Joe Pavelski (center) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal during Game Seven of the Second Round of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 8, 2019 in San Jose, Calif.
The San Jose Sharks rallied around Joe Pavelski’s absence to win Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series.
He did the work himself in Game 7 of the second round.
The Sharks’ captain returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing more than two weeks with an injury, and he promptly scored a goal and recorded an assist in the team’s 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. The victory sends the Sharks on to the Western Conference final, where they face the St. Louis Blues for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
It was an emotional return for the 34-year-old center, a veteran of the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games and captain of the U.S. team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
On April 23, the Sharks’ looked dead in the water. The opposing Vegas Golden Knights held a 3-0 lead midway through the third period in their Game 7 showdown, and then Pavelski was taken down hard by a crosscheck off a faceoff. Visibly woozy and with his head bloodied, Pavelski had to be helped off the rink in front of a stunned home crowd.
The silver lining for San Jose was that the play resulted in a five-minute major penalty, and by the time it was over the Sharks had taken a 4-3 lead. They ultimately won 5-4 in overtime to advance to the second round.
“The boys, they got together and said, this is for Pavs,” Sharks teammate Joe Thornton said after that game. “We love him and it was just a matter of will, and we willed that one for him.”
With Pavelski sidelined due to a concussion, the Sharks and Avalanche traded the first six games of their second-round series, leading to Game 7 on Wednesday in San Jose.
The captain made his long-awaited return on home ice, sending the SAP Center crowd into a frenzy when he opened the scoring six minutes into the game on a redirection. He later assisted on Tomas Hertl’s goal and drew an interference penalty that led to a third goal — all in the first period.
From there, the Sharks just had to hold on.
“What do you say?” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “He’s a special player and a special guy.”
The @SanJoseSharks rally around @jpav8's return and jump out to an early lead, then withstand a third period flurry from the Avalanche to earn their spot in the Western Conference Final against the @StLouisBlues.— NHL (@NHL) May 9, 2019
Relive another #Game7 thriller ⬇ pic.twitter.com/PywjMjl3rP
Said Pavelski: “I got to watch these guys play for six games. They gave a lot of motivation for me. They were there for me. I wanted to come out and give them a good game as well. There wasn’t going to be one guy who won this game and there wasn’t. It was a big group effort out there.”
The Sharks are now four wins away from the second Stanley Cup Final in team history. Pavelski also played a leading role in getting the team to its first championship series in 2016, where San Jose fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In knocking out the Avalanche, Pavelski helped eliminate his 2010 Olympic teammate Erik Johnson. On the other side of the bracket, 2014 U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk leads an upstart Carolina Hurricanes team against the Boston Bruins, a team featuring two-time Olympian David Backes.
The conference finals begin Thursday night in Boston, with the Sharks hosting the Blues for their Game 1 on Saturday.