It would have been very on-brand for the perennial choke-artist San Jose Sharks to blow it against the 8th seed in the second-round of what might be the most wide-open NHL playoffs of all-time. But to their credit, San Jose recovered from Gabriel Landeskog’s Game 6 overtime winner and got the win they needed in Game 7 against the Avalanche, riding the return of Joe Pavelski and a few fortunate breaks to a 3-2 win that vaults them into the Western Conference Finals.
This was a tough-luck night for the Avalanche, and the first sign that they might be destined to lose appeared when superstar forward Nathan MacKinnon—their best player in the playoffs so far—picked up what looked like a shoulder injury within the first two minutes of the game. MacKinnon came back to the bench before the period was over—and maybe his presence for the 14 minutes or so that he missed wouldn’t have even made a difference—but in the time he was off, the Sharks scored a pair of goals to go up 2-0. The second came courtesy of Tomas Hertl, but the first and most dramatic was an exquisite deflection by the stick of Joe Pavelski, giving the captain a goal in his first game back since his injury that turned the tide in Game 7 against Vegas last round.
The Avs battled to stay alive, first with a goal very late in the first from Mikko Rantanen (who hadn’t scored all series), and then in the second with an apparent equalizer by Colin Wilson. Unfortunately for them, that goal got overturned on review because of a brutal offsides call on a line change that didn’t affect the play at all.
Five minutes later, Joonas Donskoi scored to give the Sharks a 3-1 lead, and even though the Avs got a goal back with a furious start to the third, Colorado couldn’t get another puck past Martin Jones to avoid becoming toast. With this win, the heavily favored Sharks dodge ridicule and crushing disappointment, even if their performance throughout the series wasn’t necessarily becoming of a top-tier Stanley Cup contender. They’ll face the St. Louis Blues in a third-round battle of sad-sack underachievers, where both teams will compete for the right to try and win their first-ever championship.