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SAN JOSE — Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and coach Pete DeBoer reiterated Friday there was no discussion before the NHL’s trade deadline about acquiring another goalie as an insurance policy for Martin Jones for the stretch drive and the start of the playoffs.
This is the first time that the San Jose Sharks have been back to the Conference Final since 2016, where they faced … the St. Louis Blues, winning the series in six games to make their first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. The Blues had home ice in that series, during the year of San Joses road ice advantage. The Sharks took two of three games at Enterprise Center that series.
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“Late in the season, he and I and (goalie coach) Johan Hedberg had discussions that he was maybe playing a little passively,” DeBoer said on the eve of Game 1 of the Western Conference final between the Sharks and the St. Louis Blues. “I think he got a little over-aggressive maybe early in the Vegas series, then he found that happy medium, and it coincided with us giving him better protection around him.
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“One small technical thing, but he’s been great the whole time I’ve been here. There was never one discussion about trading for a goalie, there was never any discussion about starting somebody else. He’s been our guy since day one.”
Jones, of course, had a below average regular season by his standards, posting a .896 save percentage and a 3.14 against average in 62 games. The Sharks bet that Jones would rediscover the playoff form that allowed him to post save percentages of .923, .935 and .928 each of the last three seasons.
But his play after the Feb. 25 trade deadline, and for the first four games of the first round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, didn’t do much to allay concerns. In 15 games from late February to early April, Jones went 7-7-0 with an .894 save percentage, and was pulled for two of the first four games against Vegas.
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But Jones has been solid since Game 5 of the first round, going 7-4 with a .928 save percentage, basically giving the Sharks a chance to win every game.
“He’s our goalie. We believe in him,” Wilson said. “He took us to the final (in 2016). When a coach believes in a player like that, the players believe in him, it’s a tight dressing room. So there was never any doubt in Martin Jones.
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“I don’t think there was any doubt in any of our minds that Jonesy was capable of doing it. The combination of him and (Aaron Dell), we were very comfortable with that.”
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Wilson was asked about the play of Erik Karlsson and his possible long-term future with the Sharks. Karlsson is averaging 25 minutes and 23 seconds of ice time this postseason, which includes three overtime games, and leads the NHL with 12 assists. Karlsson is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Wilson abhors talking about any contract negotiations and wasn’t giving any hints about where things stood with Karlsson.
“Our focus is on tomorrow’s game, nothing beyond that,” Wilson said. “That’s how this group works. They look forward to the challenge and the opportunities ahead of them. Anything beyond that, it’s not even on our horizon right now to talk about.”
About half of the rosters for the Sharks and the Blues are the same as they were three years ago when the two teams met in the Western Conference final, which San Jose won in six games. But there are significant differences. The Sharks feel they are a deeper and faster team with Evander Kane, Gus Nyquist, Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc now in top nine forward roles and Karlsson on the back end.
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The Blues are also different. Long gone are forwards Paul Stastny, David Backes and Troy Brouwer, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and goalie Brian Elliott, replaced by forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas, defenseman Vince Dunn and goalie Jordan Binnington. Dunn is 22 and Thomas is 19.
“The one thing I think when I look at St. Louis is they’ve done a real good job of integrating some of their young guys, impact young guys into their lineup,” DeBoer said. “I think you’ve got two totally different teams than you saw two or three years ago, other than a lot of the core players are the same.”
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