SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The San Jose Sharks went off the rails a bit soon after shutdown defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was hit with a puck that sidelined him for two-plus games.
The fact that the tenor of their first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights has changed dramatically ever since Vlasic returned healthy in Game 5 comes as no surprise to the Sharks and is a reason they are confident heading into Game 7 at home on Tuesday night.
“He’s a great defenseman. When they’re naming the Canadian Olympic team he’s one of the first names that comes out,” coach Peter DeBoer said Monday. “I don’t think it’s any surprise what a player of that level’s impact is on a team. … We missed him for a couple of games there. He’s made a big difference when he’s been back.”
Vlasic got hurt early in the second period of Game 2, after the Sharks had been the dominant team in a 5-2 victory in Game 1 and were tied at 3 in the second game. The Golden Knights scored the tiebreaking goal on a power play shortly after he left, starting a stretch where they outscored San Jose 13-3 in two-plus games to take a 3-1 series lead.
San Jose seemed to have no answer for Vegas’ line of Paul Stastny, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, who combined for 28 points in the first four games of the series.
That trio hasn’t recorded a single point the past two games, with Vlasic getting the bulk of the time defending them.
“Shutting down the top line. That’s my job,” he said. “You look at the last two games, if I keep them off the scoresheet I did my job.”
Vlasic almost always does just that, whether with the Sharks or on the Canadian national team. When San Jose went on a run to the Stanley Cup Final three years ago, it was Vlasic’s play against big scorers like Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli, Nashville’s Filip Forsberg and St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko that was a big reason why.
Those three potent forwards combined for one goal, one assist and a minus-18 rating against the Sharks in the 2016 playoffs with Vlasic and Justin Braun doing most of the work.
“He doesn’t get outside himself,” Braun said. “He’s always in the right position, great stick, knocking down pucks left and right. It’s just the consistency from him. He’s back to his old ways of shutting them down. That’s been huge.”
Vlasic broke up a three-on-one late in the second period of Sunday night’s 2-1 double-overtime win and then made the long pass that sent Tomas Hertl in for the game-winning short-handed goal in overtime.
It was just the typical performance his teammates expect from a player who is sometimes overshadowed on a team that includes two former Norris Trophy winners as the league’s top defensemen in the more offensively minded Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.
“That’s Steady Eddie. Just does everything well. Good skater, good stick, breaks up plays, smart with the puck. This is the Picks who has been here 12 or 13 years now,” forward Logan Couture said, referring to Vlasic’s nickname of Pickles.
“He’s not flashy. A lot of people think the best d-men in the world are the offensive guys who are flashy and score the highlight-reel goals and stuff like that. Picks is a solid defenseman. He does get up in the rush sometimes. But he’s more of the guy who will defend hard and make it hard for the other team to score.”