Joe Thornton gathered his teammates at the bench as a bloodied Joe Pavelski was taken off the ice after being knocked out on a hit and implored them to avenge their captain’s injury by scoring three goals on the ensuing major penalty to erase a three-goal deficit.
The San Jose Sharks did Thornton one better and scored four, setting the stage for a remarkable comeback for a franchise known for far too many postseason collapses.
The Sharks erased a 3-1 series deficit, a three-goal hole in the third period and bounced back after allowing a tying goal in the final minute of regulation to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 of their first-round series Tuesday night, showing the resiliency that critics had said was too often lacking.
“The leadership is the best I’ve ever been around,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “Joe goes down. Joe Thornton immediately is talking to the guys, ‘Let’s get three goals here on this power play.’ He actually said that and we got four. Very fortunate as a coach to be around people like that. You don’t have to say a lot. They’re driving the bus.”
That leadership core that has been maligned over the years has led the Sharks into the second round against Colorado, with Game 1 in San Jose on Friday night.
To get there, the Sharks completed the first comeback from 3-1 down in a series in franchise history with help from 58 saves from Martin Jones and the first double-overtime short-handed goal ever by Tomas Hertl to win Game 6 on the road.
That pales in comparison to what the Sharks had to overcome Tuesday when they trailed 3-0 with 10:47 to play and Pavelski was lying on the ice after a cross-check from Cody Eakin and bump from Paul Stastny led to an awkward fall. The referees called a major penalty.
“It almost made you cry, because we love him so much,” said Thornton, who held a towel to Pavelski’s bleeding head as he helped him to the dressing room. “You never want to see a teammate get hurt like that. It was a tough break for him.”
The Sharks rallied around their fallen leader to become the second team in playoff history to score four times on one major power play to take the lead. Fans at the Shark Tank who have become conditioned to postseason failure went crazy.
Predictably for the Sharks, it still didn’t come easy as they allowed the tying goal to Jonathan Marchessault with 47 seconds to play in regulation before fourth-liner Barclay Goodrow provided the game-winner 18:19 into overtime, making San Jose just the second team ever to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period to win a Game 7.
“That’s a once in a lifetime game,” said Logan Couture, who scored twice on the power play. “Knock on wood. I don’t think my heart can take another one like that. Up and down. By the 10 minute mark in the overtime there was nothing left for a lot of us after a double-overtime game. After 10 seconds on each shift you’re running on fumes. Hell of a play by Goody man. What a play.”
San Jose has the most playoff appearances in the league since general manager Doug Wilson’s first season in 2003-04 and will be tied for the most playoff series played during that time when the second round starts. They have also won the third most series in that span.
But a Stanley Cup title remains elusive for the Sharks, who lost the Cup final to Pittsburgh three years ago, lost three other times in the conference finals and painfully blew a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014.
The ingredients are there this year to make a run now. The forward group is as deep as it’s ever been with Couture, Hertl and Thornton centering three potent lines. The defense features two former Norris Trophy winners in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, along with a shutdown player in Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Even Jones showed he can be an asset after getting pulled before the second period twice in the first five games. He rebounded with a .946 save percentage in the final three games.
Before gearing up for Colorado, they must recover from the emotional roller coaster that was the first round. Then they must hope Pavelski can get back on the ice after his second bloody injury of the playoffs. He was also hit in the mouth by a puck in Game 1 and lost four teeth. This injury was more serious since he blacked out briefly, although he was able to talk to teammates after the game.
“He’s strong,” Hertl said. “I believe he’ll be back and help us again in the next round. He took it for the boys. Sometimes it’s brutal. Actually twice. First game he had the face and now this. He’s really tough and he’ll come back for sure.”