ST. LOUIS – A third period lead this deep in the NHL playoffs might as well be kryptonite to the team that doesn’t possess it.
Entering Game 5 of the Sharks-Blues series, the four teams remaining clubs that held an advantage after two periods were a combined 25-1, including a 13-0 combined record for San Jose and St. Louis.
So while Joe Pavelski’s latest insane redirection put the Sharks ahead 4-3 early in the third, held up as the game-winner and was the biggest highlight of the night, it was the captain’s late score in the second that really set the table for San Jose to skate its way to a 6-3 victory.
On a Sharks power play, Pavelski got free in the slot and smacked in a rolling pass from Joe Thornton at 18:33 of the middle frame, answering the Blues’ score on the man advantage about seven minutes earlier.
The Sharks were jacked at the break, having tied the game at 3-3. They went on to clinch the win with an impressive third, moving to within one victory of the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
“It was huge, it was huge,” Thornton said of Pavelski’s first score. “The guys felt good about themselves coming into the dressing room. You could kind of feel the momentum shift a little bit. But, yeah, just a huge goal to tie that up.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said: “Third goal was the killer goal.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Pavelski, Sharks beat Blues in Game 5, take 3-2 series lead]
It showed in the final frame, when Pavelski quickly gave the Sharks the lead again at the 16-second mark with a perfect redirection of a Brent Burns flying saucer from the point.
That one, of course, was pretty important, too. There is simply no player in the NHL better at scoring that type of goal, which was Pavelski’s 12th of the playoffs, leading the NHL.
“Best in the world at tipping pucks,” Logan Couture said.
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “It's incredible. You think back to some of the best scorers ever. His ability to get his stick on pucks in the offensive zone, in front of the net, different angles, is as good as anybody I've ever seen.”
From there, the Sharks managed to guard the house in front of goalie Martin Jones, allowing just seven third period shots by St. Louis.
Jones had been shaky up to that point, too, the second straight game in which he hasn’t been at his best after getting pulled in Game 4, but the goalie did manage to make one huge blocker save on Patrik Berglund with less than five minutes to go. Earlier in the third, David Backes rang one off the crossbar.
San Jose improved to 5-1 in the playoffs after a loss. According to DeBoer, they’ve had one stinker in each of the three rounds so far, but have quickly regrouped.
“Hopefully it's out of the way,” he said of the three lackluster performances, including Saturday’s 6-3 defeat in Game 4. “Every time we've reset. The guys have gotten back to our game. When we're playing that way, we're hard to beat.”
Thornton said: “We have a short memory. Pete stresses that. We went over film and we weren’t happy with [Game 4]. We wanted a better effort tonight and we thought if we gave an honest effort, we’d be OK.”
Not that it was perfect. One colossal error that the Sharks survived was Roman Polak momentarily losing his senses and taking a thoughtless roughing minor on Dmitrij Jaskin in the second period. Less than a minute later, Robby Fabbri’s blast from high in the zone got through Jones on what was a stoppable shot.
There was some speculation that Jaskin slew-footed Polak, but the defenseman – whose added physicality and presence on the blue line have aided the club throughout its playoff run – didn’t want to talk about it after the game.
“I don’t want to talk about it. It happens. He knows what he did,” Polak said. “I didn’t jump him just because I wanted to, or something like that. I just need to protect myself out there too. I think he knows what he did.”
The avoidable incident made Pavelski’s power play response later in the second all the more important.
And now, they have a chance to go where no other Sharks team has ever gone before.
“We just want to stay in the moment,” Thornton said. “We’ve been doing that, and it’s been working for us.’’