SAN JOSE, Calif. – A year after being among the main perpetrators of another playoff failure in San Jose, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski are leading the Sharks back to the second round.
Marleau scored the series clincher in overtime against Vancouver on Tuesday night, giving him one goal in all four games of the sweep over the Canucks.
Marleau got that overtime chance only because Pavelski scored the game-tying goal on the power play with 4:27 to go. That gave Pavelski his second straight two-goal game in the series.
It’s a far cry from a year ago when both players failed to record even a single point in a five-game, first-round loss to St. Louis that ended a run of two straight trips to the Western Conference finals.
“You lose in five last year it’s tough,” Pavelski said. “You always want to contribute more, you want to be better. You want to play as long as you can as well as you can. It’s good to come out and have a start like this and get some confidence early. It’s good to see the team respond the way they have.”
Marleau and Pavelski had plenty of help leading the Sharks to their first playoff sweep in franchise history. Logan Couture tied Pavelski for the team lead with eight points and dominated the faceoff circle in his matchup with Henrik Sedin.
Joe Thornton had one goal and five assists, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun played shutdown defence against the Sedin twins and Antti Niemi allowed just eight goals in the four games.
“Everybody is doing the little things it takes to win,” Marleau said. “That’s the main thing. We have to keep building up. It’s only going to get harder. We know that.”
The Sharks will get a few days of rest before beginning the second round next week.
Marleau has often come under fire for lacklustrepost-season play despite posting the second-most goals (56) and game-winning goals (14) among all active players. In fact, Marleau has scored the series clinchers the past two times the Sharks have advanced, doing it in Game 7 of the second round two years ago against Detroit.
But there was his poor positioning late in Game 4 that turned the tide of a second-round series against Detroit in 2007, his failure to attempt to block a shot the next year against Dallas, and criticisms from former teammate and TV analyst Jeremy Roenick two years ago that he was “gutless” and lacked heart.
Coach Todd McLellan said he has mostly seen Marleau score clutch goals during his five years in San Jose and that people want Marleau to be perfect. The critics only got more ammunition last year when he generated no offence in five games against the Blues but they have little to say after his first-round performance this year.
“It’s great to see Patty do what he does after what he takes in the media and what people say about him and his character, stuff like that,” Couture said. “It’s good to see Patty be successful.”
Pavelski has been successful for most of his playoff career, which made last year’s struggles so notable. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound forward turned his nickname from “Little Joe” to the “Big Pavelski” when he scored 14 goals in the 2010 and 2011 postseasons.
He is perhaps the best bellwether of San Jose’s successes and failures in the post-season. He has posted 22 goals and 15 assists in 35 playoff wins in his career, while being held to two goals and seven assists in Sharks playoff losses.
“He’s had those runs and you can only hope those runs come and stay for a long time,” Marleau said. “He has a knack for it, scoring big goals in the playoffs.”
Pavelski has played that role all year for the Sharks. He had four goals and eight assists during a franchise-record 7-0 start to the season. He was then held to three goals and two assists over the next 23 games that included 17 San Jose losses.
After starting the season as a top six forward, Pavelski was dropped to third line centre March 25 after posting no points in the previous eight games as the Sharks dropped to ninth in the conference. He responded with nine goals and five assists in his final 18 games to help lead the Sharks back to the playoffs.
“He’s around the puck a little bit more, distributes it more from the middle,” McLellan said. “He’s probably a lot more comfortable there than being on the right side. He’s more involved in the game.”
The move also gives the Sharks strong centres on three lines with Joe Thornton and Couture manning the top two lines, causing difficult matchups they exploited against the Canucks.
NOTES: Niemi was named one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s best goalie, along with Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky. … F Adam Burish did not play after the second period and had his right hand wrapped after the game. There was no word on the extent of the injury.