SAN JOSE – It was almost halfway through the final period when the San Jose Sharks sent out Joe Pavelski.
The hosts had just scored a go-ahead goal, the team was on the power play and the injured captain was shown on the Jumbotron waving a rally towel and wearing a suit with a grin shared by everyone at SAP Center.
The sort of moment the playoffs are all about.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen, but (it was a) give-ya-chills-type moment, that type of ovation,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer of the stirring scene, which had northern California standing.
“I think our coaching staff would give him the same ovation when we find out he’s back.”
That could be as early as Game 6 in Denver Monday when the Sharks will try to maintain momentum in a series featuring wild confidence swings.
A Pavelski return to the ice would only serve to bolster a Sharks club that finally found a way to shut down Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado’s top line in a 2-1 win on Saturday night.
Indeed, the clock may be about to strike midnight, mountain time, on one of the league’s Cinderella squads.
The loss to San Jose has the eighth-ranked Avalanche down 3-2 in the second-round series after a pair of goals by Tomas Hertl and a 21-save performance by Martin Jones.
Although DeBoer wouldn’t handicap the chances of a Pavelski return for Monday, his return is a very real possibility as he’s been improving and skating the last four days.
A more important return would come in the form of Colorado’s top line, which was held off the score sheet for the first time in nine games, thanks to an increased dedication to defence and a shutdown pair that included Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
“Pickles and Burnsie were great,” said San Jose’s Logan Couture, whose club held playoff scoring leader MacKinnon to just one shot on goal.
“Our game plan against him is try not to let him play with it in the offensive zone. It’s pretty difficult to do, but I thought we limited his chances tonight.”
MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog combined for just five shots on a night in which Jones wasn’t tested very often in tight.
A lucky Tyson Jost goal late in the second period was the difference in a game dominated by the hosts until 19 seconds left in the middle frame. That’s when Hertl redirected a Couture point blast past Philipp Grubauer to tie the game and end almost 107 minutes of shutout hockey from the Avs netminder.
Hertl was the hero again six minutes into the third when he tapped in a rebound in the blue paint followed by Pavelski’s inspirational showing.
“It put some energy in the building, I guess, but we were pretty dialled in at that point,” said Jones.
“Just a gutsy win by us. I think we’ve done a pretty good job most of this season, but tonight was probably our best game. We defended really, really well tonight.”
Although it was close all night long, there’s no doubt which team deserved the win, as the Sharks outshot the visitors 39-22.
“When you look at the series, the team that has deserved to win has won every game – that’s the way it’s supposed to go,” said DeBoer.
“We faced three elimination games against Vegas – we didn’t go away easily and I don’t anticipate they will either. This feels good – we’ve put ourselves in a good spot but we’re going to have to put on our works boots to get it done in Denver.”
The Sharks deserve credit for overcoming some interesting adversity midway through.
After a tight first period in which the hosts dominated play and outshot the Avalanche 12-6, Kevin Labanc appeared to open the scoring for the Sharks seven minutes into the second period. However, the goal, which was set up brilliantly by Joe Thornton, was disallowed as Timo Meier had drawn a penalty seconds earlier for cross-checking Rantanen.
“Just stick with it,” said DeBoer of the message he imparted to the troops after the call.
“I liked how we were playing. I could tell we were ready to play and committed to what we wanted to do.”