After Tuesday night's 5-0 shutout loss in Las Vegas, the Sharks return home to San Jose on the brink of elimination. Down 3-1, the Sharks have their backs up against a wall and must reel-off three consecutive victories against a Golden Knights team that is firing on all cylinders.
The inspiration can come from anywhere, but the confidence can be found in the game one victory back at the SAP Center. Joe Pavelski's goal in the first period set the tone that night for the Sharks, as he took a puck to the face from teammate Brent Burns, deflecting it past the reach of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Though he lost a couple of teeth, Pavelski was patched up and returned in the second period.
Martin Jones had a solid game, with 24 saves, keeping the Golden Knights from mounting a comeback. In addition to Pavelski's facially-deflected goal, fellow Sharks Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Evander Kane each pitched in with a goal in the second. Late in regulation, Tomas Hertl contributed an empty-net goal, applying the icing to the cake. It was a statement victory and a complete victory.
Games two and three were up and down, with the Sharks giving a solid effort throughout both, showing heart and digging deep to stay in both games. Each time San Jose just didn't have enough to match what Vegas brought to the table. However, Tuesday night's game was much different. Marc-Andre Fleury thoroughly outplayed a combination of goalies Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, all night long. While the shots on-goal were nearly identical (28-27 San Jose), nothing was getting by Fleury.
The Golden Knights proved they came to play with their physicality and their discipline, as they out-hit the Sharks 54-37 and spent just eight minutes in the penalty box to San Jose's 38 minutes. It was a resounding victory and an important one, as it now puts immense pressure on the Sharks to win three in a row. The Sharks are not in impossible territory, as NHL teams have come back from being down 3-1 28 times in postseason history.
It all starts with game five, Wednesday night, in San Jose. Coming back from huge deficits happens one game at a time.