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First Round

Pavelski bloodied but unbowed for Sharks in Game 1

Center shrugs off scoring goal with mouth, inspires teammates in win against Golden Knights

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE -- After the game, long after he'd scored a goal with his face, Joe Pavelski's mouth oozed blood.

Not that he wanted to discuss it.

"A little numb," the San Jose Sharks forward said, his lower lip fat and raw, his teeth a red mess. "We'll go get some dental work probably tonight and go from there. Enough with the dental questions."

What mattered to Pavelski was the Sharks defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 5-2 in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round at SAP Center on Wednesday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Golden Knights series coverage]

 

The Golden Knights had eliminated the Sharks from the playoffs in the second round last year, outscoring them 22-14 in six games. But on this night, at least, the Sharks were the ones who dominated, smothering the Golden Knights in all three zones, outshooting them 33-26.

"The win was great," Pavelski said. "It was everything we needed, I think. We got what we needed as far as commitment. I think we earned that one, and that's a good feeling in here."

No one was more committed than Pavelski, the captain.

Each time San Jose practices, Pavelski and defenseman Brent Burns take the ice first. Pavelski goes to the front of the net, Burns bombs shots from the point and Pavelski works on deflecting the puck out of midair. It's an incredible skill. Pavelski is perhaps the best in the NHL.

There is no traffic then, though. 

This time, on the power play in the first period, Pavelski skated to the front of the net when Burns gathered the puck at the right point. As Burns took a rising wrist shot, traffic converged in front of Pavelski and obscured his vision.

"Kind of looked like [Burns] was starting to release it, and I didn't even see it come off his stick," Pavelski said.

The puck struck Pavelski smack in the mouth and ricocheted past the right shoulder of Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, giving San Jose a 1-0 lead 14:42 into the game.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm1: Pavelski scores as puck goes off face

Pavelski immediately recoiled, dropped his stick and grabbed his face. As Fleury angrily swiped away Pavelski's stick, Pavelski dropped his left glove, put his head down and skated toward the bench, his face blank.

"Tough as nails," coach Peter DeBoer said. "You take a puck to the face like that. Didn't go down."

The crowd roared and the Sharks celebrated, not yet aware Pavelski had been hurt.

"It was nice to hear the fans cheer," Pavelski said. "Silver lining sort of thing. Should I go to the pile or not? I knew everything was messed up there for a little bit, but I think somewhat fortunate it wasn't worse."

Pavelski went to the locker room for repairs. He said he took "a couple" of stitches and lost teeth. (At one point, he said he lost "a couple" of teeth. At another, he said he lost "a few.") He said he was sore but didn't think he had a broken jaw, and he passed concussion tests.

"Felt really alert, really aware," Pavelski said. "Sometimes that happens. You get hit in the face."

Who says that? Sometimes that happens? You get hit in the face?

Who comes back to the bench wearing a heavy plastic jaw guard early in the second period? Who goes right back in front of the net on another power play? Who battles for position so hard while falling to the ice and tangling with an opponent that he gets called for tripping -- and then argues with a referee with his mouth numb because he's so fired up? Who plays the rest of the game like nothing happened?

A hockey player's hockey player, that's who.

"We like to play this game," Pavelski said. "The biggest thing is, playoff season, play some playoff hockey, get an opportunity."

He laughed.

"For that to happen right away, you want to get back out there as soon as you can. It's just … I don't know. You're in the game. You see the puck. Even if it comes high, you can see it and usually get out of the way. That one, too many bodies. I didn't see it."

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm1: Burns snaps one by Fleury

The Sharks can take many positive things out of this game and into Game 2, which is here Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2, NBCSCA, ATTSN-RM). Defenseman Erik Karlsson had two assists after missing 27 of the past 33 games with groin injuries. The team defense didn't allow goalie Martin Jones to be the story after he entered the series with poor numbers in the regular season (2.94 goals-against average, .896 save percentage) and in two seasons against Vegas (3.44 GAA, .897 save percentage).

But perhaps the biggest thing is that Pavelski, who led them with 38 goals in the regular season, escaped serious injury and set an example. If you want to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you have to do what you have to do, sacrifice what you have to sacrifice.

As San Jose forward Timo Meier said, "He goes there where it hurts."

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