Wednesday, April 17, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Shortly before the Vegas Golden Knights’ home playoff opener Sunday evening, a man decked out in San Jose Sharks gear sat alone on a rock outside the back of T-Mobile Arena.
He was close enough to an entrance to likely feel reverberations from the venue’s blaring bass and presumably just biding time before going into Game 3 of the Pacific Division rivals’ first-round series. But would anyone blame him if he was contemplating fleeing the scene and getting as far away as possible?
And not because of the building’s decibel levels, but because of the building’s escalating history of horror for San Jose. If the Sharks felt haunted here before, they’ve transmogrified into fully possessed by failure this week.
The Golden Knights’ 5-0 win on Tuesday night, paired with an equally gruesome 6-3 lashing on Sunday, has the Sharks’ fate looking perilous as they trail 3-1 with the series heading back to San Jose for Thursday night’s Game 5.
“Tough game,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “Tough building.”
The Fortress? More like the Finning Factory.
T-Mobile Arena has become a spot where the Sharks come to sink, and ultimately a graveyard where their seasons suffocate.
OK, that might be a little premature.
The Sharks did fall to the Golden Knights in last year’s playoffs, but they have some life yet this year. Historically, 13 percent of teams overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But that would require San Jose winning in Las Vegas in a potential Game 6 on Sunday, which sounds almost outside the realm of possibilities. The Sharks fell to 2-7 all-time on the road against the Golden Knights on Tuesday, including being outscored by a total of 27 goals.
“Our building gives us a ton of energy,” said Max Pacioretty, who had two goals and two assists on Tuesday. “We’ve seen that time and time again.”
But it’s something different with the Sharks. Something bigger.
Martin Jones has started all but one of San Jose's games at T-Mobile Arena in net, and only made it through half of them. He couldn’t even make it halfway through Game 4.
DeBoer pulled Jones to start the second period after he gave up two goals on seven shots, including the first look he faced when Pacioretty roped a wrister past him 71 seconds into the game. Problem is, backup Aaron Dell isn’t much better.
Dell also allowed the first shot he saw to get past him, but alas, a puck from the stick of William Karlsson hit off the post. Dell went on to give up three goals on 20 shots.
“You can’t put this all on our goalies because you have to score too,” DeBoer said. “We have to find a way to solve Fleury. This isn’t all on our goalies. We wouldn’t have won tonight anyway because we didn’t score any goals.”
Nothing ever goes smoothly for the Sharks in Las Vegas. Even their two franchise wins came by a single goal in games where the Golden Knights arguably outplayed them.
Read between the lines and DeBoer thought the Sharks were the ones that did the outplaying for much of Tuesday’s affair. It’s hard to argue against considering San Jose held a 26-14 edge in shots on goal through two periods, with Vegas coach Gerard Gallant saying he wasn’t pleased with the performance through 40 minutes despite a 3-0 lead.
The lack of production to show for controlling the action clearly got to the Sharks late as they lost their composure and began to instigate the Golden Knights at every opportunity. Two of their key players, Evander Kane and Timo Meier, were ejected with game misconduct penalties in the third period.
“I think frustration set in, but the series isn’t over by any means,” Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore said. “They’re going to come out hard back in San Jose, and we have to be ready for their pushback.”
It’s difficult to keep in mind after these last two games, but San Jose is every bit as talented as Vegas. There’s a reason this was a pick’em series.
The Sharks are a would-be Stanley Cup contender shackled, for the second straight year, by a complete inability to decipher the Golden Knights — especially when playing in their building, a building that was almost entirely black and gold for Game 4.
Visiting fan bases have typically crept into the Fortress throughout the playoffs fairly well, but there appeared to be a record-low in opposing colors out of the 18,567 fans who attended Game 4.
Sharks’ supporters must have already seen enough to know how things go at T-Mobile Arena.