SAN JOSE -- Typically, before Sharks pregame festivities begin at SAP Center, the list of scratched players for both teams comes up on the jumbotron, and the public-address announcer reads off the name of each skater who won’t play that evening.
But ahead of Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, the list sat silently as fans got to see for themselves that Joe Pavelski’s name wasn’t among the list of scratched players.
Six games after suffering a scary mid-game head injury and having to be helped off the ice, the captain would pencil back into San Jose’s lineup for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“This morning he skated, and I asked him at the rink when I was there [if he was playing], and he kind of laughed and said ‘yeah’ with a smile on his face, and I thought he was joking,” Logan Couture admitted. “And then he said, ‘No, seriously, I’m playing.’ And I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ And he went out and did it.”
By “it,” of course, Couture meant scoring the game-opening goal and tallying an assist in the Sharks’ 3-2 win over the Avs that has officially punched their ticket into the Western Conference final.
For a player who suffered a head injury and didn’t play for a couple of weeks, Pavelski’s performance was nothing short of amazing.
“He played unbelievable for a guy who missed playoff action for two weeks,” Couture said. “To have the injuries he has, come back and set up a goal, score a goal. I wish I could tell you what he’s gone through from seeing it firsthand. You wouldn’t believe that he’s playing right now.”
The status of Pavelski’s health following the scary scene in Game 7 of the first round against the Golden Knights was largely kept under wraps, and although coach Peter DeBoer told the press that No. 8 still was around the team, he was kept out of the public eye. Even after Pavelski began skating with the team again, there was no guarantee he would be able to pencil back into the lineup during the second-round series at all, let alone have a two-point evening.
“You’re almost speechless,” DeBoer said after Pavelski contributed to the Game 7 victory. “People in the building, a lot of them saw the injury. I don’t think you saw the recovery and what he went through, and how questionable it was whether he would be out there tonight — It really was a coin toss. He obviously made the ultimate decision -- and what an impact.”
Not only did Pavelski get on the scoreboard early, but he visibly had a positive impact on an offensive line with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl, including setting up Hertl’s first-period goal. No. 48 admitted afterward that he didn’t even know he and Pavelski would be skating together until just before the game.
“I just found out here before the game that Pav was playing with me,” said the smiling Hertl, who played on a line with Pavelski and Joe Thornton a few seasons back. “So we just talked. We played together with Jumbo a couple years ago.”
Hertl admitted he was impressed by how much of an impact Pavelski had right away.
“I was even a little bit surprised he came so hard after two weeks,” he complimented. “He comes, scores a goal, makes a nice play to me, and he was huge for us. I’m super happy he can be part of it, too.”
Pavelski told the media that he started feeling better around Game 5, although he didn’t know exactly when he might be able to play again. In typical fashion, the captain didn’t want to take the credit for San Jose’s big win, and instead gave kudos to his teammates.
“It was nice to get in there and play well, just to have a good start as a group,” Pavelski said. “Big credit to the guys for working.”
The Sharks’ playoff journey now will continue into the Western Conference final against the St. Louis Blues, which opens Saturday night at SAP, and Pavelski likely will continue to play an important role for San Jose. But his comeback performance in Game 7 against the Avs isn’t likely to be forgotten any time soon.
“What do you say?” DeBoer said. “He’s a special player. A special guy.”