that play, but returned after adding a jaw protector his helmet.
Game 2 was a reminder that there was a whole best-of-seven series left to be played. The Golden Knights took an early 3-0 lead in the first seven minutes of the game. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones was pulled after facing just seven shots. However, it only took two minutes for the Sharks to turn the game around, stringing together three goals to tie the game by the end of the first period. San Jose became the first team to tie the game in the first period after trailing 3-0 in Stanley Cup Playoff history.
But it was ultimately not enough. Logan Couture’s potential go-ahead goal was called back on a goaltender interference call. Couture received a two minute minor penalty and Stone converted on the power play for the game-winning goal as Vegas won 5-3.
The Golden Knights went on to win the next two games in T-Mobile Arena to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Through those two games, the Sharks were outscored 11-3 and were shut out in Game 4.
Shaky discipline, shaky goaltending
Undisciplined play in Games 3 and 4 proved costly for San Jose. Thornton was suspended for Game 4 due to an illegal check to the head. In that game, the Sharks racked up 38 penalty minutes. In addition, Jones’ struggles in net resurfaced, as he averaged a .712 through three-straight Sharks losses.
But in Game 6, Jones put up a stunning franchise-best 58 save performance as the Sharks won 2-1. DeBoer, who had received criticism for continuing to start Jones in net, said after the game:
“Our group has never lost faith in him. We knew he was capable of this. We needed him tonight. He was our best player.”
Sharks forward Tomáš Hertl was Game 6’s double overtime hero, scoring a shorthanded goal. This came after Hertl told the crowd at SAP Center that the Sharks would be back for Game 7. Hertl said after Game 5:
“We have one more game, then come back for Game 7, and I believe it because [we’re a] better team than them.”
This new, but already a classic, Pacific Division rivalry delivered the best trash talk of the playoffs so far.
There had been spats between Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves throughout the regular season, so it was only natural that the two would clash in the postseason. The two fought in the final minutes of Game 3, sparking a series of chirps directed at each other through media interviews.
“At times, I thought I was fighting the muffin man. Definitely didn’t expect that. I expected a lot more of a battle there.”
Reaves embraced the “muffin man” chirp.
Kane also said:
“I think to be honest, he owes me a lot of credit for getting his name out in the media so much. Nobody thinks of Ryan Reaves as a hockey player or talks about him.”
“They seem to be taking a lot of penalties and getting frustrated. Yelling from the bench at me. I don’t know why they’re so caught up with me.”
When the trash talk and chippiness died down after Game 4, it seemed that the Sharks were the team that benefited. Prior to Game 7, Hertl said:
“The last two games most importantly we stayed above and didn’t talk with Reaves. Nobody was talking, Kane, nobody. We just tried to play hockey and I think that was the biggest change.”
Just as the chirping between the players seemed to stop, the coaches started to talk. Before Game 7, DeBoer said:
“Their coach is chattering, he’s probably doing the most chattering. He’s talking to our players constantly during the game, which I … I haven’t seen before.”
Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant replied:
“For that clown to say that yesterday, that’s not right.”
A ‘once in a lifetime’ Game 7
The momentum swings, physicality and chirping all culminated in a much anticipating series-deciding game. After Tuesday night’s Game 7, Thornton said:
“It has to be the top. I think for everybody in the whole building, for everybody witnessing, that was the best game I’ve ever been part of. Period.”
Through those five minutes, the Sharks power play seemed razor-focused as they surgically scored goal, after goal, after goal, after goal. Timo Meier said:
“I think that’s a crazy game, being down 3-0. It’s crazy cause we were in this locker room and we knew it’s possible. Everybody believes in the guy next to them.”
Forward Kevin Labanc led the way, assisting on three goals. After making the same backhand pass off the boards to set up two of the goals, Labanc seemed to have tricked the Vegas penalty kill. after William Karlsson shifted away from Labanc to cover Erik Karlsson, Labanc skated unhindered into the slot to score the go-ahead goal.
Labanc, who tied the NHL record for most points in a single playoff period, said:
“It was crazy. Once we got that fourth goal, I think the whole building just erupted. We have a lot of momentum on our side and we just got to stick with it.”
The Sharks became the second team in NHL history to overcome a three-goal third-period deficit to win a Game 7. Sharks fourth line center Barclay Goodrow scored the game-winning goal in overtime. Goodrow, the unlikely hero, also scored Game 5’s game-winner. These were his first-ever career playoff goals.
With that historic game, one of the most exciting Sharks playoff series in recent memory came to a close.
Couture, who scored two of the four clutch power play goals, said:
“That’s a once in lifetime game, I think. Knock on wood, I don’t think my heart can take another one like that.”
The Sharks move on to play the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Avalanche eliminated the Calgary Flames with a 4-1 series win. Puck drop for Game 1 is set for 7 p.m. at SAP Center.