The San Jose Sharks are halfway through a quintessential trap after Tuesday, March 29. Their home-and-home set with the Vancouver Canucks lands between an emotional home win over the bitter rival and Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings and kicking off April against both probable Western Conference wild cards for the last road trip of the 2015-16 NHL season.
San Jose just clinched a return to the Stanley Cup playoffs Monday, travelled to Vancouver and were back in skates 21 hours after taking them off as victors over Los Angeles. Logan Couture heads a photo list of stars tipping the scales to give the guests the 2015-16 NHL season series with the back end of the set still to come Thursday at SAP Center.
The Sharks were obviously fatigued in the first period, and it was understandable that they were just unable to keep up. The Canucks had a 21-10 edge in attempts and 13-7 edge in shots after 20 minutes, but there was no score thanks to the goaltending of James Reimer.
On the first shift of the second period, San Jose’s three stars combined for a goal: Joe Thornton sent the puck back toward the point where Brent Burns got to it, kept it in and shot it on net to produce a juicy rebound captain Joe Pavelski swept home.
The CSN California broadcast made reference to someone in the Vancouver media saying earlier that it was unbelievable “that little weasel Pavelski is leading anyone.” In addition to being a completely non-objective assessment from a supposed journalist, it is a curious one given the captain’s accomplishments.
The Sharks have rebounded quite nicely from the tumultuous 2014-15 NHL season under his first year as captain and Pavelski led the Wisconsin Badgers to the 2006 NCAA title in that role. He is also the second-leading goal scorer over the last three seasons behind Alexander Ovechkin—the only other top-10 scorer all three seasons—while only Jamie Benn and Corey Perry have also scored 30 each time and happens to be among hockey’s best two-way, versatile players.
It looked like San Jose would take the game over from the momentum of that goal when a match penalty was called on Jake Virtanen 101 seconds later, but the only score on the five-minute power play came from Chris Higgins on a shorthanded odd-man rush. As the second period wound down, that tie score seemed destined to hold up to intermission.
That was when Couture took over. He sent the puck from behind the net to Nick Spaling who kicked it right back wide of Jacob Markstrom for the first goal 11 seconds before the final intermission.
Then Couture got the Sharks their goal back on the power play with a two-man advantage in the third, burying a Pavelski feed in the slot that brought a secondary assist to Patrick Marleau. The natural hat trick was completed on the empty net with 17 seconds left after assists from Burns and Zubrus.
It was Couture’s first career hat trick after more than 20 multi-goal games. It is a feeling familiar to Pavelski, who at one time had the second-most two-goal games without a career hat trick among active players.
By the end of the game, San Jose had helped itself out of fatigue with a smart puck-possession game and timely plays. The event summary shows this (38-26 faceoffs, 9-12 giveaways, 5-5 takeaways) but also how a team also out-hit 20-15 allowed two more attempts (48-46) but managed to get seven more shots on goal (31-24) thanks to a massive 14-5 edge in blocked shots.
When a tired team not only makes the plays it needs to but hustles to block 29.2 percent of attempts to its opponent’s 10.9 and allow just 1.71 shots per block to 6.2, it is getting plenty of leadership. Now if the Sharks can only do that in its last three home games of the 2015-16 NHL season…