SAN JOSE, Calif. – When Logan Couture limped off the ice in the middle of a tied game San Jose desperately needed to win, it looked as if he was taking the Sharks’ playoffs hopes with him.
Instead Couture managed to make it back out on the ice to give his team an emotional spark and topped that by scoring the overtime game-winner that got the Sharks back into their second-round series against Los Angeles with a 2-1 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night.
It’s just the latest big moment for a young player who has emerged as a leader and perhaps the top player on a Sharks team looking to make a deep playoff run.
“Logan is a huge, huge part of our team,” coach Todd McLellan said Saturday. “This is his coming out party. Nationally people have probably started talking about him. But we’ve known Logan like this for a long time.”
With two days off before Game 4 at home on Tuesday night when San Jose will look to tie the series at 2, Couture and his teammates mostly stayed off the ice Sunday to rest up and heal their wounds.
Couture got hurt early in the second period when he stepped on a puck with his left skate after a check from Jeff Carter and slammed awkwardly into the boards. He limped off the ice favouring his left leg and went straight to the Sharks dressing room as a hush came over the crowd.
San Jose survived the next 15 minutes of game action without Couture or forward Marty Havlat, who left after aggravating a lower-body injury in the first period, by juggling their lines.
The crowd got a jolt late in the second when Couture came out during a stoppage and skated around for a minute and then he played the final shift of the period.
“It’s playoffs. Everyone plays through injuries,” Couture said. “The four years I’ve been here, I seen guys play through a lot of injuries. Stanley Cup is what you’re playing for. Whatever it takes.”
Couture showed few signs of the injury in the third period and got the second most ice time of any San Jose forward after returning to the game.
The return paid off on the power play early in the overtime when he set up in the slot and took a pass from Patrick Marleau before beating Jonathan Quick with a wrist shot for his fourth goal of the post-season and first ever playoff overtime goal.
“It’s a feeling that really can’t be described,” he said. “It’s one of the best feelings in the game of hockey. That’s for sure.”
The game-winner was a bit of retribution for Couture, whose failure to clear a puck while killing a 5-on-3 advantage in the closing minutes of Game 2 led to Los Angeles’ tying goal in a game the Kings would eventually win.
“I don’t think about it like that,” Couture said. “I just think about it as different games, different plays. I made a play in Game 2 that I shouldn’t have made. I should have got the puck out. I didn’t. Nothing I can change about that now. So move forward and scored in Game 3.”
That was a rare mistake for the 24-year-old Couture who is emerging this post-season as the face of a franchise long dominated by gold medal winning stars Joe Thornton and Marleau.
A first-round pick in 2007, Couture made his first impact as a late-season call-up who scored four playoff goals in the run to the conference finals in 2010. Couture was tied for the team lead in playoff goals the following year with seven and has been the Sharks top goal-scorer the past two years.
“As far as Logan goes, I just think he’s getting recognized more for what he’s doing,” defenceman Dan Boyle said. “He’s been a huge part of this team since he got here with Patty and Joe getting a lot of the headlines. I think he’s been one of the go-to guys since he got here. He’s just being a little more recognized now. … He’s just very important and he showed it again last night why.”
Couture is far more than a goal-scorer as he often gets matched up against the opposing team’s top lines and outplayed the heralded Sedin twins in a first-round sweep of Vancouver.
Couture has won 62.9 per cent of his faceoffs this post-season, plays well in all three zones and is a major reason for San Jose’s improved defence this season.
“He’s got a passion and an energy that’s contagious,” McLellan said. “Sometimes older players do that to younger ones and younger to older. But he has a passion for the game that is second to none and he’s got an energy that he brings. He never quits on plays. He drives a lot of people into the game. That’s the sign of a good leader.”