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Winning Play: Five minutes that changed everything

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Kevin Labanc #62 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring a goal in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game Seven of the Western Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Ce Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Was this the greatest first-round series in NHL history?

We had seven games. Two overtimes. A Game 7 winner in overtime.

We had unprecedented (public) yapping. Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves. “The Babysitter” and “The Muffin Man”. Peter DeBoer and Gerard Gallant. The “clown” and “the chatter”.

We had controversial, game-changing calls. Logan Couture’s goaltender interference penalty in Game 2. Cody Eakin’s major penalty for cross-checking in Game 7.

We had signature performances. Martin Jones setting the San Jose Sharks’ team record for playoff saves with 58 on Easter Sunday. Kevin Labanc tying a playoff record with four points in a period.

We had four Sharks goals on one power play.

Every power play goal was interesting in its own winning way.

Timo Meier (28) was removed from the power play before Game 5. It would be Meier who took Joe Pavelski’s net front position on the major.

It was also Meier who took Marc-Andre Fleury’s eyes away. Fleury was peering around Meier even though Labanc’s (62) pass was halfway to Logan Couture (39). This more than compensated for the extra time that the puck had to travel to reach Couture’s left-handed blade.

There was no replay to confirm this, but William Karlsson’s (71) direction, fronting Fleury instead of taking Tomas Hertl’s (48) stick, suggested that he was fooled by Erik Karlsson (65). It appeared as if Erik Karlsson showed shot, William Karlsson acted accordingly, when all along, Erik Karlsson was looking for the shot-pass to Hertl.

The Karlsson VS Karlsson match-up was one of the most-underrated in this series, and it appears that Erik got the last laugh.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare noted, on how to deny Brent Burns on the power play: “If you make a shooter pass the puck, you’ve already done maybe 50 percent of the job.”

All series long, Golden Knights wingers were shading hard on Sharks defensemen, especially Karlsson and Brent Burns (88), in all situations.

By taking the puck into the corner, Labanc helped draw Tomas Nosek (92) away from Burns. But as Labanc backhanded it back to the point, Nosek turned to front Burns and block his shot. Meanwhile, Max Pacioretty (67) moved to stick away a potential Burns cross-ice pass to Couture.

It would take a perfectly timed pass to reach Couture, and that’s what Burns pulled off, one-touching Labanc’s backhand toward Couture. For Burns, this was a great example of making a play with what the opponent gives you.

After the game-tying Couture strike, Vegas called their 30-second timeout. San Jose sent out their second power play unit, held scoreless up to this point.

Or did the Golden Knights call a timeout? Between the benches, NBC Sports Network color commentator Ray Ferraro reported, “Gerard Gallant is saying I didn’t call a timeout.”

In this minute-plus confusion, Gallant gained extra rest for his worn-out penalty killers...and for the Sharks’ top power play unit. DeBoer pulled his second power play group and rode the hot hand. Unbelievably, the Labanc power play goal was the first lead change in this series.

39-year-old Joe Thornton put it best, at least from a San Jose perspective: “That was the best game I’ve ever been part of. Period.”