By the good graces of Martin Jones’ Ironman performance and Matt Murray’s struggles, the San Jose Sharks lived to see another day.
On the scoreboard, the Sharks doubled up on the Penguins, 4-2, to win Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and force a Game 6 back in San Jose on Sunday. But the game itself was much closer; one of the goals was an empty-netter and the Penguins had more than twice as many shots (46) as the Sharks (22).
And except for the first three minutes of the game, Pittsburgh was the better team, had the better chances, and was in control more often. It took the help of two posts (well, three after Phil Kessel hit both posts with his shot shortly after Chris Kunitz rang the pipe) and Jones’ game of his young career to eke out a win.
A Good Start, but Nothing More
Needless to say, this was not a recipe the Sharks want to cook again in Game 6. Not if they want to push it to a seventh game in Pittsburgh. They came out just like they wanted to — guns blazing, pressure galore — and, ever so briefly, looked like the team we’ve been watching all postseason long.
Brent Burns reminded us how big of a threat he is by creating a goal by himself. Though Murray left way too much space short side, it was exactly what the Sharks needed: a contribution from one of their main players, and an early lead. Minutes later, Logan Couture tipped in a shot from the point by Justin Braun, and the Sharks were on fire.
Until the Penguins unleashed their fire extinguisher, and the Sharks were temporarily stunned. A delay of game penalty gave Pittsburgh a power play and Evgeni Malkin a goal. It took just 22 seconds for the Penguins to strike again, with Carl Hagelin tying the game. From there, with the crowd buzzing and the Sharks spinning on their heals, the Penguins imposed their will on the game. Even after Kunitz and Kessel were denied by posts, it felt like this game was destined to be a 5-2 final score in favor of Pittsburgh.
The Martin Jones Show
But magically, the tide never completely turned, thanks to Murray and some gorgeous execution by the Sharks. Couture’s no-look feed right to Melker Karlsson gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead, though, again, it was a shot that Murray needed to and should have saved.
He didn’t, and it was Jones who made him pay. Forty-four saves in all, the most in a regulation Stanley Cup Final game since 1988. And was he spectacular. In the second period, robbing Bryan Rust with the right pad and Nick Bonino from point-blank with a stretch off a rebound. In the third period, stoning Conor Sheary and keeping dangerous net mouth scrambles at bay. Sidney Crosby played a smart game — as he has all series — making great passes and setting up scoring opportunities, but Jones thwarted each attempt.
Based purely on execution, the Penguins should have already hoisted the Stanley Cup at Consol Energy Center. But in the NHL playoffs, a hot goaltender can make the difference between a win and a loss. The Sharks have found themselves a tremendous weapon in Jones, who picked the right time to deliver while Murray conveniently faltered in his biggest moment (though if you ask him, he would beg to differ).
Nevertheless, the Sharks should understand that they can’t win like this forever, especially not if they want to force a Game 7. Giving up 46 shots, going cold offensively for the last two and a half periods, and depending on save after save from your rookie goaltender is not a formula for success.
The result was positive, but the Sharks would be wise to find a different way to get there on Sunday. Otherwise, the new life they were gifted in Game 5 will have been for nothing.