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Pavelski regains playoff form for Sharks

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski gave just a taste of the Stanley Cup Playoff highlights to come in his second postseason game six years ago as an NHL rookie.

Pavelski scored early in the second period against the Nashville Predators, giving the Sharks a 2-0 lead and sparking them to a 3-1 win in Game 4 of a Western Conference Quarterfinal.

The next year, Pavelski had five goals and four assists in 13 playoff games. Two years later, he scored nine goals and added eight assists in 15 postseason games. In 2011, he scored five goals and had 10 points in 18 playoff games.

"There are certain players that have the ability to elevate their play," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Pavs' competitiveness and smarts allow him to do that. He lays it on the line every night. He goes to the spots you need to go to score."

Pavelski scored two goals and had one assist in the Sharks' 5-2 win Sunday night against the Vancouver Canucks, giving San Jose a 3-0 lead in their best-of-7 quarterfinal series. He has two goals and four assists entering Game 4 on Tuesday night at HP Pavilion.

"It's an awesome time to score goals and win games," Pavelski said. "Our building [Sunday] night was excited and rocking. It was everything we come to know at the Shark Tank. We fed off that. We need to do the right things to get the crowd going early. We know that they will show up."

Pavelski said he feeds off the excitement and energy of the playoffs, which he grew up watching in Wisconsin.

"It's an important time," Pavelski said. "Growing up you always watched playoff hockey on TV and saw the intensity. When you bring that the fans are more intense, the players are. For whatever reason, it's an awesome time of year."

Last year Pavelski had a rare postseason letdown. He went scoreless in five games against the St. Louis Blues and the Sharks made their quickest exit in their playoff history. This year, he's back on track.

"You lose in five last year, it's tough," Pavelski said. "You always want to contribute more, you want to be better. You want to play as long as you can as well as you can. It's good to come out and have a start like this and get some confidence early. It's good to see the team respond the way they have."

Pavelski was struggling this season until McLellan moved him from right wing on the second line to center on the third line with 18 regular-season games left. Pavelski scored a goal in four straight games and had nine goals and five assists in his final 18 regular-season games. He had seven goals and 10 assists in his first 30 games before the switch.

The Sharks went 12-5-1 down the stretch and surged into the playoffs, taking advantage of a more balanced attack with Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Pavelski centering the top three lines.

"He's an intelligent player," Couture said of Pavelski. "He has very high hockey IQ, so throwing him in the middle he can create more. He's a smart player. He's fun to watch. He's really helped out that third line."

McLellan said, "When we were able to put Pavelski in that third line role it certainly helped. His game blossomed a little bit more and it was a tougher matchup for other teams to take care of those three centermen. ... He's around the puck a little bit more, distributes it more from the middle. [He's] probably a lot more comfortable there than being on the right side. He's more involved in the game."

Few players have been as hot as Pavelski was during a five-game span in the 2010 playoffs -- the final three games of the quarterfinal series against the Colorado Avalanche and the first two of the semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings.

Pavelski scored eight goals and had four assists during that streak, scoring at least once in each game, all San Jose wins. He scored twice in the series-clincher against Colorado and twice in each of the first two games against Detroit.

"He's had those runs and you can only hope those runs come and stay for a long time," Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said. "He has a knack for it, scoring big goals in the playoffs."

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