Sharks 4, Avalanche 2: Couture reaches peak in Mile High City

The Sharks will have to short shift their depth forwards to account for the depleted oxygen in the air. Bring Sherpas.

After a series tying game where the Avalanche’s stars took center stage, tonight the Sharks responded thanks to a dominant performance from one of their own big names: Logan Couture.

Couture’s hat trick performance, which included the game winner with seven minutes remaining, led the Sharks to a 4-2 victory in Game 3, and whether they reach the promised land or not, it will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest playoff performances in Sharks history.

It started in the first period, when Couture was able to locate a rolling puck in a mess of Avalanche defenders and catch Colorado netminder Philipp Grubauer off-guard with a quick backhand under the bar to open the scoring. His eventual winning goal came less than a minute after Matt Nieto had tied the game for the Avalanche, when Couture made a mad dash for the net and snapped the puck between Grubauer’s arm and the post.

The Avalanche ramped up the pressure in the dying minutes, but the puck still wound up on the stick of Couture with thirty seconds to go, depositing it into the empty Colorado net to regain home ice advantage for the Sharks. Even on a night where Nathan MacKinnon scored one of the nicest goals of the postseason, a shorthanded laser beam that beat Jones in the second period, it was San Jose’s first line that silenced the Pepsi Center crowd when it needed to most.

Timo Meier had a three-point night, assisting on two of Couture’s tallies and scoring the Sharks’ second goal off a pass interception late in the first period. And Gustav Nyquist, fresh out of the hospital where his wife was giving birth to their first child, added a pair of helpers of his own.

The Sharks’ efforts from their first line and a 25-save performance from Martin Jones are the kind of night that wins a championship. Scoring depth might be the x-factor that steals a few extra games, but when stars like Couture shine, the sky’s the limit.

Goooooooood evening, everyone! I’m Lach in the Crease and I’ll be the conductor of this Magical Mystery Tour through Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal! Which versions of the Sharks and Avalanche we’ll see tonight? That’s the real mystery. Let’s go!

First Period

20:00: From the Mile High City, we’ve got Martin Jones in goal to our left and Philipp Grubauer in goal to our right. Round 2, Game 3. Let’s do that hockey!

17:51: Early on it sure looks like the Avs are deploying a strategy of just getting quick pucks on goal, forcing Jones to make a few early uncomfortable saves. As great as Jones has been over the past few games, you can tell they’re trying to him second-guessing himself.

16:22: Gus Nyquist just barely misses the net on his shot from the high slot. The “New Dad Force” is strong with this one.

15:05: Matt Nieto from Long Beach tries to hitch a ride on Erik Karlsson’s coattails, but the refs catch him in the act. It’s Sharks power play time!

12:51: Labanc gets a great shot away ... but he can’t beat the post. Avalanche kill their first penalty of the game.

12:37: The Sharks have had by far the most dangerous chances so far but Grubauer is looking stellar early. Either way, great initial takeaway by Hertl and good on Kane for following up for the rebound.

10:58: Ian Cole makes a hit away from the puck, and put his team down a man yet again. The Sharks are back on the powwwwwer playyyyy!

9:38: Evander Kane got away with a high stick earlier, but the guys in stripes caught this one. We go 4-on-4 for 40 seconds.

9:15: Apparently the high altitude can lift pucks over the net and into the crossbar. Tough luck for Brent Burns.

8:55: It’s a bad noise tonight, but stick taps for Colorado’s in-game entertainment team for using the Mario mushroom sound when the Avalanche get a man back. Gotta appreciate the creativity.

4:36: THEY SCOOORRRRE!!! Logan Couture spots the loose puck through a maze of skates in front of the net and roofs it over a sprawling Grubauer! 1-0, Sharks!

1:18: ANOTHA ONE!!! It’s finally Timo Time again as Meier steals a feed by Erik Johnson and blows a shot past Grubauer! 2-0 Team Teal!

END PERIOD: Sharks 2, Avalanche 0

The puck luck didn’t seem to be going the Sharks way early on, so they made their own late in the first period. I for one would love to see an encore in the next two periods. Take a bow, guys!

Second Period

20:00: The Sharks have the all important first lead, let’s see how they do protecting it. Second period, drop the puck!

18:56: Martin Jones with a pair of huge saves, tracking the puck through the screens in front and shuts the door. This is the goaltending we’ve been waiting for.

16:45: High shot by Vlasic deflected aaaaaand CLANG. Chalk that up as post hit No. 3.

15:37: The Sharks aren’t letting their foot off the pedal so far in the second.

14:54: Micheal Haley draws a penalty from Ian Cole. Yes, you read that correctly. The Sharks are back on the man advantage!

12:54: SJ’s power play did a great job moving the puck around on that opportunity, but only one shot gets to the net in that timespan. The Avs’ are back to full strength.

10:45: Kane takes advantage of a Colorado miscue for a breakaway chance, but Grubauer was equal to the task. Soon Evander, soon.

9:12: Brenden Dillon gets in Gabriel Bourque’s path and he’ll sit for two because of it. Penalty kill time.

6:09: Wow. Colorado finally gets some good chances in front of the net and holds the puck in the Sharks zone for a looong time, but Jones, his defenders and the post manage to hold down the fort. Then Alex Kerfoot tries his impression of a wall on Marcus Sorensen, and he’ll go to the sin bin. Power play #4 on the way!

