SAN JOSE – Were it not for the previous playoff meeting between the Sharks and Kings, the principal subplot headed into the 2016 rematch would be blatantly obvious. And it’s a bit of a strange situation, frankly.
When the Kings erased a three-games-to-none hole in the first round two years ago, claiming Game 7 at SAP Center in decisive fashion, Martin Jones was celebrating the Los Angeles win, and, indirectly, the lowest point in Sharks franchise history.
Jones didn’t have much in a role in that series, seeing mop-up duty for Jonathan Quick in a Game 1 Sharks triumph, but he was still a vital part of Los Angeles’ success that year.
Has that series ever come up in his first season in San Jose?
“They’ve mentioned it maybe, but I don’t think they’re holding it against me,” Jones said in late March.
In fact, that series hammered home with Jones a valuable lesson headed into his first playoffs as an NHL starting goaltender on Thursday in his old stomping grounds: there are highs and lows throughout a long run. The Kings experienced a low of getting significantly spanked in Game's 1 and 2 at SAP Center and losing Game 3 at home in overtime, before the tremendous high of reeling off four straight wins on their way to an eventual Stanley Cup.
“Even the fashion that we had lost the first two games here, you can always come back,” Jones said. “It’s first to four. Stick with it, and you’ve got to finish out every single game.”
Jones had some peaks and valleys throughout his first season with the Sharks, too. He quickly established himself as the undisputed number one early in the season, setting a franchise shutout streak of 234:33 from Oct. 7-16. His numbers got progressively worse in November and December, though, and there was some concern that the heavy workload was getting to him.
The Sharks didn’t have a reliable backup at the time, either, as Alex Stalock was never able to locate his game. It was Jones or bust.
The low point for the Sharks – and for Jones, probably, as well – was a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 2 in which he was pulled after two periods. After that game, Jones was 16-12-2 with a middling 2.52 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, and it looked like it might be another playoff-free spring in the Bay Area.
But then came a rare five-day break in the schedule, followed by a 2-1 home loss to the Red Wings in a game in which San Jose arguably deserved a better fate. That was followed by a 7-0 thrashing of the Maple Leafs on Jan. 9.
Beginning with that game, a 28-save shutout, Jones posted a glistening stat line of 21-10-2 with a 2.05 GAA and .924 SP to close out the regular season.
“I don’t know if it was the rest, or just getting some good practice time in. There was a game against Detroit that we ended up losing 2-1, but that’s kind of where I felt like I started playing a little bit better. That was probably a turning point,” he said.
“Even when I was struggling, I didn’t think I was far off. Everybody goes through parts of the season like that, where the puck just doesn’t seem to hit you.”
Nearly everyone who speaks about Jones, whether it’s his former teammates in Los Angeles or his current ones in San Jose, mentions the goalie’s even-keeled demeanor. Joe Pavelski joked on Tuesday that the only time he’s ever seen Jones get mad is “occasionally in a card game.”
That’s a trait gets filtered through the rest of the lineup, according to the captain.
“That attitude that you see, that’s what we feel out there,” Pavelski said. “I think that’s helped our team, that’s helped our defense, it’s done a lot of good things. When we had breakdowns earlier, he was there many times.”
“He’s been great all year for us, making key saves, a lot of big saves throughout the whole season,” Patrick Marleau said. “Very calm, [just] goes about his job.”