Quick Bites: Couture picks up Sharks and carries them to victory

Timely goals lead to hat trick for Cooch, 4-2 win for the Sharks.

The San Jose Sharks have taken back home ice advantage in their best of seven series with the Colorado Avalanche and it’s in large part thanks to Logan Couture. The 4-2 victory in Denver last night gives the Sharks a 2-1 lead in the series.

Prior to Game 3, Couture was critical of how his line played and told The Mercury News’ Curtis Pashelka, “For us as a line, we need to create more offensively.”

Couture challenged himself and then delivered. He registered his first career playoff hat trick by scoring goals when they counted the most. Couture scored the first goal of the game and then took back the lead in the third period, just 65 seconds after Colorado tied it at two. He finished off the hat trick with an empty net goal.

Couture has nine goals and three assists in his ten playoff games this season.

His linemates also contributed. Timo Meier had a goal and two assists, while Gustav Nyquist had two assists.

The Sharks won in part because they maintained possession of the puck for large portions  of the game, namely the second and third periods:

You can see that the Sharks weathered the early push by the Avalanche and then tilted the ice in their favor. When the Avalanche did manage to get sustained zone time, Martin Jones made the key saves.

Jones finished the night with 25 saves and a .926 save percentage. On the other end of the ice, Philip Grubauer made 27 saves and ended the night with a .900 save percentage. That said, Grubauer made a number of key saves kept the Avalanche in the game going into the third period.

Looking at the heat map, you can see just what kind of chances both goalies faced:

The first five minutes of the game were just what you would expect from an Avalanche team that was back in its own building. Avalanche Head Coach Jared Bednar wasn’t afraid to start his top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Alexander Kerfoot against Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns. What resulted was a a strong start from the Avalanche, who had a number of shots on goal before the Sharks even registered one.

After weathering the storm, San Jose slowly tilted the ice back in its favor. At the 4:55 mark of the first period, the Sharks received their first power play of the game thanks to a holding penalty by Matt Nieto. While there wasn’t much happening on the man advantage, San Jose did manage to find some footing against the Avs.

About four minutes later, the Sharks received their second power play when Ian Cole was called for interference. The power play was much better this time, but was cut short when Evander Kane was called for a high stick 1:20 in.

During the ensuing 4-on-4 play, Burns rang a shot off the crossbar. That was the goal’s first save of the night and it would not be its last.

Colorado failed to score on the muted, 40-second power play that it received when Cole got out of the box.

San Jose finally managed to break the 0-0 tie at the 15:24 mark of the first period.

Nyquist went in hard on the forecheck and pushed the puck over the Meier. Meier circled up above the faceoff circle and then took the initial shot. Couture picked up the puck and went top shelf on Grubauer. In his celebration, Couture tipped his hat to the Avalanche crowd, almost like he knew what was going to happen.

1-0, Sharks.

The goal briefly silenced the crowd in Denver and it got worse a few minutes later when Meier scored the second goal of the period for the Sharks.

Meier picked up the puck in the neutral zone after stopping an errant pass by Erik Johnson. Instead of passing it, Meier drove the net and shot it off the crossbar. This time, the puck went in. It happened so fast, that the goal judge didn’t light the lamp until a few seconds later.

The first period ended with a 2-0 Sharks lead.

In the second period, the Avalanche came out hard and it was up to Jones to make the stops. He made a point blank stop on Colin Wilson through traffic and kept the score 2-0 until San Jose could regain momentum.

That’s when the post made another great save. Vlasic floated one in on Grubauer. Grubauer got a glove on it, but it squeaked through and hit the crossbar. For those of you counting, that was the crossbar’s third save of the night.

Kane also had a scoring chance when he was sent in on a breakaway, but Grubauer got the better of him. Kane had a lot of trouble finding the back of the net last night. He had some chances, but could not convert.

On the Avalanche side of things, Wilson had similar issues. About halfway through the second period, he rang one off the post. Wilson never made it on the scoreboard last night, but he had some serious chances.

One of the most dangerous series by the Avalanche came in the second half of the second period, when the Avs were in the Sharks’ zone for more than a minute. The Avs controlled the puck and peppered Jones with shots.

A hand pass helped stop the play and get the Sharks a change, but the Avs went right back on offense. Jones was forced to make a pair of big saves and then a break for the Sharks when Kerfoot was called for a interference. It was a pretty obvious pick that took Marcus Sorensen out of the play.

But on the ensuing Sharks power play, it was the Avalanche that scored. A bad turnover in the neutral zone sent none other than MacKinnon the other way. He sniped a shot past Jones.

The second period ended with the score 2-1, Sharks.

In the third, the Avalanche came out strong and San Jose was forced to weather the storm. Jones had another stop on Wilson from point blank range. But with that kind of onslaught, the Avalanche would eventually score.

At the 8:15 mark of the third period, it was Matt Nieto that scored the equalizer. Nieto has four goals and two assists in eight games these playoffs. You have to wonder where that guy was during, oh I don’t know, any of the playoff series when he played for the Sharks.

But Couture promised to be better and he was. Instead of folding, the Sharks pushed back and 65 seconds later, Couture scored his second of the night.

The Sharks took advantage when the Avalanche failed to get the puck out of their own zone. Couture hovered behind the defense and received a pass from Meier. He walked right at Grubauer and rang a shot off the post and crossbar before the puck went into the net.

3-2, Sharks.

With just over seven minutes left in the game, the Avs weren’t going down without a fight. They continued to try and get another game tying goal and the post saved Jones once again around the four minute mark of the third period.

There was more trouble for the Sharks at 2:56, when Couture was called for tripping. He headed to the box and the Sharks were forced to kill the penalty. It only got worse around the 90 second mark when the Avalanche pulled Grubauer for the extra attacker.

With 6-on-4 play, Kane had a shot at the empty net, but missed.

MacKinnon picked up the puck and went coast to coast, but couldn’t beat Jones.

Barclay Goodrow managed to wrest the puck away from the Avs defense, but also couldn’t get that game ending goal.

So, with just under a minute left in the game, Couture stepped out of the box, picked up the puck and shot it on net from center ice. The final goal of the hat trick and the one that sealed the win for the Sharks.

My favorite stat of the night comes courtesy of Josh Dubow of the AP.

Our own Sheng Peng asked Couture about it after the game.

Other news of note: Nyquist did not take part in the morning skate because he and his wife welcomed their first child on Monday. Charlotte Nyquist is her name. Defenseman Tim Heed also has a new baby girl in his family. Chloe was born on April 25.

Game 4 is Thursday in Denver. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.