-- If not for the play of Joe Pavelski
, the San Jose Sharks
probably are more concerned with tee times instead of starting times for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks
The Sharks were in a dark place after defenseman Dan Boyle
scored into his own net in overtime to lose Game 3 of their first-round series with the Colorado Avalanche
. Down 2-1 in that series, the lights looked like they could go out for good when Game 4 went to overtime.
But Pavelski scored the winner, sparking a six-game winning streak that has San Jose just four wins from its first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
"It was awesome. It's a game we had to win, really," Pavelski said. "Any time it goes in in overtime, it's the best feeling, whether you score it or not. It's 20 guys, the whole organization, everyone in the stands. It's just such a joy and relief; a rush of feelings go through your body.
"That was kind of a turning point for us. It's how we're going to handle it. If we come out and we don't want to put the work in, we can go the other way just as fast. Guys were resilient and put the effort in. We realize if we put the effort in consistently, the odds should be on our side."
That goal was just one of many big ones scored by Pavelski in these playoffs. The Sharks were staring at a 2-0 series hole with the Avs before Pavelski tied Game 2 with 32 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Devin Setoguchi
's overtime winner.
Pavelski has 9 goals in the playoffs -- second to Montreal's Michael Cammalleri
, who has 11 -- and tied a record held by Mario Lemieux
by having three consecutive multi-goal games. Not bad for the Stevens Point, Wisc., native who was taken in the seventh round of the 2003 Entry Draft.
"It's funny. You're talking about a seventh-round player, but we value all of our picks," Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson said. "The thing that stood out about Joe was his hockey sense. He's not the biggest kid, he's not the greatest skater, but he battled in all three zones. The term that our guys use is a hockey rat. He competes, he loves to play the game, and he's just evolved from that point.
"The numbers that he's created this year, I think he's capable of putting numbers like that together. The bigger the game, the better he plays, and that's what you like about a guy like him."
"Joe Pavelski's been great. He's played strong from the first game right to the last game against Detroit. He's been a workhorse. He plays a lot of minutes for us, plays on the power play, the penalty kill. He's Mr. Everything for our team."
-- Joe Thornton
Pavelski's emergence also has had an effect on Joe Thornton
, who has 3 goals and 8 assists in 11 games after countless postseasons where he hasn't lived up to his regular-season numbers. Thornton remains the top-line center, the go-to guy. But with the contributions from Pavelski on the second line, life is a little less stressful for Thornton.
"I really don't feel like I have to carry the load so much," Thornton said. "I think maybe in years past I felt like I had to carry the team a little too much. We didn't really have secondary scoring; this year I think we definitely have secondary scoring.
's been great. He's played strong from the first game right to the last game against Detroit. He's been a workhorse. He plays a lot of minutes for us, plays on the power play, the penalty kill. He's Mr. Everything for our team."
The Sharks also view Pavelski as the brains of the outfit. It's tough to make it on talent alone when you're the 205th pick of the draft, and the 25-year-old realized that right away in 2003. "One of my strengths is being a smarter player," Pavelski said, and his coach agrees.
"Joe's a very astute player," Todd McLellan
said. "He uses his mind as much as he does his body and studies the game a lot, so he gives himself a distinct advantage night in and night out."
Pavelski also gives the Sharks a distinct advantage -- the team is 6-0 when he scores, which includes a five-game winning streak that bridges the first-round series with Colorado and the second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings
It's been a breakout postseason for the Sharks and Pavelski, who knows nothing is going to come easy the rest of the way.
"We do have to understand we're only halfway," Pavelski said. "It's only going to get harder. If we don't get through this third round, we're going to be sitting here, 'What went wrong?' because ultimately there's only one goal."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL