SAN JOSE -- With two goals in Game 5 on Thursday night, Sharks forward Tomas Hertl helped his team avoid elimination. Then he guaranteed the fans that there will be a Game 7 back in San Jose against the Vegas Golden Knights.
"I know we have one more game, and come back for Game 7," Hertl said after the 5-2 victory over the Knights cut the series deficit to 3-2. "I believe it. We're a better team than them."
That remains to be seen, but the Sharks were good enough to send the first-round series back to Las Vegas for Sunday's Game 6. Hertl played an essential role in that victory, simply by getting the Sharks on the scoreboard first and giving his goaltender Martin Jones some confidence in the process.
Jones had struggled mightily as the Sharks lost three straight games, getting pulled in Games 2 and 4. He gave up a goal 58 seconds into Game 2, just 16 seconds into Game 3 and 1:11 into Game 4.
But Hertl flipped the script in Game 5, lasering a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury (24 saves) at 1:16 of the first period to give the Sharks a lead they would never surrender.
"Right away, we showed [Fleury]. We screened him. We annoyed him. We have to be even better. We have to frustrate him, be harder around the net," Hertl said. "If you don't have to chase the game from the first minute, and you take all 20 guys with a great effort, we showed that we can beat them anytime."
Jones had his best game of the series, stopping 30 of 32 shots and coming up with big stops in the third period.
"It's always important to get the first goal. Hertl was huge for us tonight," Jones said.
Overall, the Sharks played a solid defensive game, even as Vegas had the advantage in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (53-44). Some of that had to do with the return of defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the lineup, who provided a steadying presence after missing two games to injury. But much of the credit goes to Jones, who slammed the door on the high-octane Knights offense.
"He was outstanding in Game 1, so it's not like he hadn't played well in a month," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think some of it was situational [for Jones]. We were playing from behind in those games. We have to open it up when we're behind, so he gets more quality looks against him than he would normally get on a night like tonight. Playing with the lead tonight allowed us to defend better."
A lead they grabbed thanks to a confident Hertl.
"Right from the first minute, we had fans behind our backs. It's huge," he said. "We've got two days now. We can take a little breath."