SAN JOSE, Calif. -- On the night when he just happened to turn 24, Sharks rookie Benn Ferriero had a Stanley Cup Playoff debut for the ages.
Ferriero watched all six Sharks' first-round playoff games from the press box after playing in just 33 NHL games during the regular season. But on Friday, Ferriero celebrated his birthday by scoring at 7:03 of overtime to give the Sharks a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal series.
Six times this season, Ferriero has made the nearly six-hour trip from San Jose to the Sharks' minor-league affiliate in Worcester, Mass. It comes with the territory as a seventh-round draft pick trying to stick with an NHL team that has plenty of depth.
A four-year player at Boston College, Ferriero said the biggest goal of his life before Friday was a triple-overtime winner against the University of New Hampshire in the Hockey East semifinals in 2008 when he was a junior. That's nothing to take lightly, but even Ferriero wasn't about to compare the goals.
Ferriero's goal came on just his eighth shift of the game. He played just 5:33 and received about 30 seconds notice from coach Todd McLellan that he was getting his first shift since there were 3 minutes left in the second period.
How did he stay prepared after not touching the ice for nearly an hour?
"I couldn't tell you," Ferriero said. "You have to be ready when called upon. I tried to stay loose, tried to stay engaged in the game. When you get your chance, you have to make the most of it."
Ferriero talked about what he would have considered a good debut.
"Do the little things. Bring some energy to the game and get in on the forecheck," Ferriero said. "You don't have to be flashy when you're out there."
Ferriero's winner wasn't a show of flash or skill. It was simply a wrist shot from the left circle that deflected off the shaft of Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart’s stick and through the legs of goaltender Jimmy Howard.
The goal was a product of the hard work of Logan Couture, who won a battle for a loose puck and allowed Ferriero a chance to fling his prayer of a shot toward Howard. It was somewhat fitting, considering Couture knows what Ferriero has been through this season.
Last season, Couture was the one making the endless trips from San Jose to Worcester, seven to be exact. Couture played just 25 regular-season games in the NHL last season, but managed to crack the Sharks' lineup for 15 playoff contests.
Couture played on a line with Ferriero in Worcester for most of last season, and they were reunited at times this season with the Sharks.
"I'm sure it was tough. When he was up here, he played well. It's just the way it goes," Couture said. "He got his chance to come back up here to prove to us and I'm sure the whole staff that he can contribute during the playoffs.
"I'm happy for him. If he was with any other organization, he'd probably spend the whole year in the NHL. For him to step in and score that huge goal, it's awesome."
Ferriero's chance for an overtime shift only came about because of a four-minute power play. McLellan sent him out there during the final seconds of the man-advantage because the forwards who usually take that ice time needed a breather after the extended power play.
As if inserting Ferriero into the lineup for Jamal Mayers wasn't a good enough move, McLellan took it to another level by sending him out there to score the game-winning goal.
"It wasn't a genius move. I can tell you that," McLellan said. "We just felt looking at their lineup and the way their third and fourth line played, we needed certain games. We really liked Benny Ferriero's game when he came up and contributed.
"Every time he comes up, he continues to play well. Sometimes he's a victim of circumstance when it comes to contracts and waivers. But when he's up here, he's playing extremely well and he's given us everything he has."
You've got to focus on playing good hockey. When we do that we give ourselves a chance to win games. Win games and then maybe we''ll have a chance at the end. You can't worry about something like (the division title) when we're not playing our best hockey down the stretch. We'll figure things out together the way we always do and get back on the right page.
— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews after loss to Flyers on Wednesday left them five points out of first place in Central Division