At 14:44 of the first and only overtime period, “The Big Pavelski” came through in the clutch, beating Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick with a wicked wrist shot to the top corner.
Sharks center Joe Pavelski now has three postseason OT goals in his young career, one that has started to gain national attention in recent season’s as that of a clutch performer. With his huge contributions to USA’s Olympic run last year, and a subsequent tremendous run in last year’s playoffs, Pavelski is no longer a stranger to the spotlight.
“Pavs is a tremendous player for us” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We count on him in so many situations. He scores huge goals for us.”
Don’t mistake his “third line center” designation as meaning not top-six caliber. Pavelski finished the regular season third on the Sharks with 66 points, behind only Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. The Wisconsin native plays on the Sharks’ No. 1 power-play unit and helps kill penalties.
His presence is one of the main reasons this series with the Kings will be a short one.
Granted the Kings were a bounce away from stealing the opening game from the Sharks, but there was a noticeable difference between the two sides. While Los Angeles held the momentum for various spurts of the second and third, their level of play didn’t come close to the amount of jump, tenacity and skill brought by San Jose when the momentum tilted the other direction.
Pavelski’s game-winning goal, which was set up by Shark forwards Ryane Clowe (who assisted on all three San Jose tallies) and Kyle Wellwood, came on a play the Sharks had created time and time again earlier in the game.
“We had five or six of those opportunities tonight” said Clowe, who was referring to the play when one skater drives the net and opens up a lane for the late attacker on the wide-side to jump up in the play for a great look on goal.
The Sharks did develop numerous chances of this variety throughout the course of the game and were creating tons of high quality opportunities when they were moving their feet.
At the other end, the Kings definitely tested Sharks’ netminder Antti Niemi, who came up with a handful of impressive saves, but neither of LA’s two goals came due to tremendous, hard working efforts.
Dustin Brown’s power-play goal—a brilliant one time shot that Niemi had no chance to stop—came due to a missed shot at the other end and the Sharks penalty killers got trapped deep. The Kings had a three-on-one the other way and promptly tied the score at one with Brown’s one-timer.
Later in the second, the Kings would once again come back from down a goal to equalize but this time around Justin Williams benefited from quite a fortuitous bounce. A wild carom behind the Sharks net kicked free to the Kings forward who quickly slid it home to an empty side of the net as Niemi had been guarding the opposite post. Goals don’t come much easier than that one, especially in the playoffs.
Give the Kings credit though as they were able to come fight back and squash the energy the Sharks brought out in the first period. Dany Heatley’s first period goal came just 28 seconds into the game and the Sharks dominated the rest of the opening stanza.
Yet in the second the Kings out-shot San Jose 16-9 and out-scored them 2-1. Even with Sharks’ star rookie Logan Couture regaining the lead for the Sharks quickly after Brown’s power-play marker, the Kings put together a brilliant second period overall.
Not only did they make that lone power-play opportunity count— something they will have to continue to do if they are to have any chance of winning this series— but they capitalized five-on-five when the Sharks were on their heels.
When the King sense a lull in the Sharks’ game is exactly when they are going to have to counter-punch. Without Kopitar, the Kings have to make their chances count, especially against the offensive juggernaut that is San Jose
With the game tied going into the third, LA clearly seemed more pleased with the outcome of the first 40 minutes than San Jose.
Unfortunately for the Kings, they would be unable to come away with the victory due to Pavelski’s OT heroics for San Jose but they did play a quality road game against a tough opponent.
“They played excellent tonight” said Sharks captain Joe Thornton of the Kings.
The Sharks, however, can be better. San Jose certainly was not excellent for a large portion of the game. They clearly are capable of carrying the momentum for much longer portions of games than they did Thursday night and most of their poor play in Game 1 was self-inflicted.
“We made it a little difficult on ourselves” stated Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray in talking about the lapse in play during the second and third periods.
Both teams showed the best they can offer in Thursday’s series opener but the best the Kings could offer was to wait and pick their moments when the Sharks weren’t playing
their top brand of hockey.
However when the Sharks were playing their best hockey they were dominating puck possession, leaving little chance for the Kings to create opportunities of their own.
In other words, when San Jose does play to their best brand of hockey, the Kings have little chance of keeping up and you can bet the Kings will see much more of the Sharks’ top level of play as the series continues.
Had the Kings stolen the opener, it would have given them a huge boost in their attempt to upset the Sharks, but with the loss, the future for the Kings in this postseason doesn’t look good.
Sharks defenseman Ian White left the game late in the first period after sustaining a hit to the back of the head from Kings forward Jarret Stoll. No penalty was assessed on the play but White didn’t return and the NHL will review the incident.
On the ensuing face-off, Sharks’ tough-guy Ben Eager dropped the gloves with the Kings’ Kyle Clifford.