Sharks coach Todd McLellan has said that center Logan Couture has emerged as one of the top players in the NHL.
If there ever were a time to confirm that hypothesis, it’s now.
While Couture had a terrific regular season with 21 goals and 37 points, legacies are built in the postseason. Not that Couture hasn’t already had some productive moments in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the first three years of his career, but as he creeps higher and higher up the ladder of elite players in the league, his postseason performance will be evaluated even more closely.
And Couture was up to the challenge in his first postseason game this season, scoring a power play goal and adding an assist during San Jose’s 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series. Couture’s goal came just four minutes after the Canucks had taken a 1-0 lead in the second period.
“Logan has elevated his play again,” McLellan said. “He played very good in all three zones, was a catalyst on the power play, very good on the penalty kill. Sounds like we’re talking about a hell of a hockey player, and that’s what he is.”
The Sharks still have stalwarts up front such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and both still play huge roles in the team’s success. But Couture has spent this season earning more and more respect in and out of San Jose’s dressing room. It’s not so much just his numbers and on-ice production; it’s the leadership skills he has started to exhibit and the way he conducts his business during games, practices and off the ice completely.
It’s also a knack for clutch moments, as he exhibited Wednesday. The Sharks dominated the first period but it ended in a scoreless tie. The Canucks outplayed San Jose for much of the second period, and finally broke through when defenseman Kevin Bieksa scored after a heavily populated battle in front of the Sharks goal. San Jose protested that goalie Antti Niemi was interfered with, but Couture dealt with it another way.
First, he drew a penalty on Vancouver’s Zack Kassian, who was sent to the penalty box for roughing at 16:00. It took just 35 seconds for Couture to take advantage, scoring on the man advantage to tie the game and give the Sharks a boost that lasted for the remainder of the game.
“(Couture) scored a huge goal in the second that got us back into it,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. “You need the power play to come through, and we came through with a huge goal tonight.”
Couture continued to make his mark on Game 1 when he made a nice pass to Marleau from behind the net. Marleau took a shot that deflected off Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis and past goalie Roberto Luongo. That gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead in the third period.
“I knew we’d be ready,” Couture said. “We came out strong in the first period and took it to them. They came back in the second and had a good period. We played pretty well in the third. It was good to get the first one out of the way.”