SAN JOSE, Calif. – Joe Pavelski entered the post-season for the San Jose Sharks with the nickname “Little Joe,” which made sense considering he played on the same team as Jumbo Joe Thornton.
With seven goals in seven playoff games, the Sharks’ five-foot-11 forward is now being called the “Big Pavelski.”
“If you followed the team and watched his play, he’s been pretty inspirational and scored some pretty big goals,” coach Todd McLellan said. “He found a way to make an impact on the game. That’s what the playoffs are all about. You have to raise your level a little bit and find a way to leave your mark on the game every night.”
Pavelski has done just that this month. After scoring five goals to lead the Sharks past Colorado in six games in the first round, Pavelski scored the first goal and the eventual game-winner in San Jose’s 4-3 victory over Detroit to open the second round Thursday night.
His two power-play goals against the Red Wings showed off his strengths. On the first, he took a pass from Dan Boyle in the slot and beat Jimmy Howard with a pinpoint wrist shot. On the second, he found the open spot near the side of the net, took a pass from Boyle and beat Howard between the pads.
“He’s just a really smart guy,” Boyle said. “He sees the play, sees the ice very well. He has a great shot. All his goals, he’s picking corners right now. The guys is just really smart. That’s his biggest asset. He knows the game and he’s seeing the ice really well right now.”
Pavelski’s seven post-season goals are tied with Vancouver’s Mikael Samuelsson for the most this post-season. He will try to add to the total in Game 2 on Sunday night.
A year ago, Pavelski was held to a lone assist in San Jose’s first-round loss to Anaheim.
That was just the latest in a run of post-season disappointments for the Sharks and Pavelski took it particularly hard. That’s what has made his latest performance so gratifying.
“It’s the time of year we play for and it’s exciting,” Pavelski said. “And you want to be good. Last year you saw what happens when you don’t perform. And the way you feel.”
The soft-spoken Pavelski dismisses any suggestion that the Sharks are now his team. He quickly credits linemates Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi for his success.
“You can get in zones in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not just me but Clowe and Seto. We spent a lot of time on the ice together. Their intensity level is just as high and you saw the production.”
The trio has supplanted San Jose’s gold medal line of Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley as the top producers. The so-called second line has 12 goals so far in the playoffs compared with just two for the more heralded trio that combined for 40 per cent of San Jose’s regular-season scoring.
While Setoguchi provides the speed on the line and Clowe uses his size to win the battles on the boards and keep possession, Pavelski has been the biggest key.
“He’s so consistent right now,” Thornton said. “He’s hungry. He always seems to be where the puck is. He’s a stud right now and we just want him to keep it going.”
A former seventh-round pick who was selected 205th overall in 2003, Pavelski first started to get recognition with his play at the Olympics.
The native of Stevens Point, Wis., won the faceoff that led to Zach Parise’s tying goal in the final minute of regulation in the gold-medal game. He then had a chance to score the game-winner in overtime before the United States lost to Canada 3-2.
“I’ve been a fan of his since I got here,” Boyle said. “I didn’t really know who he was when I got here. But he certainly earned my respect early. Anyone who is watching hockey should know who he is now. He’s just got it going on. He’s a big piece of this puzzle.”
Pavelski picked up that strong play when he returned from the Olympics, recording nine goals and seven assists in the final 20 games of the season.
The playoffs have just been a continuation.
“He’s a good player and like all good players, you just play as hard as you possibly can against him,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who coached Team Canada in the Olympics. “You try to limit his chances.”