Vegas, The Better Team, Wins Game 5

Game 5 of the series between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks was a tale of two games. For the vast majority of the game, Vegas was the better team and they won, 5-3.

Sharks and Golden Knights, The Opening Period

The Sharks held on for dear life throughout the opening period against the Golden Knights, who consistently outplayed the Sharks.

Dear life lasted until the final three seconds of the period, at which point Vegas scored, courtesy of James Neal and following weak play from the Sharks. San Jose’s Mikkel Boedker missed an opportunity to clear the zone which was followed by soft defensive play. A point shot rebounded onto the stick of Neal. The Vegas sniper knows how to bury an opportunity and he did.

Marc-Andre Fleury James Neal Golden Knights
Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and winger James Neal  (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sharks were not the better team in the opening period, but they did get a couple of odd-man rushes early on. And while odd-man rushes for San Jose have proven infrequent, they’ve also proven ineffective. They have yet to score off an odd-man rush in the series.

Sharks and Golden Knights, The Second Period

The Sharks chances took a negative turn in the second period, with Vegas even more dominant. A failed Sharks power play (which wasn’t very dangerous) came off a weak call against Vegas. Then Vegas got the benefit of an even weaker interference call against Tomas Hertl. The ensuing Vegas power play was dangerous. Excellent passing resulted in their second goal, with Alex Tuch slamming a rebound past Sharks goalie Martin Jones.

The Sharks would have liked to make a dent in the Vegas lead, but simply put, they had few chances. Outskated end-to-end, the Sharks fell behind 3-0 when a difficult angle shot from Eric Haula got past Jones. Jones has had an up and down series, but this was his worst goal-allowed thus far.

Vegas Golden Knights left wing Erik Haula
Vegas’ Erik Haula (56) battles San Jose’s Timo Meier (28)  (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

The second period ended with the Sharks down 3-0. And to be blunt, they deserved to be down by three. Martin Jones was good, excepting the Haula goal, but Vegas had numerous high-quality scoring chances and the Sharks had few. And on those few, Marc-Andre Fleury closed the door.

Sharks and Golden Knights, The Third Period

In the final period, Vegas chased Martin Jones with a score by Alex Tuch, who outskated and outmuscled Joakim Ryan, tipping in a terrific saucer pass from Cody Eakin. With under 12 minutes left, it didn’t seem the goal was all that important, but it turned out to be the game-winner. Aaron Dell (on his 29th birthday) replaced Jones for the second time in the series. Jones left, having allowed four goals on 31 shots.

Cody Eakin #21 of the Vegas Golden Knights
Cody Eakin (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Sharks started to make it a bit more interesting with a power play goal from Kevin Labanc with just over ten minutes left. The Sharks added a second goal, from where they’ve been getting it done all series, behind-the-net. Once again, it was Tomas Hertl, courtesy of Boedker’s play from behind the net. And suddenly, things were a good bit more interesting.

Dell, meanwhile, made some excellent saves, as Vegas continued to be dangerous. But the Sharks turned the blowout into a nail-biter with a third goal in a six-minute span. This one came off a lengthy shift in the offensive zone, once again influenced by play behind the net. San Jose’s hard play behind the net created chaos in the Vegas defense. The puck made its way out to the point, where a Dylan DeMelo shot resulted in a net-front scramble. Boedker fished out the puck and put it over Fleury. The Sharks were now within a goal with over four minutes left.

DeBoer went for an early goalie pull (with well over two minutes left), and it just didn’t work out. I have no problem with pulling Dell earlier than normal. DeBoer had his top players rested and ready for their shift, which is the time to take your best shot.

Vegas Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault
Jonathan Marchessault  (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

With Dell pulled from the game and the San Jose net empty, Vegas made multiple bids to make it a two-goal game. Ultimately they did, sealing the game with an empty-net goal from Jonathan Marchessault with 81 seconds remaining (appropriately for number 81 from Vegas).

The Game Results

Vegas was faster, stronger and more in sync for two and a half periods. San Jose’s skating, which had been better in Game 2, 3 and 4, was absent until too late in Game 5. Vegas’ puck movement was crisp and timely; San Jose’s lukewarm and often late.

Vegas also did a better job of denying San Jose their bread and butter this series, play behind the net, especially early in the game. While some of the Sharks better chances came from behind the net play, Vegas was more aggressive in preventing San Jose from going deep. At times, the Sharks seem to abandon this approach. But it worked late in the game, and they need to stick with it.

As for those suggesting there were seeds of doubt creeping into Vegas (there were many, but it didn’t include me), they were simply wrong. Vegas never looked like they had even a sliver of doubt. They did what they wanted to do for most of the game and San Jose provided limited resistance until late. While the game wasn’t reminiscent of the Sharks ineffective game to open the series (won by Vegas 7-0), there was clearly one team better than the other. Which is why Vegas is one game away from advancing to the Western Conference Final and San Jose is one game away from summer vacation.

Zeke’s Notes

• While the Marchessault goal effectively ended the game, a less noticed event also happened. Logan Couture left the ice, getting help from the officials (this is seen in the background of the score). It’s not clear why. There’s been no solid reporting on this and it could be as simple as a damaged skate. But if it is a health issue, it’s obviously important to the Sharks chances.

• Joakim Ryan is the most notable lineup change made by DeBoer in the series, and, once again, he played a solid game. That is, up until the third period. He got beat down the ice on the Tuch goal, and, after the Sharks had closed the gap to 4-2, Ryan turned the puck over in his own zone, resulting in another good scoring chance for Vegas.

• While it occurred under very different circumstances, the cross-check by Shea Theodore to the face of Tomas Hertl early in period three was a lot nastier than the crosscheck to the face of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare by Evander Kane in the series opener. For his shot, Kane got a five-minute major, a game misconduct (both deserved) and a game suspension (perhaps overkill given he’d already been tossed from a game). Theodore got a two-minute minor. I don’t expect any action from the league, as unlike Kane’s hit, one can reasonably argue Theodore’s hit was not purposeful.

Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore
Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

• Sharks cast-off Ryan Carpenter had a strong game against his former team, with an assist, a plus-two rating and some strong penalty killing.

• Many people call Joe Pavelski’s line the Sharks’ top line. It’s not. The line with Couture, Hertl and Boedker is San Jose’s best line.

• While the officiating deserves its share of criticism this series, it hasn’t been a decisive factor. The games have been decided by play on the ice, not the officiating. The officials gave Brenden Dillon a 10-minute misconduct late in the game – for the second straight game. Each time, he left with a counterpart from Vegas. This game, he went off with Deryk Engelland – last game, it was with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.