So much for being able to flip the switch come playoff time.
Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said he wasn’t concerned about his team’s poor finish to the regular season that saw the Golden Knights win just one of their final eight games. But a sloppy 5-2 loss at San Jose in Game 1 in their best-of-seven series on Wednesday night was eerily similar to some of the losses his team took down the stretch.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury gave up at least four goals for the third straight game since returning from a nine-game break for a lower-body injury. Vegas managed just five shots in each of the first two periods while falling behind 4-1, as San Jose took advantage of a 7-1 edge in takeaways during that span, including two in the Golden Knights’ zone that led directly to goals.
Now Vegas — which defeated the Sharks, 4-2, in a second-round series last season en route to the Western Conference championship and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final — will try to gain a split of its trip to San Jose when it takes the ice for Game 2 on Friday night.
Gallant didn’t mince words following his team’s Game 1 loss.
“They outplayed us in every facet of the game,” he said. “They worked harder and they competed harder. We weren’t good enough. They didn’t do anything different than we expected, but they played a lot harder.”
“You’re not going to beat that team with 10 shots on net in two periods,” added Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty. “There were some opportunities, some good saves (by San Jose goalie Martin Jones), a post or two, but still not good enough. We know what this team is capable of, and tonight we didn’t show it. It’s a long series, and hopefully we can show what we’re made of.”
Brent Burns, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic each had goal and an assist, Erik Karlsson added two assists and Jones finished with 24 saves to lead San Jose in the series opener. But it was the Sharks’ first goal, by captain Joe Pavelski in the first period, that was the talk afterward.
Pavelski redirected a blast by Burns from the right point with his face, and the puck caromed in over the shoulder of Fleury. Dazed and missing several teeth, he didn’t take part in the goal celebration, instead heading straight to the locker room for stitches and a new face shield while also undergoing concussion protocol. He returned early in the second period and only missed a few shifts in the process.
“I didn’t even see it come off his stick,” Pavelski said of Burns’ shot.
“I’m keeping the dentist in business,” Burns joked, through a smile missing most of its top front teeth. “(Pavelski) goes to the hard areas. That’s why he scores so many goals. The front of the net is not a fun place to be, but he’s one of the best in the world at it.”
“He scored a goal,” right winger Timo Meier added. “He goes where it hurts. He’s a tough guy coming back. We know that. That’s playoff hockey.”
Pavelski skipped the team’s workout on Thursday to have some dental work done. The good news? The shot didn’t break his jaw.
San Jose improved to 33-0 this season when holding a team to two goals or less.
“I thought our team defense tonight was tight against a real good team,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “That’s going to be formula for us in the playoffs that we’re going to have to stick to. The goals take care of itself. I’m not worried about the offense. We can score. When we defend like we did tonight, it gives us a chance to win.”
The Knights could add some help at some point in the form of reigning KHL MVP and scoring leader Nikita Gusev, a left winger who has never played in the NHL but is finished with his season in Russia with SKA St. Petersburg.
“I don’t know much about him,” Gallant said of the 26-year-old, whose rights were acquired by Vegas in a trade with Tampa Bay in 2017. “… Hopefully he does join us and gets some practice time in with us, but I have no idea where that’s going.”
–Field Level Media