SAN JOSE (AP) — For years, the San Jose Sharks seemed to have all the ingredients necessary to win a Stanley Cup. With the possible exception of a goaltender who could steal a game when the rest of the team wasn’t in top form.
Martin Jones has been just that kind of goalie since coming to San Jose three years ago. He helped the Sharks make it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016; was their best player in a first-round loss to Edmonton a year ago; and played at an elite level once again during a first-round sweep against Anaheim this month.
“He’s just calm. Nothing really rattles him,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “This time of the season that goes such a long ways. You know you’re going to face a little adversity, you know you’re going to maybe have it in your own end at times and you need some saves and he’s always been there. Nothing’s really fazed him. As a team playing in front of a goalie like that, it gives you a lot of confidence.”
Few goalies have ever been better in the postseason than Jones, who has a 1.90 goals against average and .931 save percentage in 36 playoff contests heading into a second-round meeting against Vegas.
Jones has the lowest goals against average of any active goalie with at least 20 postseason games and ranks third all-time in playoff percentage, trailing only Braden Holtby (.932) and Tim Thomas (.933).
Having that rock on the back end provides comfort for the rest of the team, knowing Jones has the ability to erase any mistakes they make and will keep the Sharks in the game.
“It’s not just the saves, it’s the timing of the saves,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “When you make saves at key times or the right times of the game you have that confidence as a group to try to make more plays or take a chance here or there to score a goal, because you know if it’s the wrong decision that a lot of nights he has those guys’ back.”
Jones has been outstanding ever since joining the Sharks three years ago after beginning his career as Jonathan Quick’s backup in Los Angeles. The Kings traded him to Boston in June 2015 only to watch the Bruins almost immediately deal him to the rival Sharks for Sean Kuraly and a first-round draft pick.
The move paid off immediately as Jones quickly proved he had what it took to be a No. 1 goalie in the regular season and even better on the bigger stage of the playoffs.
He anchored the team on a run to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and was far and away San Jose’s top player in a six-game loss to Pittsburgh. He was outstanding again last year in a first-round loss to Edmonton and has been even better this year.
He earned a shutout in Game 1 against the Ducks, set a franchise playoff record with 45 regulation saves in Game 3, and helped seal the clincher with several point-blank stops against Corey Perry to protect a one-goal lead. He stopped 128 of 132 shots for a .970 save percentage in the series.
“He’s an all-star,” Couture said. “He’s a top goalie in the league, and I think that’s known now. He’s been great since he’s been a San Jose Shark.”
The understated Jones said he doesn’t concern himself with where he ranks among top goaltenders or who is in the opposing net, even if it’s a player as talented as Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 127 of 130 shots in a first-round sweep against the Kings.
Jones said he has plenty to worry about with the skaters on the Golden Knights.
“They’re a fast team. They come at you with all four lines, they forecheck hard,” he said. “They’re a tenacious hard-working team. We have to make sure we’re prepared properly and ready to go for the start of Game 1. They don’t give you any room to breathe really. They come at you hard.”
Jones’ career .931 save percentage is third best ever among goalies with at least 20 playoff games. He has allowed more than three goals in regulation just twice in 34 playoff starts.
Jones thrived on the big stage of the Stanley Cup Final two years ago against Pittsburgh when he was probably San Jose’s best player. Jones had a .932 save percentage for the series and had 44 saves in a 4-2 win in Game 5 that kept the Sharks alive.
SOMETHING TO WATCH FOR
Jones wasn’t at his best against Vegas this season, with a 3.32 goals against average and .899 save percentage. He was knocked out early in the second period of the first meeting after allowing three goals on 14 shots, and lost two other times. Jones did stop 24 of 25 shots in a 2-1 home win last month against the Golden Knights.