Gustav Nyquist

Four Sharks-Vegas Game 7 nuggets you might not recall from wild night

Four Sharks-Vegas Game 7 nuggets you might not recall from wild night

Editor's note: This story originally was published on March 23. We are re-promoting it on April 23, the one-year anniversary of the epic Sharks-Vegas Game 7.

The sound, and the silence that preceded it, was unforgettable.

Sharks fans at SAP Center roared like never before on April 23, 2019, when San Jose eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights in an epic Game 7 of the teams' first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series. The sight of then-captain Joe Pavelski, bleeding and limp on the ice, emptied the arena of noise. The sight of the Sharks scoring four goals on the ensuing five-minute major penalty -- and, eventually, Barclay Goodrow's overtime winner -- easily filled it.

I reported on Game 7 from an auxiliary press box at SAP Center that night, sitting next to NBC Sports California's director of social engagement, Danny Pedroza. It was unlike any other game Danny, myself or anyone working in either press box that night covered before or after. 

Game 7, the payoff to a bitterly contested series in one of the NHL's best rivalries, included:

Those are just scratching the surface. With Game 7 set to re-air Monday at 6 p.m. PT on NBCSN as part of Hockey Week In America, here are four additional nuggets from the Sharks' wild win.

First time for everything

The Sharks had won Game 7s at home before beating the Golden Knights. They'd also won a Game 7 in overtime, eliminating the Calgary Flames a quarter-century before. They'd never done both at SAP Center, however, until Goodrow lit the lamp with 1:41 remaining in the extra session.

To be fair to the building formerly known as San Jose Arena, it was only the 42nd time in NHL history that a Game 7 would end in (at least one) OT. Plenty of buildings have never seen one, including the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens and Chicago Stadium.

Cody Eakin's major penalty, Pavelski's injury and the power play that followed make this Game 7 one of the most unique in NHL history. But the ending to the Sharks' win that night was pretty distinct, too.

The Sharks and Golden Knights shake hands after Barclay Goodrow's game-winning -- and series-clinching -- goal in overtime. Photo courtesy: Marcus White, NBC Sports California

Powerful play

The Sharks, prior to their historic outburst, had been abysmal on the power play against the Golden Knights. San Jose scored as many goals (four) on the bonkers third-period power play as it did in the six games preceding Game 7.

Shooting percentages often drive scoring droughts as much as anything else, and the Sharks' fallow power play was no different. They scored on 13.81 percent of their 5-on-4 shots during the 2018-19 regular season, and converted just 8 percent of theirs in the first six games of the series. The Sharks then scored on four of their 15 5-on-4 shots -- or, 26.67 percent -- in Game 7.

Sure, San Jose benefitted from the wrong call, but regression to the mean arguably helped the Sharks just as much.

The time is Nyquist

Gustav Nyquist skated just one, 30-second shift in the third period after the Sharks' four-goal power-play barrage. San Jose couldn't make do with a top-six hole in overtime following Pavelski's injury, however, so the Swedish winger filled Pavelski's place alongside Logan Couture and Timo Meier.

Couture, Meier and Nyquist were a dominant trio in overtime. They created three high-danger chances in just 4:33 together, matching the Kevin Labanc-Joe Thornton-Marcus Sorensen combo in nine fewer minutes together.

The Sharks completely controlled play during the extra session, and Nyquist's seamless inclusion on San Jose's top line was a huge reason why. If he didn't, Game 7 could have ended much differently.

[RELATED: Need a home workout? Use Sharks rookie Mario Ferraro's]

Sixth sense

Had the Golden Knights won Game 7, then-Vegas coach Gerard Gallant would have gotten far more credit for a bold tactical move on Jonathan Marchessault's game-tying goal.

Marchessault was one of six Golden Knights forwards on the ice with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury pulled, skating alongside Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Those six comprised the entirety of Vegas' top two forward lines at the time, and they pinned the Sharks in the defensive zone for the entirety of their 41 seconds together.

The Golden Knights' season was on the line, so desperation undoubtedly drove Gallant more than innovation. He deserves credit for creativity, however, especially in a sport that often relies on risk-averse strategies.

Here's hoping that, whenever the NHL starts its next season after the coronavirus pandemic is contained, Gallant's behind a team's bench.

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

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AP

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

SAN JOSE -- Thursday was the rehearsal. Saturday is the real thing.

The Sharks welcomed back a former player in their win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night, but no offense to Gus Nyquist -- it was just another game for San Jose.

The same cannot be said for Saturday night's bout against Joe Pavelski and the visiting Dallas Stars.

