I guess it’s hard to say whether Pete DeBoer actually believed that Sharks goaltender Martin Jones could win them back-to-back elimination games, or if he just had even less faith that shaky back-up Aaron Dell could pull it off. But regardless of if the Sharks did it because they had to, or because they truly trusted him between the pipes, San Jose has forced a Game 7 in their first-round series against Vegas, and they have Jones to thank. In over 90 minutes of Game 6 action, Jones stopped a franchise-record 58 shots and only let one in. And even though the Sharks managed 30 fewer shots than their opponents, Jones was a levee against a Vegas storm until Tomas Hertl was finally able to pull a shorthanded winner out of practically nowhere.
Jones, the 29-year-old goalie, had been pulled from two of the series’ first four games—lasting only seven minutes of Game 2 and one period of Game 4. And on the year, his save percentage was a mere .896. Everyone knew heading into the playoffs that Jones was the Sharks’ biggest weakness, and as the Knights took a 3-1 series lead, it looked like Jones was going to drag the second-best team in the West out of contention even earlier than the Sharks typically get knocked out.
But Jones in Game 5 was very good, saving 30 of 32 to give the Sharks enough cushion for what became a 5-2 win. This clutch save on Reilly Smith when the game was 3-2 with less than eight minutes remaining was the big one, a play on an odd-man rush that Jones absolutely couldn’t have made in his more chaotic outings.
As the series returned to Vegas—a city where Jones had been pulled in half of his eight career starts—the doubt still lingered. This NHL highlight video from last night begins with a pregame analyst saying, “If you talk about mental scar tissue, Martin Jones has some,” which is basically the last thing you want to hear about your starting goaltender in a Game 6.
But after four seasons with the team, Jones has done something to endear himself to his club—something to spark enough loyalty that a few terrible games won’t get him shoved aside.
“They should have a stat that says ‘belief in your goaltender,’” DeBoer said the day before the playoffs started. “If they had that stat, Jonesy would be batting 1.000 with our group. There’s not been one mumble or whisper within our group about him or our confidence in him to get the job done.”
On Sunday night, Jones showed the world what the Sharks claim they’ve seen all along. He was sharp and quick and, most of all, he had tremendous endurance to hold up through such a one-sided marathon of a game. The Sharks can’t let Vegas dominate play this much in Game 7, but for Game 6, it turned out alright. And now, there’s no doubt that Jones is The Guy as the team tries to avenge its second-round loss to the Knights last year.
“The confidence in this room in Martin Jones has not wavered once,” Logan Couture said after the win. “I’m sure the media has written and talked about what they wanted, but the main thing is the confidence in this room never wavered.”