This isn’t a story that begins with Logan Couture’s hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche, a trio of tallies that led the San Jose Sharks to a 2-1 lead in the second round series, nor is it a story that starts in Game 7 of the first-round series between the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, which saw Couture score two of the four goals during a five-minute power play that changed the series and turned that contest into one of the most memorable games in post-season history. No, it begins in earnest back in 2010-11, when a 21-year-old Couture went from regular season standout to establish post-season performer almost overnight.
During the 2010-11 campaign, he had proven himself an impact player. After a turn as a part-time fill-in throughout the 2009-10 campaign and a 15-game playoff run, Couture cracked the roster from Game 1 and made his mark. That first night, the beginning of his first full season in the NHL, Couture scored the game-winning goal. He went on to notch another of the game-winning variety before the year was through, 32 goals in all and finished the season with 56 points. He assumed a top-six role, finished second in Calder Trophy voting and made it abundantly clear he was the future in San Jose.
And then he went out and put an exclamation point on that in the playoffs.
That post-season, a campaign in which the Sharks would get all the way to the conference final before falling in five games to the Vancouver Canucks, Couture scored a team-high seven goals, finished with 14 points in 18 games – fewer than only the 15 scored by Ryane Clowe, 16 scored by Dan Boyle and 17 scored by then-not-so-greybeard Joe Thornton – and skated the fourth-most minutes of any Sharks forward. His first trip into the post-season spotlight, Couture embraced it, bathed in it, and excelled. And what we couldn’t have possibly known at the time was that it would only be the beginning.
Tuesday night in Colorado, Couture was seemingly everywhere on the attack for San Jose, and he was there in every moment the Sharks needed him. The game’s all-important first goal? That was scored by Couture with less than five minutes remaining in the opening frame. The go-ahead goal little more than one minute after the Avalanche had clawed back from a two-goal deficit? That was scored by Couture, who displayed quick hands before clanking one off the post beat Philipp Grubauer high. Then, right when the Sharks needed someone to seal the deal, it was Couture who was there to bury the empty-net tally, albeit after he was bailed out his teammates who killed his late tripping minor.
Significant about those goals beyond their single-game meaning – and the 2-1 series lead, which effectively hands home-ice back to the Sharks, is incredibly important – is what they meant for Couture’s standing among the best-of-the-best playoff performers of this generation. Including his 2009-10 output, Couture’s three tallies were Nos. 41, 42 and 43 of his career. The first tied him with Patrick Kane for the fourth-most playoff goals over the past nine post-seasons. The second tied Couture with Sidney Crosby for the third-most. And the last put Couture all alone in second, seven goals back of Alex Ovechkin’s 50 playoff goals since 2009-10.
By reaching those heights, Couture has the statistical backing necessary to validate his standing as one of the best post-season performers of his generation. Difficult as it might be to score in the playoffs, Couture has had a knack for it, highlighted not only by what is thus far a league-leading nine-goal playoff, but his aforementioned seven-goal output in 2010-11, his five goals in 2012-13 and not least of all his 10-goal performance during the 2015-16 playoffs.
No doubt that that run, in particular, was special. Though Couture has been excellent in the post-season almost every time he’s appeared in it with the Sharks, which is all but the 2014-15 campaign, he has never been better than he was during San Jose’s run to the Stanley Cup final in 2015-16. Couture was lethal, more so than any other player in the post-season. He finished that run with 10 goals, as noted. His 20 assists were the most of any player in the post-season. His 30 points topped all skaters. His 1.25 points per game rate was the best of any player who advanced beyond the first round. Only Reilly Smith, who scored eight points in six games, had a higher rate of scoring.
It sure looks as though that’s the kind of run Couture is embarking on once again. His three-points in Game 3 against the Avalanche pushed Couture to the top of the post-season scoring chart, where his 12 points have him tied with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon among players left standing this post-season. The dozen points have pushed Couture to 93 playoff points since 2009-10, as well, which is the sixth-most over that span and puts him seven shy of becoming just the fourth player in the past nine seasons to hit the century mark, where he would join Crosby (123), Kane (109) and Evgeni Malkin (106).
And if Couture keeps this up and hits that 100-point plateau, you can rest assured that he’ll do so while guiding the Sharks through the second round and into the Western Conference final for the fourth time in nine seasons. Such a performance, too, would surely vault him to the top of the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation, and after having the MVP award – as well as the Stanley Cup – snatched away by the Penguins in 2016, Couture has thus far played as though he doesn’t want to suffer the same fate again.