SAN JOSE, Calif. - In their biggest game of the playoffs so far, the San Jose Sharks came through with one of their most complete performances of the season.
Faced with the prospect of Wednesday's game potentially being their last of the season on home ice, the Sharks scored twice in the first period and received a sterling effort from goalie Martin Jones to help beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-0 in Game 4 to level the second round best-of-seven playoff series at two wins apiece.
Marcus Sorensen, Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski all scored and Jones finished with 34 saves for his sixth career playoff shutout, as the Sharks - who felt their play has been improving all series - beat the Pacific Division champion Golden Knights in regulation for the first time this season.
Game 5 is Friday in Las Vegas, and Game 6 will be Sunday back at SAP Center with a start time still to be announced.
Jones had 23 saves in the first two periods, including a sprawling stop on Jonathan Marchessault with 5:32 left in the second period, looking somewhat like his counterpart, the notably athletic and exuberant Marc-Andre Fleury.
Later, with less than 20 seconds to go in the second as the Sharks were killing a tripping penalty to Logan Couture, Jones stopped quality chances by William Karlsson and Marchessault, almost in succession. After the horn sounded to end the second period, Marchessault, with the net empty, swung his stick at Jones' water bottle as a sign of his frustration.
The Golden Knights top line of Marchessault, Karlsson and Reilly Smith had accounted for a combined 19 points in the first three games, but were held off the score sheet completely for the first time in the series.
At the other end, the Sharks got to Fleury in the first period with a pair of pretty goals to take their first two-goal lead of the series.
It was the breakthrough they had been looking for.
At the 15:37 mark, Sorensen won a battle for the puck in the corner to the left of Fleury with Vegas forward Alex Tuch and circled to this right. Using Eric Fehr as a screen, Sorensen stick-handled to the middle of the ice, faked a shot to freeze Fleury, then took a stride to his left and buried his fourth goal of the playoffs for a 1-0 San Jose lead.
The Sharks then scored what might have been a gut-punch of a goal with six seconds left before the end of the period.
Donskoi picked the puck up deep in the Sharks' zone, darted up the ice, cut to the middle before he crossed the Golden Knights' blue line and fired a shot that got through the legs of and beat Fleury high on the glove side.
The Sharks killed an interference penalty at the 16:43 mark to Mikkel Boedker, who set a slightly more obvious pick than Fehr did on Sorensen's goal. Nate Schmidt hit the post during the ensuing two minutes with a shot from just inside the blue line.
Donskoi returned to the series after missed Monday's Game 3 with a lower-body injury. Wednesday morning, he had been labeled a game-time decision by Sharks coach Pete DeBoer.
Joe Thornton, too, had been labeled a game-time decision by DeBoer on Wednesday morning. Although Thornton took part in pregame warmups - as has been his custom since the postseason began - he did not take part in pregame line rushes.
When asked Wednesday morning if he was playing in Game 4, Thornton - unambiguously - said no. Thornton has not played since Jan. 23 when he was injured at SAP Center in a mid-ice collision with Boedker in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. In recent weeks, Thornton has said he was continually feeling better, but still had no timeline for a return.
Thornton went through a full practice last Friday in Las Vegas, even wearing a top-line white jersey, along with Pavelski and Evander Kane. Thornton said afterward that to be ready to play, he still needed to improve at stopping and starting.
"The good thing is it's getting better, but yeah, nothing's changed," Thornton said then.
Before the series, Thornton told Bay Area News Group that he would only return if he felt he could help the team. He also mentioned before the playoffs began that he didn't want to come back to the lineup, only to have to come out against because the knee was bothering him.
The Sharks finished the season with a 12-6-1 record after the trade deadline and then they swept the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the playoffs.
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