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Elevating Their Game

by Jonathan Okanes / San Jose Sharks

The Sharks helped teammate Logan Couture by improving their play when he got injured Saturday night. Couture then returned the favor by coming back and winning the game.

Couture missed most of the second period, but was able to return and score the game-winner in overtime to lift the Sharks to a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

“I thought everybody elevated their game,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “I thought our game management at that point of the night was as good as it’s been all year, as far as shift length, puck management, getting fresh people on the ice. It’s something we talked about. Why change it now just because Logan is back. Let’s keep doing that.”

Marty Havlat, who returned from a five-game layoff with an undisclosed injury, re-injured himself and also left the game after the first period. That left the Sharks down to 10 forwards, and forced McLellan into some tricky line shuffling and game management.

Despite being short-handed, the Sharks dominated the second period with several high-quality scoring chances.

“When guys went down, guys shortened their shifts and went a little harder,” San Jose’s Joe Pavelski said. “Everyone chipped in.”

Couture returned from the dressing room late in the second period and tested out his injury by skating briefly during a stoppage. He was healthy enough to play, although he rushed back to the dressing room immediately after the game and started to receive treatment.

Asked if Couture would be available to play in Game 4 on Tuesday, McLellan said: “Based on his smile in the locker room, I’m assuming he’ll be fine.”

Couture’s game-winning goal came on the power play, culminating a sequence that began as a 5-on-3 that spilled over from the third period. First, the Kings’ Robyn Regehr took a hooking penalty at 19:18. Moments after that, Los Angeles had a short-handed rush but the play was broken up and Trevor Lewis bulled over Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi for goaltender interference at 19:55.

San Jose couldn’t score with the two-man advantage, but seven seconds after Regehr came out of the box, Joe Thornton passed the puck to Patrick Marleau from the side boards, and Marleau quickly flipped it out in front for Couture, who slid it past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick for the game-winner.

“He’s our guy up there,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. “He’s obviously a huge, huge part of our team. Guys did a great job when he was out, but he comes back and scores the game-winner with a terrific shot. That’s a pretty good shot. He’s a tremendous hockey player.”

The Sharks gave their fans some anxious moments when they failed to generate a real strong scoring chance with the two-man advantage, but the short-handed Kings simply couldn’t continue to kill off the penalties for that long.

“I thought we were a little too excited, a little too wound up, even us as coaches,” McLellan said. “We needed to calm down a little bit. It was veteran players – elite players – that we were putting on the ice. We had a plan. It almost came to fruition. But after that, they just played. They came through.”

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