Joe Pavelski does it again, leading the Sharks to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Kings

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 14: Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the winning goal in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the HP Pavilion on April 14, 2011 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won the game 3 to 2. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

At this point in Joe Pavelski's postseason career, a simple cut and paste job from last year seems pertinent considering the circumstances.

So we start today where we always seem to end-- looking back at yet another huge performance from the Sharks twenty six year old center, a player who has established a flair for the dramatic in the best possible way.

Joe Pavelski may have been the most important player during the Sharks march to the 2010 Western Conference Finals.

In fact, he just might have saved San Jose's season.

With forty seconds remaining in game two, and the Sharks already down 1-0 in the series following a heartbreaking loss the night before that saw a puck careen off Rob Blake's skate past Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose entered the zone trailing by a goal and desperate to score. And while dropping the first two games at home may have not been the death knell for a team as talented as the Sharks, the recent history of a 2009 postseason loss to Anaheim would have threatened to tear apart the delicate fabric holding together the city's collective psyche.

Fortunately, Pavelski didn't let it get that far. Joe Thornton found Dany Heatley between the circles, and after Craig Anderson made a marvelous save in-tight on the Canadian sniper, Pavelski quickly jumped on the rebound and rifled the shot into the back of the net to send HP Pavilion into a frenzy. The comeback would be complete later that night with an overtime goal by Devin Setoguchi, but no score rang louder during the entire Sharks postseason than Pavelski's in the dying seconds of that game two.

As it turns out, he was just getting started.

From a game four winner against Colorado in overtime, to back to back two-goal affairs against the Detroit Red Wings that led to a 2-0 series lead the Sharks would never surrender, Pavelski ended his 2010 postseason with 9 goals, 8 assists, 17 points, a +6, and 3 game-winners. He led the team in four out of those five categories (Boyle taking the assist crown with 12), and was a monumental influence in all assets of the game.

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This postseason? As it turns out, he may just be getting started once again.

Pavelski continued his postseason heroics tonight at HP Pavilion, scoring the game winner at 14:44 of overtime to give San Jose its first game one quarterfinals win in four seasons. At the end of his shift, and struggling to make his way down the ice, Kyle Wellwood pulled up just above the circles and found Pavelski streaking towards the net. A backchecking Alec Martinez couldn't quite catch up to disrupt the play, and Pavelski made his forehand count beating Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick glove side to send the home crowd into a frenzy.

"We would have liked not to have it be in overtime, but Pavelski is a tremendous player for us," Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said. "We count on him for so many different situations. He is very recognized at this time of the year for someone who elevates their game."

Pavelski's line, which includes wingers Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell, continued where they left off at the end of the season, consistently putting up scoring chances throughout the night. Wellwood in particular had a strong outing, driving to the net consistently and getting a few scoring chances of his own that Quick managed to stop.

San Jose came out of the gates early, as Dany Heatley opened the scoring by punching a rebound generated by Ryane Clowe past Quick a mere 28 seconds into the first period. It was the quickest opening goal in the playoffs in franchise history, and San Jose took that early momentum and ran with it in the first period. The Sharks outshot the Kings 14-3 in the opening frame, peppering Quick with opportunities at every turn.

The Sharks blueline was also peppered, as Kings winger Jarret Stoll took a run at Ian White along the boards, driving his head into the glass and knocking White out of the game. San Jose would skate with five defenseman the rest of the night.

"The start tonight was certainly not what you want," Kings Head Coach Terry Murray said following the game. "You know it's going to come out fast. It's going to be hectic in the first ten minutes and they end up getting that quick goal."

The second period was a different affair however, as Los Angeles would turn the tides and mount some pressure of their own. With the Sharks on the penalty kill, Logan Couture came down the ice on the rush and fired the puck wide of the net. As it rimmed around the boards, and the over aggressive Sharks penalty killers tried desperately to get back into proper defensive position, the Kings saw a 2 on 1 opportunity present itself. Justin Williams found Dustin Brown across the ice and Brown hammered home a blistering one-timer that beat Niemi and knotted the game up at two.

Couture would amend for his mistake three minutes later however. As opposing defenseman and childhood friend Drew Doughty came across the zone to deliver a hip check, Couture found just enough space to squeeze by and attack the net. As Doughty slammed into the boards Couture saw an opening in Quick's pads and managed to slip the puck past the goal line to give San Jose a 2-1 lead.

"That was a big goal for us, and after the mistake on the first one (Brown's goal), I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to get one back on my very next shift," Couture said. "We had flurries in their end, they had flurries in our end, and that's the way this series is going to go."

Los Angeles would respond, as Justin Williams scored at 16:20 in the second. Douglas Murray attempted to clear the puck around the boards but a forechecking Ryan Smyth got a piece of it with what looked like his skate, shooting the puck out to the weak side. With Niemi reading the play and coming across his crease, Williams picked up the puck and had an easy dunk in to put the Kings back into tied game territory.

As expected, game one was a brutal affair. Both teams combined for 79 hits, there was a large amount of post-whistle scrums, and the puck battles along the boards were intense. The rest of the series is expected to be much of the same, and for good reason-- the fact that both teams are Pacific Division rivals means both coaching staffs are aware of the opposing team's players in and out. If the Sharks are going to continue to win these types of outings, puck pressure is essential-- while is entirely possible that the fact the Sharks were skating with five defenseman contributed to this factor, San Jose's blueline did not pressure the Kings enough as they entered the zone. It allowed Los Angeles to create numerous opportunities off their low cycle, an enormous asset to their game that paid dividends as the game wore along.

All in all it was an excellent win for the Sharks, who for the first time in four seasons made their quarterfinals home-ice advantage in game one count. The necessary response to Los Angeles' physicality was there, and although the second period bore witness to a dominating Kings performance, credit goes to Niemi for keeping San Jose in it.

With both goaltenders putting up solid performances, and the bad blood already beginning to brew, a series that many expected to be a quick jaunt through the first round has turned into something a war. San Jose won the first battle tonight, but as the Kings proved, the path to the second round won't be as easy as seeing the lack of Anze Kopitar in the lineup and writing this one off. The Kings are an extremely dangerous team, one that clearly has taken that junkyard dog mentality and spread it around the entire locker room.

The fat lady hasn't even woken up yet. She's scared to come out of the house in fact, what with all of the bodies flying around down at rinkside.

That is, at least until a certain 26 year old center hit the ice for a shift in overtime. Once she sees Pavelski flying down the wing, she might start warming up the pipes.

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