SAN JOSE -- San Jose captain Joe Pavelski was being kept in chains by the Nashville Predators' aggressive defense.
Thirty-eight minutes into the game, he had but one shot on goal, and the Predators were outplaying the Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round series at SAP Center on Sunday.
But Pavelski pulled a Houdini, escaping for a split second to create the opening needed to turn the game in his team's favor. He generated three openings in the final 22 minutes; each time, he made Nashville pay, playing a major role in each of San Jose's goals in a 3-2 victory.
San Jose heads to Nashville holding a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 3 is Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena (9 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports)
"They just need one shift and they are going to score a big goal for us," San Jose defenseman Roman Polak said of Pavelski's line.
Video: NSH@SJS, Gm2: Pavelski slips rebound past Rinne
Pavelski is joined by center Joe Thornton and right wing Tomas Hertl on San Jose's first line. That combination has been a buzzsaw so far in the playoffs, helping the Sharks reel off six wins in their first seven games, including a five-game victory against the Los Angeles Kings, who finished ahead of them in the Pacific Division standings.
The Sharks have 21 goals this postseason; Pavelski has had a direct hand in 10 of them, scoring a team-best six and assisting on four others.
Nothing less is expected now from the man who was given the captaincy this season after San Jose went without a captain in 2014-15.
General manager Doug Wilson and first-year coach Pete DeBoer believed Pavelski, 31, was ready to shoulder the primary leadership role and assume a position held for four seasons by Thornton before the team went with three alternate captains last season.
"I think this guy stands for all the right things," DeBoer said Sunday. "He's a family man. He's a professional; shows up for work early, stays late. All he cares about is winning. There's not a selfish bone in his body as far as his own personal numbers or agenda. It's all about winning.
Video: Postgame 5/1: Pavelski
"Where do you find guys that get 100 points and block shots, kill penalties, win faceoffs and go to the dirty areas of the ice? You can count on one hand the number of players that can do that."
Actually, Pavelski has never scored more than 79 points in a season, but DeBoer's point should not be lost.
Pavelski showed all of his attributes on a night he admits was not the best for him or his line. He played 17:59, took two shots, scoring on one, was credited with two hits, created two takeaways and won 50 percent of his 16 faceoffs.
But he was at his best on the goal that gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead with 2:40 remaining in the third period. That goal eased a growing sense of dread after Nashville had tied the game 1-1 on with a goal from Mattias Ekholm with 7:02 remaining.
Pavelski followed Thornton into the zone and went to the net as Thornton did the majority of the work with the puck.
"You're just hanging around and hoping for a rebound," Pavelski said.
The rebound came, as hoped, when Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, so brilliant all night, stopped but couldn't control a shot from Thornton. The rebound bounced just outside the crease, right to Pavelski. He flicked his wrists and sent the puck into the net before Nashville defenseman Shea Weber could block it.
"He knows how the puck bounces," Polak said. "That's a special gift."
Video: Postgame 5/2: DeBoer
Pavelski has slowly grown into the captaincy. His game, and his importance, have grown each year since his arrival for the 2006-07 season.
He scored 78 points this season, the second-highest total of his career. His 38 goals led the team and also were his second-best performance of his career.
But it is not the volume of goals and points that matter these days. It is the circumstances under which they are made.
The captain has become clutch, growing more comfortable in the biggest moments with each previous success.
Pavelski was taken out of the game early by a Nashville team desperate to even up this series. The Predators concentrated on shutting down San Jose's top line, and they succeeded.
But then they blinked, getting as crazy a too-many-men penalty as you will ever see. Thirty-eight seconds into the power play, Pavelski tipped a slap shot by defenseman Brent Burns and the puck found its way onto the stick of center Logan Couture for the game's first goal.
The Predators did tie it, but Pavelski scored what is a trademark goal for him. Finally, with the Nashville net vacated for an extra attacker, Pavelski set up Thornton for an empty-net goal, one that proved to be the game-winner after Nashville's Ryan Johansen scored in the final seconds.
It's called leading by example, and Pavelski has perfected it in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"There's nobody better around the net, whether it be tipping, screening, finding ways to put the puck in the net," defenseman Paul Martin said. "Obviously, he's not the fastest skater, but he finds a way to get around the rink.
"He competes hard, he's physical when he needs to be. He's smart; his hockey sense is right up there with the best. He wants to win. He deserves to wear that letter. He plays for it and all the guys respect him and play for him."