The city of Pittsburgh was ready for a party Thursday night, but San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones was determined to single-handedly put it a stop to it.
His teammates are fortunate that he did.
Thanks to a stunning 44-save performance from Jones and a three-point night from Logan Couture, the Sharks were able to pick up a 4-2 victory over the Penguins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and send the series back to San Jose for Game 6 on Sunday night.
Five games in we have a pretty good feel for the way this series is being played. The Penguins have been the better team. They have played better. They have generated more shots on goal and have created more scoring chances. The only reason it is still going is because of the play of the goalies, Jones in particular.
Given that, the path for a Sharks comeback has always been based on the play of their goalie. He has been their best player in the series, and has helped keep every game close as the Penguins have dominated the shot chart by an incredible 179-120 margin through five games, including a 46-22 edge in Game 5 alone.
In the two games the Sharks have won Jones has had to stop 84 out of 88 shots, stopping at least 40 shots both times.
It has not been a matter of the Sharks keeping things to the outside and making life easy for their goalie. He has had to make some stellar saves along the way, with perhaps none being better than this pad save on Nick Bonino late in the second period as the Sharks were clinging to their one-goal lead.
The only two goals gave up Thursday were on shots that bounced in off of bodies in front, with Evgeni Malkin's power-play goal bouncing off a Sharks defender and the second goal just 22 seconds later going in off of Carl Hagelin. Everything he managed to get a clean look at, he stopped. And when he didn't, he had a little bit of luck on his side when a Phil Kessel shot -- just after the tying goal when the Penguins were swarming around the net -- rang off of both goal posts behind him.
When it comes to winning and losing hockey games there can be nothing more impactful than goaltending, and we saw why Thursday night. While Jones was doing his part to put his teammates on his back and steal the game at his end of the ice, Penguins goalie Matt Murray had an absolutely miserable start to the game that saw him give up three goals on seven shots as part of that wild first period, including on two of the first three shots of the game just three minutes in.
Those two performances were enough to completely swing the game in San Jose's favor.
At this point in the series it is pretty clear that the Penguins' skaters are outplaying the Sharks' skaters, while Jones is outplaying his counterpart at the other end of the ice.
For the Penguins, it is similar to the way the Eastern Conference finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning played out. They were clearly the better team but the goaltending was nearly the difference. They have to hope they can continue getting enough looks and enough chances that they finally break down the wall that Jones is building in his crease just as they did with Andrei Vasilevskiy.
For the Sharks, they will probably have to hope Jones has two more games like Game 5 in him.