SAN JOSE, Calif. — The words Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault and San Jose forward Tomas Hertl uttered after Thursday’s game were almost identical, but the difference in meaning could not be more different.
Marchessault: “They were better than us.”
Hertl: “We’re a better team than them.”
They both used the word “better,” and there's little doubt who was better in Game 5. But Marchessault meant one game. Hertl meant in seven.
The Golden Knights and Sharks will play at least one more time in what has been a contentious series, both on and off the ice. Vegas ran into a goalie it had dominated prior but couldn’t beat at 5-on-5 or when it mattered most Thursday, and the Golden Knights left the SAP Center with a 5-2 defeat to the San Jose Sharks.
The series returns to Vegas on Sunday for Game 6. The Golden Knights lead 3-2.
“We fell a bit short tonight,” forward Max Pacioretty said. “At times there were chances to come back into the game, but we’ll be ready for the next one.”
All series it seemed like the Golden Knights had played with a lead. They scored early and often in the last three games, forcing the Sharks to chase them. They had a different perspective Thursday, chasing San Jose since Hertl’s goal 76 seconds into the game, the Sharks’ first lead since Game 1.
To the Golden Knights’ credit, that wasn’t what lost them the game. Vegas could not generate good scoring chances in the first two periods and by the time it did in the third, goalie Martin Jones arrived for the first time since the series opener.
There’s no nice way to describe Jones’ play in the middle three games of the series, a topic covered ad nauseam. Thursday was his finest outing of the series, batting away all 28 of the Golden Knights' even-strength shots. He allowed two goals, both on the power play: one a bizarre bounce from Reilly Smith in the first period and a Marchessault five-hole shot in the third.
He also made one of the series’ best saves, denying Smith’s shot after a perfect 2-on-1 rush less than a minute after Marchessault's goal cut the lead to 3-2. William Karlsson flitted Smith the puck, and Jones stretched from the left of the crease to the far right and got his pad on Smith’s shot.
That would have tied the game at 3. Instead, it maintained the Sharks’ lead and allowed the Sharks to put the game away later in the third on Hertl’s power-play goal.
“They were desperate, they played hard and they got pucks through,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Jones made some key saves at key times.”
On Hertl's power play, it wasn’t the penalty call that frustrated the Golden Knights. There’s no doubt that Marchessault’s stick caught Logan Couture up high — his teeth scattered on the ice like dice at a craps table — but it was the initial no-call that frustrated Vegas.
Couture went right to the room, but no official raised his arm for the penalty. After they huddled during the stoppage, they pulled Marchessault off the bench and into the box.
Hertl scored 15 seconds later, the kill shot that put the game out of reach.
“I don’t get it,” Marchessault said. “I didn’t see what happened honestly, I was so surprised I was getting a penalty there.”
The Sharks’ stars shined in a way they haven’t since Game 1 eight days ago. Hertl had two goals in the game, Erik Karlsson had two assists, Couture scored and Joe Pavelski iced it with an empty-netter.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights’ engine for the first four games was absent. Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Paul Stastny, who combined for 28 points in the series, were without a point and Marc-Andre Fleury allowed three goals on the Sharks’ first 13 shots.
“Their top players just made that extra play on their goals,” Pacioretty said. “That’s what they’ve done for so many years and tonight they were able to connect and execute.”