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Sharks hitting playoff stride on emotional boost from Pavelski injury

Hope return of captain will make difference in run to Stanley Cup

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SAN JOSE -- Joe Pavelski appeared with 12:29 left in the third period of Game 5 of the Western Conference Second Round at SAP Center on Saturday.

No one had seen the San Jose Sharks forward in public since 9:13 remained in the third period of Game 7 of the first round here on April 23, when he hit his head on the ice and was helped to the tunnel, teammate Joe Thornton holding a towel to his bleeding head. 

The Sharks rallied from 3-0 down to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights 5-4 in overtime that night.


[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Avalanche series coverage]


Now here he was in a suit during a TV timeout, waving a rally towel, pumping his fist and smiling. The fans rose to their feet and roared.

"No one knew he was going to do that," center Logan Couture said. "That was as loud as this building gets. I mean, that was reminiscent of Game 7 against Vegas, how loud that was. So pretty cool moment. Had goosebumps on the ice.

"[Thornton] said it before the series. We want to play as long as we can to give him a chance, and that's what we're trying to do."

Video: COL@SJS, Gm5: Pavelski gets the crowd pumped in 3rd

The Sharks went on to defeat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series, with Game 6 in Denver on Monday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

They have pulled themselves within one win of the Western Conference Final without their captain, a mainstay on the first line and the power play who led them with 38 goals in the regular season, and he is feeling better and skating regularly again. Coach Peter DeBoer said Pavelski was getting close to returning.

"Give-you-a-chill type moment, that type of ovation," DeBoer said. "I think our coaching staff would give him the same ovation when we find out he's back."

This has been a back-and-forth series, and the Sharks looked almost out of gas in Game 4, a 3-0 loss. The lack of scoring highlighted the loss of Pavelski. 

But if the Sharks play the way they did Saturday, they not only can close out the Avalanche, they can win the Stanley Cup in these wide-open playoffs.

"I thought in Game 4 we had spurts of commitment, being physical, being hard, winning battles," DeBoer said. "I thought tonight it was 60 minutes of it from everybody."

Forward Tomas Hertl, who had six goals in the seven-game series against Vegas but none in the first four games of this series, scored both San Jose goals. His first was on the power play, which was 1-for-10 in the first four games of the series and snapped a San Jose scoreless streak of 100 minutes.

"That was as good as we've looked on the power play in this series, and kind of just felt that one was going to find its way in there," said Couture, who assisted on the goal and has 13 points (nine goals, four assists), tying him for the playoff scoring lead with Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand and Avalanche forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. "Nice to get that one."

Video: COL@SJS, Gm5: Hertl jams home his second of the game

The Sharks smothered MacKinnon, especially defensemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. MacKinnon was on an eight-game point streak (six goals, seven assists) and had five points (three goals, two assists) in the first four games of this series. But wherever he went, there was someone in his way. He had one shot on goal and zero points.

"If you give a guy like that time and space he gets going, he creates," Vlasic said. "So if somebody's in his face pretty quickly he can't do what he wants.

"We did it well, and we played more time in the [offensive] zone that we did the last game. The more time you spend in their end, the less time he has the puck, so I think that was a big difference."

The Sharks outshot the Avalanche 39-22. When they did allow good scoring chances, goalie Martin Jones was strong again. In the first four games of the first round, Jones' save percentage was .838. In the eight games since? It's .936.

Video: COL@SJS, Gm5: Hertl tips shot past Grubauer for PPG

Defenseman Erik Karlsson looked as effortless as he has in the playoffs after missing 27 of the last 33 regular-season games because of groin injuries. He also assisted on the power-play goal, giving him 11 assists in 12 games.

"He's gotten better and better," DeBoer said. "The timing was perfect, because with [Pavelski] out, the hole he's left, we needed a healthy Erik Karlsson."

Imagine if San Jose gets Pavelski back. Imagine the give-you-chill type moment if he plays here again, if the Sharks play like this again, if this team reaches its potential.

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