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playoffs

Couture proves playoff worth with Game 3 hat trick for Sharks

Helps defeat Avalanche with latest clutch performance

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

DENVER -- This is the list of players who have scored more Stanley Cup Playoff goals than Logan Couture since 2010:

Alex Ovechkin.

That's it. End of list.

Couture had his first playoff hat trick when the San Jose Sharks defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 at Pepsi Center on Tuesday in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round and took a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 of the best-of-7 series is here Thursday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

The Sharks center has nine goals in the playoffs this season, most in the NHL, and 43 in the playoffs since he made his debut in 2010.

Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals forward and greatest goal-scorer of this generation, has 50. Behind Couture? Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (42) and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (41). 

"That's pretty crazy," Couture said. "Cool stat. That's all it is, is a stat."

Well, it's not the only stat.

Couture has 12 points in the playoffs this season, tied with Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone and Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon for the NHL lead. Only Crosby (123), Kane (109), Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (106), Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (97) and Ovechkin (96) have more playoff points than Couture (93) since 2010.

Video: SJS@COL, Gm3: Couture earns first playoff hat trick

What do Crosby, Kane, Malkin, Toews and Ovechkin have in common? Each has won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff most valuable player.

"You take it for granted," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who arrived in San Jose in 2015-16. "He does it all the time. In my time here, he's done that regularly at this time of year."

We do take it for granted. The Sharks have had so many star players over the years, Couture sometimes hasn't received the attention he has deserved. When San Jose made the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and lost to Pittsburgh in six games, Couture led the playoffs with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists).

This is a good time to fix that and appreciate Couture for what he is -- a clutch scorer, yes, but a tough, all-around player who lives for the playoffs.

"This is what you play hockey for," Couture said. "This is what you play 82 games for. I've been fortunate enough to play on some very good teams. We've only missed the playoffs once (in 2014-15) since I've been in San Jose. These games are so much fun. You're playing for the ultimate prize. It's just a lot of fun playing hockey."

Video: SJS@COL, Gm3: Couture on Jones' goaltending, 4-2 win

Couture takes pride in producing in the playoffs. The Sharks were down 3-1 to the Golden Knights in the first round, and Couture scored in each game in which they faced elimination. They were down 3-0 in the third period of Game 7 of that series, and he scored two of the four power-play goals that gave them a 4-3 lead in their 5-4 overtime win.

At the morning skate Tuesday, he said he was pressing because he hadn't scored yet against the Avalanche. Then he gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 15:24 of the first period, backhanding a rebound and taking a bow like a bullfighter.

After the Avalanche tied the game 2-2 at 11:45 of the third, Couture gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead 1:05 later, skating in from the right-wing corner, making a subtle move to draw goalie Philipp Grubauer off the right post and beating him short side.

And finally, after he took a tripping penalty at 17:04, Couture scored into an empty net at 19:30.

"I don't usually take [penalties], so it wasn't fun," said Couture, who had taken one minor in the playoffs before that. "I was telling the guys in the box, 'You get way too nervous in here. I don't want to come back here again, especially with three minutes left.'"

Video: Enterprise Hat Trick: Couture seals Game 3 for Sharks

But what matters most to Couture is winning. He'll do whatever it takes. In the first round, he took a shot between the legs and left the ice; he came back. He took a stick in the mouth and lost two teeth; he came back.

"He doesn't just score goals," linemate Timo Meier said. "He plays well defensively, helps us a lot on the PK too, so he's huge for our team. Guys love playing with him. For me, it's great to play with him on a line, obviously learn from him. But he sacrifices everything for the team."

Do you think Couture cared when he led the playoffs in scoring in 2016?

"We lost," he said. "I went into the dressing room after and was pretty emotional. So I didn't care and still don't care."

He doesn't want that to happen again.

"We haven't won," he said. "So I don't care what my numbers get to be. I could go this whole playoffs and have zero points, and if we win the Stanley Cup, then I'll be the happiest guy in the room."

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