ST. LOUIS – The puck zipped from the black and red stick of Brent Burns towards the white stick of Joe Pavelski at the start of the third period of Game 5 of the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.
The two have practiced that type of play over-and-over again so Pavelski knew exactly what to do and how to do it. He timed the puck perfectly with his stick and tapped the puck down towards an area of the net that wasn’t protected by St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen.
Just 16 seconds into the third period the Sharks had a 4-3 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish in their 6-3 win. And Pavelski’s dogged pursuit of the perfect method of tipping the puck was a major reason why.
“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 Pavelski’s longtime center 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.”
In Game 5 Pavelski showed every trick in his arsenal to help give the Sharks a 3-2 series lead and push them one win away from a Stanley Cup Final.
With 1:27 left in the second period and San Jose down 3-2 to the Blues, Pavelski found himself open on a power play in front of Allen. Thornton quickly found Pavelski and the Sharks’ captain barely hesitated on a one-timer past Allen.
He said he was aided a little by the fact that the puck was rolling, which helped him lift it over Allen. But the same hand-eye coordination that helps him tip pucks also helps him in those spots. Catching a pass from Thornton then quickly finding an open spot and firing a shot isn’t easy.
“He’s good with that. He’s one of the best players in the world and he’s good at a lot of things in this game,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said. “(Joe Thornton) finds him and finds exactly when Pavs is getting ready to shoot the puck and delivers it in a perfect spot. Usually it ends up in the back of the net. We’re lucky to have those guys.”
Also, ever the cerebral student, Pavelski remembered a mistake from an earlier opportunity when he had the puck in front of Allen and couldn’t bury it.
“Maybe took a little bit too much time, didn't make the right choice, didn't get a stick on it,” he said. “You just keep working for those opportunities. I think I was a little fortunate it rolled, bounced a little bit. Catch a break with him leaning, it goes the other way. You need those.”
In order to tip the puck as well as Pavelski, you need the natural gifts he clearly possesses but a dogged work ethic has also helped him.
The 31-year-old Pavelski who hails from Plover, Wisconsin was a seventh-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2003. He was nicknamed “pokey” a few years ago by Burns, which is short for “slow poke.”
Pavelski wasn’t handed an NHL spot like a lot of highly-drafted prospects. He’s had to earn everything he’s received in this league. And most importantly he’s never stopped trying to improve.
“It's a great lesson for kids out there that want to play,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “You have to work at those things to become really good. He's got some God-given ability, too. His biggest asset is he works at it.”
It’s this type of attitude that’s made Pavelski the perfect choice as captain for this incarnation of the Sharks. It’s been almost two years since the team stripped Thornton of his ‘C’ and less than a year since they gave it to Pavelski.
Thornton is still one of the leaders of the group but Pavelski has added his own type of grinder’s mindset. It’s the type of attitude that’s brought the Sharks’ organization further than they’ve ever gone – one win from a Cup Final.
“There's so many emotions throughout a playoffs, you just try to not get too high, not get too low. If we play a game like we did the other night, you just try to respond, play a good game like tonight,” he said. “You want to ride that and stay with that.”
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