SAN JOSE — Marcus Sorensen blocked an Erik Johnson shot from just inside the Sharks’ blue line and began to bust it up the ice near the end of a long shift. Joe Thornton, also standing near the blue line, saw the play and turned up ice to help create a 2-on-1 against Samuel Girard.
After the two crossed the blue line, Sorensen laid a perfect saucer pass to Thornton, who fired the puck past Philipp Grubauer to tie the game 2-2 at the 10:05 mark of the second period.
Game 1 of the Sharks’ second round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday was never the same after that point. Kevin Labanc and Brent Burns added goals before the end of the second period and Timo Meier added an empty-netter to give the Sharks a 5-2 win over the Avalanche.
The Sharks’ line of Thornton, Sorensen and Kevin Labanc combined for five points and seven shots on goal Friday night, an illustration of how San Jose hopes to use its forward depth to its advantage in this series — even without Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi at the moment — and move onto the conference finals for the first time since 2016.
“We just outworked them I think. We were hard, we were heavier, we were winning our battles in the o-zone end and the d-zone,” Labanc said. “We just have to stick with it and keep that momentum going for us in the second game.”
“It’s one game, but I hope,” Thornton said when asked if he thinks his line can be the difference makers in this series. “It’s one game. So, small snapshot, but get our rest again tomorrow, and hit game 2.”
The Sharks’ streak of success against the Avalanche at SAP Center over the last decade almost defies logic.
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Sharks are 20-2 at home against the Avalanche. One loss came in their first round playoff series in 2010. The other came in Dec. 2015, near the start of Pete DeBoer’s tenure as the Sharks’ head coach.
The Sharks haven’t always been great in that time. The Avalanche haven’t always been bad.
But as long as the Sharks can hold onto their home ice advantage in their second-round series against the Avs, they’ll move on. They took a critical first step Friday.
Some other takeaways:
Martin Jones looks to be all the way back: Martin Jones was, of course, exceptional in Game 6 against the Golden Knights last Sunday, stopping 58 of 59 shots before Tomas Hertl scored shorthanded in double overtime to give the Sharks a 2-1 win.
But as long as the Sharks get the same kind of Jones that led them to wins in games 1, 5, and 7 of that series against the Avalanche, they can go a long way. Jones, who came into Friday with a .904 save percentage, stopped 26 of 28 shots, including 10 of 11 in the second period, to give the Sharks their fourth straight win.
“He’s such a big part of this team,” Thornton said, “we’re going to go as far as he wants to take us.”
Jones may have done his best work in the first period Friday, as he stoned Carl Soderberg twice — once from just outside of the crease with under six minutes to go and another on a breakaway with just over two minutes left.
‘He was great tonight,” DeBoer said. “I don’t know. He’s found his rhythm. It shouldn’t be surprising. He played over the last four years a lot of great hockey for us. He was great tonight.
“We knew the first period was going to be tough for our group. Play three elimination games, the last two in overtime, we knew the first period was going to be tough and we needed him to make some saves. I thought the second half of the game, we started to get our legs, get in a rhythm and started to win some battles. Thought we did a lot of good stuff.”
Overall, the line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Kerfoot finished with nine shots on goal. They were typically defended at even strength by the defense pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, and Logan Couture’s line with Gus Nyquist and Timo Meier.
“I thought it was pretty good. They’re a very good line, so you have to be aware of them for sure,” Nyquist said. “But I thought we did pretty good.”
The Sharks finished the game with 22 blocks and allowed just four shots in the third period.
“We defended well,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “They’ve got some dynamic players there. (Nathan) MacKinnon’s line, and their defense, is involved all night. Defensively, I thought our attention to detail was pretty good. When we had our breakdowns, Jones made some big saves.
“They created some chances on the power play. We took too many penalties for my liking, for a playoff game.”
SAN JOSE, CA – APRIL 26: San Jose Sharks’ Evander Kane (9) can’t get a shot past Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) in the third period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey second-round playoff series at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, April 26, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Special teams makes a difference: The Sharks were down a goal after allowing Colin Wilson to score with the man-advantage 3:56 into the second period. Just a minute after that goal, Brenden Dillon was whistled for a four-minute high-sticking penalty.
Over the next four minutes, Martin Jones made two saves and both Tomas Hertl and Melker Karlsson each had a block.
While the power play came up huge Tuesday in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights, scoring four times in 4:01 in the third period, the penalty kill did its part Friday at the game’s most critical juncture.
The Sharks’ penalty kill ranked 14th out of 16 playoff teams at the end of the first round, killing just 21 of 29 chances for a 72.4 percent kill rate. There’s no guarantee it’ll be any better this series, but the unit came up big when it needed to Friday.
“That was a game-changer. We needed that,” DeBoer said of the four-minute kill. “We talked going into the playoffs and after the first round that our special teams are going to have to win us games. We won with the power play last game, and I thought our penalty kill was big tonight.”