Goaltender Martin Jones has always preferred to be a man of few words and many saves, and keeping the San Jose Sharks’ season alive by making 44 stops Thursday in a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t change that.
A crazy, high-scoring first period followed by barrages of 17 shots in the second period and 14 in the third did not turn on a switch in his brain and make him effusive or boastful.
“I felt good,” he said, as if that explained everything, and maybe it did.
The Sharks did their homework before acquiring Jones from the Boston Bruins last summer, soon after the Kings — knowing they couldn’t keep him when he became a restricted free agent and might lose him to an offer sheet for little compensation — had traded him to the Bruins. The Sharks especially liked his poise.
A solid regular season hinted at Jones’ competitive nature. An outstanding playoff effort confirmed it, and his performance Thursday underlined that. “He played an unbelievable game,” San Jose defenseman Justin Braun said.
With a boisterous crowd filling Consol Energy Center and thousands of fans filling the streets in anticipation of seeing the Penguins carry the Stanley Cup around the rink, Jones was an island of calm. The Final will go back to San Jose’s SAP Arena for Game 6 on Sunday because of Jones’ excellence and because the Sharks, given every chance to fall apart — as they’ve done so often in a recently lamentable playoff history — stood stronger.
Jones got help from the goalposts during a first-period Pittsburgh power play, when Chris Kunitz struck iron and Phil Kessel hit both posts on one shot, but his saves on Nick Bonino and Patric Hornqvist late in the second period proved there was more than luck behind this.
“This was one of his better ones that I’ve seen, especially this season and in the playoffs,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “I think it was pretty special.”
“There were people there,” Sullivan said. “We had rebound opportunities. We just couldn’t seem to find that third goal.”
A double-digit score seemed likely in the early minutes, with the teams combining to score the fastest four goals to begin a game in the Stanley Cup Final. Each scored twice in the first 5 minutes 6 seconds, breaking the previous mark of 6:51.
San Jose defenseman Brent Burns began the spree with a shot that slipped under goaltender Matt Murray’s arm and inside the left post at 1:04, giving the Sharks their first lead of the series. Logan Couture tipped a shot by Braun past a shaky Murray at 2:53 to make the score 2-0.
But the Penguins responded with a power-play goal by Evgeni Malkin that glanced off Braun and past Jones at 4:44, and they pulled even when Bonino’s shot from the right side deflected off linemate Carl Hagelin as Hagelin crossed in front of the net.
The Sharks regained the lead at 14:47, when Couture made a clever behind-the-back pass to Melker Karlsson, whose shot went off Murray’s glove and into the net for the Sharks’ third goal on five shots. “They just had a good push,” Braun said of the Penguins’ comeback. “They were coming through the neutral zone pretty well.”
Jones had little margin for error until Joe Pavelski scored into an empty net with 1:20 to play in the third period, Pavelski’s first point of the series. Fans streamed out of the arena, disappointed they didn’t see the Penguins claim the Cup.
The odds still favor the Penguins. Of the 32 teams that have faced a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs won the series. The Sharks are only the 15th team to force a Game 6 when trailing, 3-1. “We dug deep,” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “People wrote us off from the start but we’re a confident group and we brought our best effort.”
That included Jones, though he would never say so himself.