EDMONTON — To Joe Pavelski, life is like a golf course.
You can blast through in 2:45 and hit the Spike Bar with little memory of more than 11 or 12 of the holes you just played. Or you can have a plan, use your other-worldly hand-eye coordination, and do something a little bit better than average.
“I’ve been lucky enough to golf with Pav a few times,” begins Todd McLellan, the current Los Angeles Kings head coach who was Pavelski’s coach for seven seasons in their former lives as San Jose Sharks.
“I’m like most golfers: I get up there, I grab a driver and I hit it as far as I can. I just chase this little white ball all over the course,” explained McLellan. “Pav is an excellent golfer, and he thinks the entire hole through prior to playing it. ‘I need to drive it this far, and I need to be in this spot for the approach…’
“It’s remarkable how patient he is, but how productive he is out there. His hands, his eyes, his thoughts… Just incredible.”
That golf analogy paints nearly every canvas in Pavelski’s world, from tipping pucks, to inspiring teammates, to picking the Dallas Stars upon his first exposure to unrestricted free agency last summer.
With a crucial, game-tying goal with 6:45 to play in Saturday’s Game 5, Pavelski became the all-time goal scoring leader among American-born players. His 61 goals now surpass Joey Mullen (60), Mike Modano (58), Jeremy Roenick (53) and Patrick Kane (52).
What’s crazy though is the fact that Pavelski, at age 36, and Corey Perry — the 35-year-old who joined Pavelski as a Stars UFA pick-up after being bought out by Anaheim — have scored the last six consecutive goals for Dallas in this series.
It is highly likely that each are playing in their last Stanley Cup Final, and they trail the Tampa Bay Lightning three games to two. At least Perry has a ring from 2007 in Anaheim.
Pavelski does not.
“It’s a hard place to get to,” the Plover, Wis., native said. “I think I’ve played in four Conference Finals in San Jose and one here, and this will be the second time going to the Final. The first one didn’t go the way we wanted it to.”
So, what about that golf course? And how might he find a couple more birdies in this Final to complete his Hall of Fame career?
It starts with the goals, usually deflections and in-tight plays that belie the fact Pavelski’s puck-tipping abilities rival legends like Tomas Holmstrom, Tim Kerr and Dino Ciccarelli as the greatest of all time. Then it extends to the dressing room, where he is credited with turning the tide after the first overtime in Game 5, when the Stars need someone to get them off their heels and on to their toes.
Stars coach Rick Bowness has marvelled at Pavelski’s “tone” during this series, adding that it’s not just about saying the right words. It’s about how you say them.
Like Pavelski playing the golf course, it’s all thought out, said McLellan.
“When I say this, what do I want to come out of it? How do I want my teammates or my coaches to respond? It’s calculated. It’s done with a purpose,” McLellan said. “He is able to drag players into games, into situations, without yelling and screaming. There is a feel around him that is unique.”
There is some irony in the fact they used to attach the nickname “Little Joe” to Pavelski during his days in San Jose. He is average-sized at five-foot-11, 195 pounds, but the sway he carried inside that organization was every bit as big or bigger than the bearded giant, Jumbo Joe Thornton.
And so it was Dallas GM Jim Nill’s bonanza when he landed Pavelski for his Stars, a team that had the tangibles but simply did not know how to win. Of course, Pavelski looked at the free agent landscape the way he does a fairway, before deciding that Dallas best suited his swing.
“It my first time, and you’re taking the calls,” he said. “There were a few places that had interest. I liked the goalies here, and I liked the defensive structure. They played a lot of one-goal games and didn’t give up a lot of goals, and I always believed — especially in the playoffs — you need to find those types of wins.”
It’s funny: showing up this season in Dallas, right when the Stars were ready to turn a corner, is the macro version of Pavelski’s greatest micro skill.
“He has this sense of arriving on time. He has a sense of when to get to his spot,” said McLellan, who references his son Tyson, a forward who played four years at the University of Denver. “Tyson arrives too early, or sometimes too late. When he gets there early, he’s wrestling around with these big six-foot-six guys. When he gets there too late, the puck has gone by.
“Pav has this sense of timing to arrive on time for the tip-in, the deflection, the screen.”
Or perhaps, a Stanley Cup.
Down 3-2 to Tampa with Game 6 on Monday, Pavelski and the Stars better hit ‘em straight.