It was, is, and will be for at least the next 36 hours the most important goal in Sharks history. Joe Pavelski’s redirection of a Brent Burns shot broke a third-period tie and stood up the rest of the way, the winner in a 6-3 victory that brings San Jose to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals, the closest this franchise has ever been. It’s a truism that players grind through practice their whole lives for a chance like this, but in Pavelski’s case, that’s quite literal.
“He’s practiced it for years. If you put work in like he does with tipping pucks, knowing his body and where to put his stick, the results happen all the time,” said Joe Thornton. “We’re used to seeing that so much that he works so hard in practice with those little things. He and Burns, those two are always working together. It’s beautiful to watch.”
No one knows Burns’s heavy shot quite like Pavelski, and no one knows Pavelski’s reach quite like Burns. Burns admitted that was his intention on last night’s winner, to just put it in the general vicinity of the net and let his teammate deflect it home. It worked to perfection, a particularly good stretch by Pavelski to make contact:
“Best in the world, I think, at tipping pucks,” said Logan Couture.
I think that’s a fair pronouncement, but it didn’t happen accidentally and it didn’t happen overnight. Pavelski works on the hockey version of the tip drill in every single practice session—hundreds of hours of his life have been devoted to the deceptively simple skill of sticking his blade out and getting a piece of a flying puck, a quick change of direction to thwart any goalie’s attempt to predict its flight.
That’s from 2011, the only video I could immediately find online, but that’s what it looks like: the process of endless repetition to hardwire a truly difficult feat of reflexes and hand-eye coordination into a muscle memory that can be unconsciously deployed in a flash. And that’s what separates pro athletes from the rest of us, that willingness to devote unthinkable chunks of their lives to honing skills that may actually only pay off a handful of times each year. But it does pay off, sometimes in the biggest moments. The work shows.