Sharks

Joe Pavelski focusing on being healthy for Sharks' Stanley Cup playoff run

Joe Pavelski focusing on being healthy for Sharks' Stanley Cup playoff run

SAN JOSE – Sharks captain Joe Pavelski may not be quite ready to return to game action just yet, but a return could definitely be coming in the near future.

Pavelski skated on Wednesday morning ahead of the rest of the team’s practice and will accompany the Sharks on their two-game trip down to Southern California. While it isn’t likely he’ll play in the first game against the LA Kings, he said he feels better every day. 

“If I had to go, I’d find a way,” Pavelski told the media after Wednesday’s skate, adding he wants to be careful not to return too soon. “Just be a little cautious and go from there.”

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer doubled-down on the importance of getting Pavelski healthy.

“You don’t want to rush things unless you have to,” he said. “We’re going to do what’s right and make sure he’s back full-time.”

Pavelski missed the Sharks' previous game against the Vegas Golden Knights with a lower-body injury -- which he thinks he sustained after an awkward fall in Saturday's game against the Nashville Predators. Monday's absence marked the first time in eight years the Plover, Wisc., native has had to miss any game due to injury.
 
“It was a nice run obviously of good health and playing through a few issues along the way,” he said. “Hopefully we can go another eight years.”

Of course, San Jose is eager to have its captain and leading goal-scorer back in the lineup, not just because of what he adds to the Sharks on the ice, but how he leads off the ice as well. Even Gustav Nyquist, who has only played with the Sharks for a handful of games, can see the impact Pavelski has on the team.

“Great guy on and off the ice, and a role model for a lot of the younger guys in this room,” No. 14 said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

Whether Pavelski returns on the road trip or not, the Sharks have to find a way to get back into the win column – and getting back on track against a lowly team like the Kings is ideal. LA is the second-worst team in the entire league, putting up the second fewest goals per game. Their special teams are also pretty dismal with their penalty kill sitting at 29th overall in the league. (Which makes them a great team for the Sharks to face as they try to get their power play going again.)

[RELATED: Why Sharks' goaltending struggles don't bode well for Stanley Cup playoff run]

But while the Sharks no doubt want Pavelski back in the lineup as they try to turn things around, they also want him in tip-top shape for their upcoming playoff run. Having him healthy is key.

“One thing that always sticks out is good health for teams that win,” Pavelski said. “Especially at the crucial times, it’s nice to be healthy.”

Sharks-Vegas Game 7: Why Kerry Fraser thinks game-changing penalty wrong call

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AP

Sharks-Vegas Game 7: Why Kerry Fraser thinks game-changing penalty wrong call

Game 7 of the Sharks' Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights will be remembered for a call and a comeback, and Kerry Fraser can empathize.

In the third period Tuesday, Vegas Golden Knights forward Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct. On a face-off in the Vegas end, Eakin shoved Sharks captain Joe Pavelski in the path of Eakin's teammate Paul Stastny, and Pavelski's collision with Stastny caused the San Jose forward to hit his head on the ice. Pavelski bled from his head, and needed assistance off of the ice. The Sharks scored four goals on the ensuing non-releasable penalty, and ultimately extended their postseason while ending the Golden Knights' with a 5-4 win.

The longtime NHL referee tweeted Wednesday he thought the penalty was too harsh.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant and forward Jonathan Marchessault told reporters they felt badly Pavelski was hurt, but laid into referees Eric Furlatt and Dan O'Halloran after the Sharks' win. Gallant said the referees told him Eakin hit Pavelski in the face, but replay indicated his cross-check caught his San Jose counterpart closer to the chest.

Fraser faced similar criticism after failing to call Wayne Gretzky -- then with the Los Angeles Kings -- for a high-sticking penalty against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I’m sure they’re gonna feel like I am, sick in the pit of my stomach. We’ve all been there,” Fraser told The Athletic. “I have the same feeling I had that night on the ice.”

Fraser's call, much like Tuesday's, marked a turning point. Gretzky's stick hit Maple Leafs forward Doug Gilmour in the face, drawing blood while the Kings had a power play in overtime. The Leafs led the series 3-2 at the time, and could have clinched a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with a win. But the Kings tied it 3-3 thanks to a Game 6-winning goal from -- you guessed it -- Gretzky.

Toronto ultimately lost Game 7, and the Leafs haven't gotten as close to a Stanley Cup in the interceding 26 years. Vegas doesn't have the Original-Six pedigree, but Golden Knights fans got a great taste of Leafs fans' gripes over the last quarter-century in their second season following the team.

