SAN JOSE – Logan Couture has never been shy about the fact that he likes to watch as much hockey as possible, especially in the playoffs.
It paid off in a key moment in the Sharks’ dominant 5-1 Game 5 win over Nashville on Saturday, giving them a three-games-to-two series lead.
With the Sharks leading 2-1 at the start of the second period, Couture took a pass from linemate Joonas Donskoi after some neutral zone sloppiness by the Predators, and quickly closed in on Pekka Rinne. He went from his forehand to his backhand, and slipped the disc between the big goalie’s legs to give San Jose a two-goal cushion.
Why that move? He had seen Rinne bite on it recently.
“I was dying for a chance for a breakaway,” Couture said. “I saw [Anaheim’s Andrew] Cogliano did that to him in the first round. It’s a move I’ve used a lot, so I was hoping I’d get a chance to use it. It was nice.”
Thinking five-hole all the way?
“The whole way.”
Couture has been the Sharks’ most productive and consistent player against the Predators throughout the first five games. He’s tallied four goals and seven points in the series, and is currently tied for the team lead in overall playoff scoring with Brent Burns (and tied for second in the NHL) with 13 points. He has found the scoresheet in eight of the Sharks’ 10 postseason games.
On Saturday morning, Couture deflected a question as to whether he was playing his best hockey of the year. The night after his latest performance, though, he admitted that he’s going pretty good right now after a trying first half in which he suffered a fractured right ankle, and later a blood clot in his thigh. The ankle injury in particular was bothersome, as he mentioned well into the second half that he was still adjusting to the hardware that was required to repair it.
“I thought I played better. I played well,” he said Saturday night. “I had some good legs, I was skating with the puck. I felt confident.”
It showed. And, he had help. Couture’s newly configured second line, with Patrick Marleau on the left wing and Donskoi on the right, set the pace early for San Jose. They had a number of scoring chances as San Jose dominated territorially for the first 10 minutes before Marleau finally finished off a pass from Donskoi midway through the opening frame.
After spending most of the past several seasons together, Marleau and Couture haven’t played much on the same line this season. That’s partially due to Couture missing 30 of the first 35 games with those aforementioned injuries, but even when they are both active, coach Pete DeBoer has preferred to keep Marleau on the third line.
After struggling for most of the series, Marleau was all over the ice in Game 5 after the line promotion. Along with his goal, he found Joe Pavelski for a power play marker late in the second period to increase the Sharks’ lead to 4-1.
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“Patty was really playing well tonight,” Couture said. “He was skating, he was making some big plays with the puck, he scored a big goal, on the power play, he made a great pass to [Joe Pavelski]. Patty was really good tonight.”
It was an easy transition for Marleau to go back with his former centerman in Couture, along with the skilled rookie Donskoi.
“It was nice, a lot of communication out there,” Marleau said. “They’re good to play with.”
Early in the third period, though, there was a frightening moment for the Sharks. Couture was hammered in front of the bench door by Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson, and immediately had to go up the tunnel and into the dressing room. He was favoring his left side and looked to be in some pain.
He didn’t miss hardly any time, though, returning to the bench just a few minutes later.
“Unfortunately the door [wasn’t] closed and my thigh went into it. I’m fine,” Couture said.
That’s a sigh of relief for San Jose, which will likely need Couture at his best to close out the Predators and move on to its first trip to the Western Conference final since 2011. Nashville has won both of its home games against the Sharks in the series.
“This game ends and the next one will start in a little bit, so we have to play as well, or better,” Couture said.