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X-Factor: Pavelski's dirty work should help Sharks

by Eric Gilmore

Sharks captain Joe Thornton calls forward Joe Pavelski a "dirty player." And yes, that's a huge compliment.

"He just gets in dirty areas," Thornton said. "He wills himself in front of the net. A lot of guys don't want to necessarily go there. But he's made a living going to the front of the net."

Pavelski doesn't command as much of the Sharks' spotlight as Thornton, Patrick Marleau or first-time All-Star Logan Couture, but he could make a huge impact in San Jose's first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series with his gritty play and knack for getting the puck on his stick in front of the opponent's net.

At just 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Pavelski is usually one of the smaller players battling near the crease. Yet, he consistently finds open ice in front of the net, putting himself in prime position to take a pass, redirect a shot or jump on a rebound.

"He's a little bit like Gumby," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "He slithers into spots. His sense of timing is really good. We talk about going to the net, but arriving at the net at the right time is probably a little more important than always going to the net. Pav has that knack. He has a great hockey sense. He genuinely wants to improve his game. He looks for ways to do it, he studies it."

When the Sharks beat Dallas 3-0 in a crucial game at HP Pavilion on March 31, Pavelski scored two goals -- both from close range. Just 58 seconds into the game, he found an open spot, took a pass from Thornton and put the puck in the back of the net. Then, in the third period, he redirected a blast from defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic for another goal.

Pavelski gave much of the credit for his success in the "dirty" areas to Thornton, his center on the top line.

"He's a great player," Pavelski said. "You go to open areas and he finds you."

Pavelski is a man of many key roles for the Sharks. He skates on the top line. He wins faceoffs at a remarkable rate. He plays on the top power-play unit. He kills penalties. Although he's far from the biggest or fastest Shark, he almost always seems to arrive at the right place at the right time, taking full advantage of his high hockey IQ.

More often than not, the bigger the game, the better Pavelski plays. In 58 Stanley Cup Playoff games, he has 20 goals and 18 assists. Two years ago, Pavelski had 17 points -- nine goals, eight assists -- in 15 postseason games during the Sharks' run to the Western Conference Finals.

This season he cracked the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career, most of those tallies coming from close range. The Sharks can only hope that's a sign of more "dirty" Pavelski goals to come in the playoffs.

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