Sucks for those of us on East Coast time, but the three most intriguing first-round playoff series are out West. The West has most of the best teams this year, and the best storylines, and for now the best match-ups, and none better than this year’s (first, maybe) California series. And if you went to sleep at a decent hour, you missed Joe Pavelski take a first step to shaking some of the Sharks’ ghosts.
San Jose’s 4-3 win over the Kings was a wild game, with big hits and momentum swings and a bunch of power-play goals, all setting up Pavelski’s winner 17 seconds into the third, which stood up only after a tense, Kings-dominated period that saw Martin Jones stand firm in his first career playoff start.
The game was a continuation of trends: of the Sharks’ NHL-best road record and Pavelski’s league-leading GWG tally, and of Los Angeles’s defensive struggles, certainly not helped by the exit of Alec Martinez after the second period.
For San Jose, hopefully a bucking of trends, too: it was against the Kings in the first round in 2014 that the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead and entered a tumultuous offseason that saw Joe Thornton stripped of the captain’s “C.” Does having a captain matter? Is leadership a locker-room thing or an on-ice thing? I do not know, but rolling with only alternate captains in 2014-15, the Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 lockout.
Pavelski’s the captain now, and the 31-year-old has had a wonderful season, and scored twice last night: once in the first to quickly erase a Kings lead, and early in the third, a near single-handed thing:
Pavelski cleanly won the faceoff from Anze Kopitar (who won more this season than all but six NHLers) and went behind the net, muscling past one of the best defensive centers in the game. When Jonathan Quick cut off the orthodox wraparound, Pavelski cleverly took an extra stride out and plinked it in off the far post for the goal.
“Big-game guy for us,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said of Pavelski. “He’s our captain for a reason. He scores a lot of key goals … he’s been clutch like that for us all season.”
These Sharks are good, legitimately good, but the West is a long row to hoe. And unless and until they actually eliminate the Kings, the memory of that 2014 collapse will loom large. Nothing to do but rack up wins, because it’s better than the alternative. One down.