After playing 963 games in a Sharks uniform, Pavelski returns to SAP Center on Saturday night as a visiting player for the very first time. Arguably the most beloved captain in franchise history, Pavelski was signed by Dallas in free agency after he and the Sharks failed to reach a contract agreement. No ill will is harbored on either side -- quite the opposite, actually -- and his absence has been felt throughout what has been an atypically down season in San Jose.

Throughout Pavelski's 13 seasons with the Sharks, the team failed to qualify for the postseason only once and never posted a points percentage lower than 54.3 percent. Currently, San Jose is well off the pace to qualify for the playoffs and has totaled only 47.8 percent of its maximum possible points thus far. Part of the problem has been the offense, as the Sharks are scoring nearly one fewer goal per game this season (2.65) than they did last year (3.52). That might be the area where Pavelski's absence has been most evident, but the Sharks certainly have missed their former captain's presence off the ice, as well.

"A guy like that is very, very tough to replace," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said of Pavelski following San Jose's morning skate Saturday. "I think more than anything, it's the friendships and the bonds he had in the dressing room. And listening to some of the player's comments the last couple days about how hard he worked and how he prepared and how he kept guys accountable, you can never have enough guys like that.

"The guys that are doing it now have done a good job, but Pavs was a guy that everybody looked up to and had a lot of respect for."

It's not as if there's a leadership vacuum in San Jose's locker room this season. There's an ample number of veterans ready and willing to carry the torch, but with the Sharks in somewhat of a transitional phase, Pavelski remains a model for which some of the next wave of team leaders can still learn from.

"Being around [Joe Thornton] and [Patrick] Marleau, the guys have a couple great examples there," Boughner added. "More than anything, it's [Pavelski's] leadership. It's how he handles himself in the dressing room, in the community and things like that. I think guys like [Logan Couture] and [Tomas] Hertl and Timo Meier and [Kevin Labanc] -- those are the guys that could really try to emulate what kind of guy he was off the ice."

[RELATED: Pavelski believes skill, character will help Sharks rebound]

Right now, "off the ice" describes all that Couture is able to do. A fractured ankle suffered in Tuesday's loss to the St. Louis Blues will keep him out for several weeks, further exacerbating the Sharks' lack of offense, as he ranks fourth on the team in goals (14) and is tied for second in assists (22). Similar to Pavelski, the impact of Couture's absence is likely to be readily apparent before long, but as Boughner explained, it's no coincidence that San Jose's current captain took over the 'C' from the previous one.

"They're their own individuals when it comes to their games," Boughner said, "but [Couture] is probably the guy that you could say is responsible in all three zones and plays the right way and plays a lot like Pavs."

Neither Couture nor Pavelski will be wearing a Sharks sweater when San Jose takes the ice Saturday night. For everyone involved, that's going to take some getting used to.

Why Sharks need Martin Jones to outperform No. 23 overall goalie rating

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USATSI

Why Sharks need Martin Jones to outperform No. 23 overall goalie rating

It's no mystery what the Sharks' weakness was last season.

San Jose set a franchise record with 289 regular-season goals, tied for the second-most in the league. The problem was, they allowed 258, the most of any playoff team.

Martin Jones is coming off the worst season of his career, in which he posted an .896 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average. He wasn't much better in 20 postseason games, with a slightly better save percentage (.898) and slightly worse GAA (3.02).

So, it comes as no surprise that Jones didn't rank highly in The Athletic's 2019-20 Goalie Tiers.

An anonymous 17-person panel consisting of seven NHL general managers, four NHL head coaches, three assistant GMs and three goalie coaches rated every starting goalie on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 representing a goalie who should challenge for the Vezina Trophy, and a 5 representing goalies who shouldn't be starters. The results were averaged, then sorted into tiers.

According to that panel, Jones was rated as the No. 23 overall netminder in the league, closer to the bottom of tier 3 than the top of it.

"He had the lowest save percentage in the NHL last year. Where would you rank him?” One of the anonymous executives questioned. “Jones is a better goalie than we’ve seen. I was surprised how his year went last year."

"It’s amazing what San Jose did with him (in goal)," a head coach responded.

"They played good defensively and he was (bad)," another coach summarized. "He’s had good moments. But he just didn’t stop pucks. I like the way he looks but he just doesn’t stop pucks."

Like I said, no mystery.

[RELATED: Sharks goalie Jones 'really solid' in his preseason debut]

If San Jose is going to compete for the Stanley Cup this coming season, chances are the Sharks will need Jones to perform better than the No. 23 overall goalie in the league. They have lost more than 20 percent of their regular-season goal total from last season after Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist departed in free agency, and with little in the way of obvious replacements on the roster, it seems unlikely San Jose will find the back of the net as often as it did a year ago.

Assuming the Sharks don't, they'll have to make up the difference elsewhere, and that's where Jones comes in.