4:09: Avalanche score shorthanded-ish. Nathan MacKinnon uses his human cheat code powers to rifle a perfect shot over the right shoulder of Jones, cutting the Sharks’ lead to one. The nerves are back, guys.

END PERIOD: Sharks 2, Avalanche 1

We’re treated to some feisty, back and forth chances in the final four minutes, but the Sharks aren’t able to build on their lead. Buck up everyone, we’re in for a wild finish.

Third Period

20:00: Twenty minutes to go, time to kick it into high gear. Game on!

18:27: Another shot off the post, this time by Melker Karlsson, and Grubauer might owe those nets a steak dinner after this one’s over.

16:29: Nikita Zadorov might be making a mountain of hits, but that also means he doesn’t have the puck as often as he’d probably like. A potential blessing in disguise for the Sharks.

13:58: Sharks get caught with too many men on the ice at the worst time possible, with the Avalanche picking up steam in the offensive zone. Crucial penalty kill on the way.

11:58: Some solid chances for Colorado to tie this game up, but Jones wasn’t having it. Back at 5-on-5!

8:46: Can’t say I’m a huge fan of the “let them wear themselves out taking all the shots possible” strategy. Maybe get some offensive chances of your own?

8:15: Avalanche score. Matt Nieto from Long Beach deflects the Sam Girard shot between the wickets of Jones, tying this game up at two.

7:10: THEY SCOOOOOORE!!! Logan Couture charges right back up the ice and snaps a gorgeous shot short side by Grubauer’s glove, working to prevent me from staying up late with an early work shift tomorrow! 3-2, Sharks!

4:25: Now it’s the Avs’ turn to have a post deny them a goal. Cale Makar’s quick shot from the wall can’t beat the iron.

2:56: Logan Couture gets the gate for tripping Mikko Rantanen with less than three minutes to go. It’s all on the line right here, right now. Penalty kill time again.

1:27: Colorado pulls the goalie for the empty net. We’re in the endgame now.

0:29.5: HAT TRICK!!! Logan Couture whacks the puck from behind centre ice and into the yawning cage for his third goal of the night and seals the game for the Sharks! 4-2.

FINAL: San Jose 4, Colorado 2

The Avalanche threw everything and the kitchen sink at the Sharks in the final frame, but Couture puts the team on his back and leads San Jose to a 2-1 lead in the series!

Thanks for following along tonight! I’ve been Lach in the Crease, and we’ll see you back here for Game 4 on Thursday!

The San Jose Sharks head East (a little) to take on the Colorado Avalanche in Denver for Game 3 of their second round series tonight, and hope to take their second series lead. The story line so far is pretty accessible: in Game 1, the Sharks carried the momentum from their emotional Game 7 win over the Vegas Golden Knights over the rusty Avalanche en route to a 5-2 win. In Game 2, the Avs fought back, and looked very much like a team that had played six games outskating and outworking a team that had played eight all the way to a 4-3 win.

As anticipated, the story of this series is the story of the Avalanche’s big three. In their game one loss, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen combined for two points. In Game 2 they had five. As we’ve been saying since this match up was determined, the key to shutting down the Avalanche offense is shutting down these three. However, on Sunday a new challenge emerged in the form of Colorado’s young and mobile defense corps.

Tyson Barrie tallied three points, Samuel Girard showed flashes of his slick and squirrely skills, and brand new rookie and healthy salad treat Cale Makar, while looking a little inexperienced at times, more frequently looked confident and dangerous. How the Sharks adapt to the threat of the Avalanche rearguard will be something to watch for in Denver tonight.

How Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar chooses how to both deploy his top offensive weapons and combat those of the Sharks will be another interesting wrinkle. At home, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer seemed to prefer throwing Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic over the boards against MacKinnon, a strategy that, game results aside, seemed to be effective, powering Burns to seven points in two games. Does Bednar trust his big guns to exploit Burns’ occasional defensive miscues enough to get more chances than they surrender or does he opt for a more conservative shut down strategy lower in the line up, opting instead to focus his strongest weapons on the Sharks productive third line?

Either way, the Sharks will have to rely on their superior forward depth to come out on top over a team that has yet to lose at home this postseason (it’s only two games, though, so don’t get too worried). In three short nights, we’ll be looking at a San Jose team eager to close out the second round on Saturday night at home, in time for plenty of rest as the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars continue to bludgeon each other for the full seven.

Here’s hoping, right?



Expected scratches: Dylan Gambrell, Tim Heed, Radim Simek, Antti Suomela

Injured reserve: Joe Pavelski (undisclosed), Joonas Donskoi (undisclosed)


Expected scratches: Mark Barberio, Vladislav Kamenev, Patrik Nemeth, Ryan Graves

Injured reserve: Matt Calvert (upper body)

A monstrous hip check from Brent Burns in Game 2 has knocked Calvert right out of the lineup, and he’ll be replaced by Sven Andrighetto on the fourth line.

Where to watch

The puck drops at 7 p.m. Pacific/10 p.m. Eastern at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Watch on NBC Sports in the States, CBC and SportsNet North of the border, or TVA Sports en français. The radio option is, as always, 98.5 KFOX in San Jose or through the Sharks app.