Joe Pavelski couldn't hide his emotions Saturday night after the Dallas Stars' 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center.
The former Sharks captain had just watched as Stars teammate Tanner Kero was taken off the ice on a stretcher following a vicious hit by Blackhawks forward Brett Connolly.
The incident happened three minutes into the game Saturday. Kero never saw Connolly coming and laid motionless on the ice near the boards. Connolly was given a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct, and ejected from the game.
The Stars provided a positive update on Kero, noting that he was conscious, alert and responsive while saying the 29-year-old would be taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
"I've been there before," Pavelski told reporters Saturday as he wiped away tears with a towel. "My teammates rallied around me that night."
The night Pavelski was referring to was April 23, 2019. During the Sharks' first-round series during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the leader of the Sharks was knocked out of Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights.
With the Sharks trailing 3-0 in the third period of the deciding game at SAP Center, Golden Knights center Cody Eakin cross-checked Pavelski, who stumbled and hit his head on the ice. He was out cold. Eakin was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct penalty.
That moment completely flipped Game 7 and the series. During the five-minute major, the Sharks scored four goals to take the lead in one of the most thrilling sequences in NHL history. Vegas tied the game in regulation before Barclay Goodrow scored in OT to win the game and the series for the Sharks.
While Pavelski couldn't help but think about his scary injury as he sobbed Saturday night, his thoughts shifted quickly to the well-being of Kero.
"Tanner's awesome," Pavelski said. "He's soft-spoken, but he works hard. He doesn't miss a day. When he gets called on to play, he shows up and makes great plays, plays hard. He's a great teammate.
"We've heard he's doing all right. That win is definitely for him, but you just say a prayer for a speedy recovery. It sucks."
Pavelski, one of the best leaders in the NHL, undoubtedly will be there every step of the way to help Kero as he recovers from the scary incident.