Sorry, Pittsburgh, but Martin Jones rained all over your parade

ByPierre LeBrun ESPN logo
Friday, June 10, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- With thousands of fans outside the building ready for the party of a lifetime, Martin Jones shut out the lights. Sorry Pittsburgh, not on this night.

"Just unbelievable," San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton said after his goalie's heroic performance in a 4-2, Game 5 victory on Thursday over the Pittsburgh Penguins that extended San Jose's season.

"You know, he's been doing it all year. Just not tonight, he does it every game for us. He's just a stud for us."

With his counterpart, Matt Murray, drawing comparisons to Ken Dryden because of their similarly magnificent rookie playoffs, it was Jones channeling his inner Johnny Bower, his 44 saves the most in a Stanley Cup finals regulation game since the former Toronto Maple Leafs great made 43 in Game 2 of the 1967 finals.

So, there's that.

"Yeah, that was unbelievable," Sharks defenseman Justin Braun said. "He's calm, he doesn't flinch, he doesn't go after guys, he doesn't lose his cool. He's always tapping us on the pads saying we did a good job, and he's usually bailing us out. He was great to watch tonight, but we've got to give him a little more help."

This was the goalie GM Doug Wilson was confident existed if ever given a chance to escape Jonathan Quick's shadow with the Los Angeles Kings and become a starter. With the threat of an offer sheet lurking in the air, Wilson's shrewd move on June 30, 2015, to get Jones out of Boston just four days after the Bruins had traded for him from the Kings continues to grow in unreal importance with each playoff victory.

Still, it's a trade without guarantees, goalies being so hard to predict. But as the season went on, the Sharks saw a true No. 1 emerge.

"I think right away you recognized his composure, how calm and cool he was even in that situation," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said. "Then the big question was whether there was a competitive edge there with that composure. That's always the million-dollar question. We started the season, it didn't start as smoothly for any of us as we wanted. I mean, we were winning one, losing one, including him. Just kept battling and battling. Kept throwing him out there, he kept finding a way. I think we all recognized then that he had that competitive edge too, that is critical."

In these playoffs, he has faced Quick, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues all in matchups many felt favored the opposing team, in large part because Jones' body of work was thinner.

"He's been playing like this for a long time, regular season, playoffs," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "A lot of people unfortunately don't get to see him, us being on the West Coast. He's been unbelievable for us."

Added Sharks captain Joe Pavelski: "We've seen him play tremendous all year for us and tonight he was great. There were a lot of shots. He stopped the first one, but he made that second save point blank, so it really kept us going and allowed us to keep playing. He was tremendous tonight."

The second-period save on Nick Bonino was the best, but don't ask Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to rank them.

"My favorite was all 44 because if he doesn't save [any] of them, it goes in," said Vlasic, strong again on this night as he battled Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Was it the best goaltending performance against Pittsburgh all playoffs?

"I don't know," said Crosby, who had another strong night. "I feel like he made some big saves, but I feel like there was some pucks there that beat him and didn't go in. I guess if you add everything up, maybe that's the case. But I feel like we still had our chances."

A lot of people have discounted Jones' Stanley Cup experience with the Kings because it mostly involved opening the bench door. But don't underestimate the education one gets still being part of a champion, even as a cursory member. It's important, in particular seeing how Quick went about his business. That in itself is something Jones is drawing upon now.

"We're pretty different goaltenders. But just watching him, how he competes, he's one of the best playoff goalies around," Jones said. "Yeah, I watched him compete, how he kind of elevated his game in the playoffs. That's something you try to emulate."

He's doing a good job of it. With a .933 save percentage in the finals, Jones is doing his best to buy time for the rest of his squad to find its way. And there are signs they just might be.

Pavelski, Brent Burns and Couture all scored their first goals of the series; Burns' and Couture's were particularly impactful. If this means the big boys for San Jose are back, this series could very well have seven games written all over it.

First, a Sunday night (8 ET) Game 6 in a Shark Tank that's going to be rocking.

The Sharks will hope to score first for a second game in a row, their 2-0 lead -- even if short-lived Thursday night -- was a must for a team that hadn't led in the entire series.

"Early on getting those two goals, it's well documented we haven't played with the lead all series," Thornton said. "So it was nice getting those two goals. It was the start we needed."

And they got the goaltending to make it count.

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