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SAN JOSE – It was 10 seconds of terror for Sharks forward James Sheppard.
On Saturday in Colorado, the 25-year-old went hard into the boards in the second period, and his left leg/knee took the brunt of a violent collision that was aided in part by a shove from Colorado’s Jamie McGinn. It’s the same knee Sheppard hurt in a freak ATV accident in the summer of 2010 that almost ended his hockey career and kept him out of NHL action for nearly three full years.
For a brief moment on Saturday, Sheppard didn’t know if it had happened all over again.
“I thought something was really wrong,” he said on Monday.
After the initial pain subsided, though, Sheppard realized fairly quickly that everything was fine. He skated to the bench under his own power, and shortly after that was back taking his shifts as the team’s third line center.
But, it was a frightening experience.
“I didn’t want to stay on the ice, so I was able to get up on that knee. After that, I knew it was OK,” Sheppard said. “You never know what it is, and I’ve had so many different feelings with that knee. I was worried for a good 10 seconds. After that, it was almost like nothing happened.”
The sigh of relief came not only from Sheppard, but from his head coach, too. Sheppard has suddenly become one of the most important players on the roster, and his production on the third line has allowed Todd McLellan to keep Joe Pavelski on the top line wing, at least for now. Pavelski leads the Sharks with 38 goals and 73 points.
In his last 18 games, Sheppard has three goals, 11 assists and a +11 rating. That includes a deft and precise feed through the slot to Dan Boyle for a goal in Colorado, shortly before he went into the boards.
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“There’s nowhere for the body to go, and you’re holding your breath. To see him skate off on his own was a good thing,” McLellan said.
“Since the Olympic break he’s really played well, and become a very important part of our team. You never want to lose anybody, but especially somebody who’s built that momentum and gained that confidence back.”
Confidence was a word that was also used by Sheppard’s linemate, Tommy Wingels. Earlier this season, Sheppard was a fairly regular healthy scratch, at one point sitting out in seven of 10 games in January.
There’s no talk of scratching him now.
“I think he’s really feeling good about himself with his game, and his role with the team right now,” Wingels said. “As a player, you can get frustrated when things don’t go your way. James worked back from this injury and now I think he feels his game - and the rest of us do - is where it was before the knee injury.
“He’s playing great. He’s the real reason why our team is able to play the lineup we are right now, going with three lines like this. Jimmy is a big part of that.”
Whether the Sharks choose to leave Sheppard as the third line center with Wingels and Marty Havlat (or possibly Raffi Torres, should he be healthy enough to return for the playoffs) will be a hot topic outside of the team’s dressing room as the postseason approaches.
Sheppard is confident his line could have success against any potential opponent.
“We play well together, and we’re all defensively there as well,” Sheppard said. “That’s a huge part, because you can rely on your teammates. If you make a mistake you know they’re going to back you up and going to be there. They’re so aware on the ice, that I know that we can do our job against any team in this league.”