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First Round

Sharks, Golden Knights energized for Game 7, shake off effects of 2OT

Eager to return to ice for right to face Avalanche in second round

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

SAN JOSE -- Logan Couture has taken a shot in, um, a sensitive area. He has taken a stick in the mouth and lost two teeth. He has taken another stick in the face, leaving a mark below his right eye.

All in the first six games of the Western Conference First Round between the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights.

And the Sharks forward can't wait to play another game, because it's Game 7 at SAP Center on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS, NBCSCA, ATTSN-RM) for the right to play the Colorado Avalanche in the second round.

 

[RELATED: Hertl, Sharks believe heading into Game 7 | Complete Sharks vs. Golden Knights series coverage]

 

"You relish this moment and enjoy it," Couture said. "This is what hockey's all about. This is why it's a fun sport to play."

The Stanley Cup Playoffs require tremendous emotional, mental and physical investment, and when you put so much into six games, you want to make sure it pays off in the seventh.

Couture is far from alone. Teammate Joe Pavelski scored the opening goal of the series when a shot went in off his face; he lost three teeth, had another sheared off and had two more cracked. Players on both sides have played through discomfort they won't discuss.

"Everyone's feeling bumps and bruises," Couture said. "It's six games in. In a two-week period, there's not much down time, not much time away from hockey. You're blocking shots. You're taking hits, taking sticks everywhere. It's all worth it in the end if you play the way you want to and you win hockey games. You don't really feel those bumps and bruises very much."

Game 6 went 11:17 into double overtime before the Sharks pulled out a 2-1 win at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday and earned the right to go through it all again.

Ten skaters played more than a half-hour. Sharks defensemen Justin Braun (36:12), Erik Karlsson (36:40), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (37:14) and Brent Burns (42:04) each played more than 36 minutes.

"It makes it a little easier when you win, playing those kind of minutes," Braun said. "You feel a little better today. Maybe not as sore or as tired as when you're on the other end of that. But it's Game 7. You can't worry about that. If you lose, you can be tired all summer."

Video: Sharks score in double overtime and force Game 7

Each team has looked like the better team for stretches in the series.

The Sharks smothered the Golden Knights in a 5-2 win in Game 1. The Golden Knights won three straight by a combined score of 16-6. The Sharks stayed alive with a 5-2 win in Game 5, then survived in Game 6 despite allowing 59 shots.

Each team has reason to feel good entering Game 7.

The Golden Knights defeated the Sharks in six games in the second round last season, closing out the series at SAP Center, on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

In this series, they've had 54.12 percent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5 and outscored the Sharks at 5-on-5 (11-8), on the power play (8-4) and on penalty kill (2-1). Pepper the net like they did in Game 6, and they like their chances.

"We're a confident group," forward Jonathan Marchessault said. "We're a great hockey team. We just have to keep going and stick with it. If we keep playing the right way like we did [in Game 6], I think we'll get rewarded."

The Sharks seemed to be in trouble after four games but have rallied. Goalie Martin Jones, pulled in Games 2 and 4, excelled in Games 5 and 6. Vlasic, who was struck by a shot in the second period of Game 2 and sat out through Game 4, came back and helped shut down Vegas' so-called second line.

Through four games, forwards Mark Stone (six goals, four assists) and Max Pacioretty (four goals, six assists) had 10 points each, tied for most in the playoffs. Center Paul Stastny (two goals, six assists) had eight. The last two games, they have combined for zero points.

The Sharks cut down on rush chances and inside shots despite allowing 59 shots in Game 6. 

"When we eliminate that stuff off the rush, the odd-man rushes, that makes life a lot easier for all of us," Jones said. "We did a good job keeping guys in front us in the zone. They didn't have ton of point-blank looks. We did a good job around the net."

Six games of mental and physical investment come down to one chance, one unique set of plays, mistakes and bounces.

Gotta win.

"Or else," Vlasic said, "it wasn't really worth it."  

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