Vegas' complaints are warranted, just as Toronto's were at the time. However, both teams still had chances to make up for it.

[RELATED: Check out Sharks-Avalanche second-round game schedule]

The Golden Knights failed to score on a power play of their own following the five-minute major, and could not score in overtime after Marchessault tied the game with 47 minutes remaining in regulation. Vegas also lost two previous close-out games -- one in San Jose, and one in the friendly confines of T-Mobile Arena.

Similarly, Toronto still had a home game of its own and a chance to advance in Game 7. The Leafs and Kings were tied with fewer than five minutes remaining, before Los Angeles scored two goals in a 37-second span.

Both calls will live in playoff infamy, but they didn't have to.

Kevin Labanc makes history in Sharks' crazy Game 7 comeback vs. Vegas

Kevin Labanc makes history in Sharks' crazy Game 7 comeback vs. Vegas

SAN JOSE -- Kevin Labanc made Stanley Cup playoffs history Tuesday night at SAP Center.

Labanc powered the Sharks' wild third-period comeback during their 5-4 overtime win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the first-round series. The winger assisted or scored on all four of San Jose's goals after Cody Eakin's controversial cross-checking major, becoming the first player in the history of the NHL's postseason to score four points in a single period of a Game 7.

With four points in 4:01, Labanc's playoff heroics will be remembered as a driving force behind the most memorable game in Sharks history and as the answer to a trivia question.

"I don't even know," Labanc said when a reporter brought the record to his attention after the Sharks' win Tuesday. "I'm still kind of awe-struck right now. But yeah, that power play was on point and really came in clutch for us."

Labanc is not a household name, but he has grown into a proven power-play contributor over the last two seasons. Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were the only Sharks to play more minutes per game on the power play than Labanc. In the last two regular seasons, Labanc's 37 points ranked fourth among Sharks skaters and his 31 assists are second only to Brent Burns. 

He also has been among the most productive players on the power play across the league. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, skaters have played 150 minutes in 5-on-4 situations. Of that group, Labanc ranks in 10th in assist rate (5.06 per hour), 14th in primary-assist rate (2.87 per hour) and 22nd in points per hour (5.91), according to Natural Stat Trick.

"He help us a lot," Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said Tuesday of Labanc's power-play contributions this season " ... A lot of plays he can make. He's really smart, he's patient and he for sure help us [in Game 7] because we were a little bit struggling early -- and kind of all playoff with power play. But, he come back in big moments and you need a guy like this."

Before Eakin's penalty, the Sharks were 0-for-4 on the man advantage in Game 7, and just 4-for-29 through the entirety of the season. But in the absence of injured captain Joe Pavelski, who drew the penalty after his head hit the ice following a collision with Vegas forward Paul Stastny from Eakin's shove off the face-off, Labanc and the Sharks' power play got to work quickly.

Labanc set up Logan Couture's first power-play goal with a Sharks staple, dishing a cross-ice pass through the seam of the Vegas penalty kill that got goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury moving laterally. Labanc's second and third points -- both secondary assists -- played out in similar fashion to one another, with the forward quickly working loose pucks up to defenseman Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, respectively. Hertl deflected Karlsson's shot past Fleury, and Burns one-touched a pass that Couture stepped into with a slap shot.

For his record-setting fourth point, Labanc handled the goal-scoring duties. Gathering the puck just in front of the Vegas blue line, Labanc saw he had time, skated straight to the right face-off dot and fired the Sharks' go-ahead goal past Fleury.

"I just kind of saw a little opening," Labanc said. "They kind of just gave me [the] shot, and they've been giving me shot all series. So, I just kind of saw the far side and went for it, and it was also a good screen by Timo [Meier] kind of getting in Fleury's eyes. He's been great all series, so we got in his eyes and went in."

[RELATED: Errey forseaw how Sharks could rally to win epic Game 7]

The Sharks held onto the lead given by Labanc's goal until Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault scored his fourth goal in as many games to tie Game 7 with 47 seconds remaining.  Barclay Goodrow's goal with 1:41 remaining in overtime eventually completed San Jose's comeback, and the Sharks advanced to the second round. The Colorado Avalanche await, fresh off dispatching the top-seeded Calgary Flames in a five-game, first-round series.

But the win that got them there? One that Labanc played an instrumental role in? That will be hard to top.

"Game 7, down 3-0 in the third period with 10 minutes to go?" Labanc rhetorically asked. "I'd say that's a cherry on top for sure, but it's still not over yet. We've still got three more rounds to go. It's a good win. It's a great feeling, and we've just gotta take care of our body and get ready for the next series."