Riding momentum, Sharks invade Vegas for Game 5

LAS VEGAS — It looked like it was going to be so easy.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights swept their first-ever playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings, then opened the second round of the Western Conference playoffs with a stunningly lopsided 7-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

But the Sharks won Game 2 in double overtime 4-3, and bounced back from a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 3 to blank the Golden Knights 4-0 on Wednesday night to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2.

Still, Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said it’s no time to push the panic button heading into Friday night’s Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena.

“We’re 2-2 and we’ve got home ice,” Gallant said Thursday afternoon. “It’s best two out of three. There’s no panic. We get ready to play.”

Vegas is 32-11-2 on its home ice this season. However, San Jose won the last meeting there and comes in with momentum, winning two of the last three games in the series.

“We’re playing in the second round of the playoffs,” Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “We’re playing a good team. It’s how we handle it. We had times in (Wednesday night’s shutout loss) that we played better in the game, but for 60 minutes they were the better team.”

Gallant took it one step further, questioning the effort of a few of his players in the loss.

“It’s about playing fast,” Gallant said. “When you don’t play fast, you give San Jose a chance to break out and that’s what happens. They played fast last night and we didn’t have a chance to break out. It all goes hand-in-hand.

“When our forecheck is good we play a real good game. … When 10 to 15 percent of the guys don’t show up and forecheck like all the other guys, that makes the biggest difference in the world. San Jose had 20 guys competing and playing hard last night, and that’s why they were the better team.”

One thing is for certain. The Sharks have adjusted to the speed of the Golden Knights after the Game 1 blowout and put a premium on forechecking. They’re an overtime loss in Game 3 away from leading the series, 3-1.

“There’s a bunch of pieces that go into that,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said of slowing down the Vegas attack. “Puck management is a big part of it. They feed off turnovers and transition as quickly as any team in the league. That’s obviously a huge part of it. Your attention to detail through the neutral zone, top of the circles in your end to top of the circles in the other end, has to be really good to handle that.”

“When we make them come through us, 200 feet through all five guys, we’re a lot tougher team to play against,” Sharks goalie Martin Jones said.

Jones, yanked after allowing five goals on 13 shots in the opener, bounced back to garner his sixth career playoff shutout on Wednesday night, stopping 34 shots in the process. San Jose also was a perfect 5-of-5 on the penalty kill.

“We’ve done a better job of not forcing plays through the neutral zone,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “If you don’t have it, just chip it and forecheck. That at least gives our defensemen a chance to get their guy and step up on them so they’re not flying through the neutral zone.”

Still, San Jose must find a way to win at least one more time at T-Mobile Arena, where a Game 7 would be played if needed on Tuesday, to advance to the Western Conference finals.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Vegas center Cody Eakin said of Wednesday night’s loss. “It’s 2-2. Two of the (remaining) three are at home. We have the advantage.”