The San Jose Sharks forward had been out for the Western Conference Second Round against the Colorado Avalanche with a concussion and a severe cut on his head. But he had been feeling better, had traveled to Denver and had skated hard that morning.
So when Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog scored in overtime Monday to force Game 7 …
"It was kind of like a switch went on," Pavelski said.
[RELATED: Sharks defeat Avalanche in Game 7 | Complete series coverage]
It was the next chapter in what is becoming a storybook Stanley Cup Playoffs for San Jose.
Not only did Pavelski make an emotional return in Game 7 at SAP Center on Wednesday, he had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win that sent the Sharks to the conference final for the second time in four years. They will play the St. Louis Blues, with Game 1 here Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
"I wish I could tell you what he's gone through from seeing it firsthand," center Logan Couture said. "You wouldn't believe that he's playing right now, I'll just say that. He played unbelievable."
Video: Pavelski sparks Sharks to Game 7 win vs. Avalanche
Pavelski sustained his injuries in Game 7 of the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights on April 23. With the Sharks down 3-0 in the third period and facing elimination, he won a face-off, took a cross-check to the chest, stumbled off-balance, got bumped and fell. His head hit the ice, and he lay motionless.
Teammates Joe Thornton and Evander Kane helped him off the ice with a trainer, Thornton holding a towel to his bleeding wound. Thornton told his teammates to score three goals during the ensuing five-minute major. They scored four. Pavelski could hear the goal horn in the training room as he was getting eight staples in his head. The Sharks went on to win 5-4 in overtime.
Pavelski's teammates said they wanted to play long enough for their captain and leading regular-season goal-scorer to return, and the San Jose community rallied around him. His wife, Sarah, told the San Jose Mercury News that an ice cream shop in their neighborhood posted a sign that said, "Get well soon, Joe." Pavelski and his 8-year-old son, Nathan, are regulars.
"Those little things have made us realize how deep our roots here actually are," she told the newspaper.
Video: COL@SJS, Gm7: Pavelski speaks following Game 7 win
Concussions are not injuries you can gut through. A player must go through the return-to-play protocol issued by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association. Either he is cleared or not.
Pavelski said he started improving around Game 5 of this series and went through the steps.
"I had confidence that I could be back," Pavelski said. "You never really know. I haven't had many concussions throughout my years, and so they're all a little different. You know what? I've felt good for a little while now."
Pavelski skated at the Sharks' practice rink Wednesday morning, working on deflections in front of the net with defenseman Brent Burns, as usual. Couture asked if he was playing in Game 7. Pavelski smiled and said, "Yeah."
"I thought he was joking," Couture said. "And then he said, 'No, seriously. I'm playing.' I said, 'OK. Let's do it.' And he went out and did it."
SAP Center erupted in an ear-splitting roar when Pavelski was introduced in the starting lineup. Then he stood in the slot, held out his stick and scored a trademark goal, deflecting a Burns shot into the net. The Sharks had a 1-0 lead 5:57 into the first period.
Video: COL@SJS, Gm7: Pavelski nets tip in return to lineup
"At first I didn't believe it," Couture said. "I had to check that it was him. And then, 'Wow.' Like I said, I didn't think he'd be playing. I don't think many people thought in this room that he would be playing in this series. So pretty special."
Pavelski blew a kiss, pumped his fist and let out a primal scream as the arena rocked.
"It was nice," Pavelski said, smiling. "I'm not going to lie. Come out, score early, get that shot of adrenaline, which was going since the drive in to the rink. The crowd was great. Yeah, it was fun."
But he wasn't done. He sent a pass from behind the goal line to center Tomas Hertl, who one-timed the puck into the net for a 2-0 lead at 11:35. Later in the period, the Sharks showed Pavelski on the scoreboard screen, noting he had a goal and an assist and was plus-2. Sitting on the bench, Pavelski looked up and pumped his fist. Another roar.
Video: Pavelski feeds Hertl for Sharks' second goal vs. Avs
"You're almost speechless," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think people in the building, a lot of them who saw the injury … I don't think you saw the recovery and what he went through and how questionable it was whether he would even be able to be out there tonight. It really was a coin toss. He obviously made the ultimate decision, and what an impact. What do you say? He's a special player, special guy."
Fifteen days after his teammates won a Game 7 for him, Pavelski wanted to help win a Game 7 for them, with them.
"I got to watch these guys play for six games, and you know, I think they gave a lot of motivation to me," Pavelski said. "They were there for me. I wanted to come out and give them a good game as well. It wasn't going to be one guy that was going to win this game, and it wasn't. It was a big group effort out there."
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