PITTSBURGH –- The Sharks desperately needed one of their stars to step up, before it was too late.
Facing elimination, the team’s four biggest offensive threats –- Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Brent Burns -– had a combined zero goals through the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Enter Couture, who, other than Martin Jones, was the Sharks’ best player in Game 5, a 4-2 win at Consol Energy Center that kept San Jose’s pulse pumping for Game 6 at SAP Center on Sunday.
With one goal and two assists, Couture now has 29 points (9g, 20a) in 23 playoff games, six more points than teammates Pavelski and Burns, who are tied for second place. To put that in perspective, the 27-year-old would be on pace for 103 points in a full, 82-game regular season.
“I want to try to produce every night. That's my goal when I come to the rink, help the team try to score a goal,” Couture said on Thursday night, when asked about the Sharks’ top players not doing much prior to that point.
“We know we haven't scored many goals -– or any –- in this series. It's one of the reasons why we were down 3-1. We wanted to come. We didn't want the season to end.”
Couture has saved his best, in terms of production, for the most vital games throughout the Sharks’ playoff run. He tallied three assists in Game 5 against the Kings, as San Jose eliminated its chief rival. In Game 7 against Nashville, he posted one goal and two assists. In Game 6 against the Blues, another close-out game, he had his third three-point game of the playoffs with a one-goal, two-assist effort.
That’s the definition of a big-game player.
“I think great players have that ability,” said Pete DeBoer, on a conference call on Friday. “I put him in that category, just like Joe Pavelski has a knack for game‑winning goals. I think Logan has the ability to raise his level of play when the chips are down. I think he's done that for us the entire playoffs.
“It's a great gift to have. Not everyone has that ability.”
Couture’s slickest move in Game 6 was his assist on Melker Karlsson’s goal, the game-winner, at 14:47 of the first period after the Sharks blew an early two-goal lead.
After getting open in the circle, Couture redirected a feed from the point from Brenden Dillon to an open Karlsson in the slot, in one fluid motion on his backhand. Karlsson whacked it through Matt Murray.
If the Sharks somehow manage to complete the comeback and win the Stanley Cup, that goal will stand as one of the most important, as the Sharks were under attack at that point. After the Penguins took all of two minutes and 13 seconds to erase a two-goal deficit, they recorded 12 of the next 13 shots on goal.
Couture and Karlsson, though, put Jones and the team in position to keep the slim lead. They did.
“The biggest thing with our group in this playoffs and this season compared to years past is the composure, the calmness that we feel,” Couture said.
“Obviously, it's tough. You get a two-goal lead, it's gone in a matter of [two minutes]. But be calm, get back out there, get another good shift. We were able to score again. Melker gave us the lead again. Jonesy did the rest.”