All eyes will be on the potential return of Joe Pavelski and the need for the scoring as the San Jose Sharks face their fourth elimination game of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Colorado Avalanche’s 4-3 win in Game 6 forced a series-deciding Game 7 back at the SAP Center on Wednesday at 6 p.m. After Monday night’s loss,
Logan Couture said:

“We felt we could win this game. We just needed a little bit more. [Martin Jones] made some big-time saves for us, we just needed more people involved in the game.”

If Pavelski returns in San Jose’s second Game 7 of the playoffs, the presence of the team captain could help inspire the Sharks to close out the series.

After Pavelski was injured in Game 7 versus the Vegas Golden Knights, not much was seen of the San Jose’s leading goal-scorer until 11 days later, during Game 5. As the Sharks lead 2-1 with 12:29 left in the third period, a roar from the crowd overtook the “Shark Tank” during a stoppage in play. Couture said:

“There was a loud cheer, so I figured something was going on, took a look up at the jumbotron and there he was.”

On the big screen was Pavelski, smiling, waving a rally towel over his head and hyping up the crowd. Pavelski suffered a serious injury in Game 7 versus Vegas. That night, the sight of him bleeding on the ice sparked a miraculous comeback, as the Sharks scored four times on a five-minute major power play.

After the team captain rallied the crowd, and the team, from the sidelines, the Sharks closed out the win to take the series lead. Couture said:

“I didn’t know, no one knew he was going to do that so that was as loud as this building gets. That was reminiscent of Game 7 against Vegas, how loud that was. So pretty cool moment, i had goosebumps on the ice.”

The morning after, May 5, Pavelski spoke to the media for the first time since his injury. Pavelski said:

“I was excited to get out there. Once I got out there and saw the crowd, and the energy, got into it, you realize how much you miss it. I knew I missed it. But these fans are special to me and this group. They always have been. To get out there and see them again and hear ’em…it’s a great time of year to be playing hockey.”

Pavelski, who said he suffered a cut along with concussion symptoms, has been making promising steps in returning to the Sharks lineup. He has been labeled as day-to-day. While San Jose’s leading goal-scorer did not play in Game 6, he travelled with the team and participated in the morning skate. Joe Thornton said:

“I know he’s been through so much the last 10 days or so, and to see him back on the ice, it’s a good feeling for all of us. Just being back with the boys and skating again, I think he’s feeling much, much better. I know the guys love seeing him out there.”

Pavelski has scored two goals this postseason. It will be hard to forget his series-opening goal against Vegas, when a Brent Burns shot deflected off his face. Despite losing teeth due to that play, Pavelski showed why he’s the team captain when he continued to play after adding a jaw protector to his helmet. Pavelski’s other goal was an empty-netter to seal a Game 5 win against the Golden Knights.

While Pavelski has not produced much in his limited time this postseason, he has racked up 60 game-winning goals with an additional 12 in the playoffs, throughout his 13-year NHL career. Throughout the 2018-19 season, he tallied a team-high six game-winners. His clutch scoring potential on San Jose’s top line could help close out the series. Head coach Pete DeBoer said on Tuesday:

“He’s day to day. He’s getting better every day. We’re going to make a decision on game day whether he’s going to be available or not.”

The Sharks did not have a morning skate prior to Game 7, so it will be not be clear if Pavelski will be playing until closer to game time.

Beat by depth

Whether or not Pavelski returns, the Sharks will need help from their other forwards. In a surprising turn of events in Game 6, Colorado’s depth forwards were the difference-makers. After the game, Couture said:

“Their depth guys beat us tonight. We got beat by J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost. Second, third, fourth line.”

Colorado’s team captain Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime game-winner, though it was Compher that kept the Avalanche in the lead. Compher scored two goals and assisted on Jost’s goal.

San Jose’s forwards did not record a goal. Only defensemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic found the back of the net. DeBoer said:

“If there was one disappointing area, I thought the forwards could have found a way to do a little bit more. As a group, they have to be better for us if we’re going to move on here.”

Only San Jose’s first line got on the score sheet. Timo Meier and Gustav Nyquist both had two assists while Couture earned one. While San Jose’s third line of Thornton, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen dominated in Game 1 by combining for five points, only Sorensen has recorded a point in the past five games.

Containing MacKinnon

Vlasic will probably not produce another multi-goal game to save the Sharks, especially while his focus is on shutting down Colorado’s leading goal-scorer, Nathan MacKinnon.

San Jose has made a point to shut down MacKinnon by limiting his time and space, which Vlasic has played a huge part of. Couture said:

“I thought [Vlasic] has had an incredible playoffs, he’s taken his game to a whole other level. He’s one of, if not the best, shutdown d-men and he’s shown it in these playoffs.

The speedy MacKinnon has been held to zero points through Games 5 and 6. The Sharks have made frustrating through physical play MacKinnon a team-effort. Head coach Pete DeBoer said:

“The game plans been the same the whole series. Just trying to take time and space, know when he’s on the ice, defend him as a five man unit.”

While the game plan has been the same throughout the series, Game 5 was the first time where it was clearly effective. MacKinnon’s eight game point streak, with six goals and seven assists, in the 2019 Playoffs came to an end. In the first four games against the Sharks, he had put 20 shots on goal. DeBoer said:

“I think we’ve done a good job, I think it’s a testament to how great a player he is. We held him off last night, but the other games he’s produced, even with that type of attention.”

MacKinnon has three goals and two assists so far this series. In Game 5, the Sharks blocked four of his shots, made him miss three shots and forced two giveaways from him. While MacKinnon produced five shots on goal in Game 6, he had four shots blocked and was again kept off the scoresheet. Couture said:

“Our game plan against him is try not to let him play in the offensive zone. That’s pretty difficult to do … I thought for the most part, we limited his chances to the outside. But he’s still going to get looks, he’s such a good player.”

World-class players

Two of San Jose’s centers have emerged as serious threats this postseason. Couture leads the entire playoffs with 14 points and nine goals. Tomáš Hertl is close behind, in the No. 2 spot with eight goals. DeBoer said:

“They’re world-class players. I think Couture has been for a while, I think Hertl has taken his game to another level here, this year.”

Couture lead the 2015-16 playoffs with 30 points, when the Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. In Game 3 versus the Avalanche, he lead the Sharks to a 4-2 win with his first career playoff hat trick.

Hertl is coming off of a career-high 74 point season. He has also set a new playoff career-high, with 12 points in the postseason. DeBoer said:

“He’s been healthy for the first time in his career in a long time. He’s at that age now where he’s coming into his prime and he’s turned into a world-class player.”

Hertl scored both of San Jose’s Game 5 goals, depositing a rebound for the game-winner and his second ever multi-goal playoff game.

With the potential for MacKinnon to simply take over a game, the Sharks may also need a big game from one of their players. Whether it is an emotional return by Pavelski, the scoring-leader of Couture, the breakout star of Hertl or an unlikely hero like Barclay Goodrow, the Sharks will likely need their offense to produce in order to move on.

Brian Truong

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