Quick Bites: Return of the Captain

Whoa-oooh, we’re halfway there!

The San Jose Sharks are heading back to the Western Conference Final after their 3-2 Game 7 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

The biggest story of the night, of the series, was the return of Sharks’ Captain Joe Pavelski to the ice. Pavelski had not played since suffering a significant head injury, resulting in a concussion, in Game 7 of the Sharks’ first round series against the Vegas Golden Knights fifteen days ago. The Captain made his presence known, scoring a goal and assisting on another to help the Sharks to an early 2-0 lead.

The other big story of the game was Nathan MacKinnon. The Colorado star went hard into the boards early in the first, seemingly losing an edge and fell into the boards, leading to an unfortunate injury. He was clearly in distress and went to the Avalanche dressing. It was during his absence that the Sharks built their early lead.

Colorado dressed eleven forwards and seven defensemen for this game, hoping to repeat their Game 6 success. With MacKinnon out, the Avalanche had only ten forwards at their disposal. It seemed as though the Sharks would be able to slowly grind their undermanned opponents down. But MacKinnon returned to the ice shortly after the Sharks’ second goal.

Some of us dearly wanted this game to be a coronation, Greg, but we should have known that it was never going to be easy. With less than seven seconds left in the first, Mikko Rantanen scored to cut the Sharks’ lead in half.

All in all, the first period was fairly even. Even if Rantanen’s late goal was deflating for us fans, the Sharks being up 2-1 after twenty minutes was more than fair.

The second period started out as more of the same: back and forth hockey, with both teams having chances. It appeared that Colorado had tied the game, but upon further review, the goal was called off after the situation room in Toronto determined that Gabriel Landeskog was slow getting off the ice for a line change, and he was in an offside position when MacKinnon entered the zone. No goal.

Following the disallowed goal, the Sharks were dominant. The controlled the puck for most of the rest of period, culminating in a goal by Joonas Donskoi.

Things were looking good for the home team after forty minutes. But with a two-goal deficit and their season on the line, you knew that Colorado would come out swinging for the last frame. And hoo-boy did they ever.

Tyson Jost scored less than a minute into the third period, and from there on out, the Sharks were on the back foot. How bad was it? Well, the Sharks controlled just 14.41 percent of the score- and venue-adjusted shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the third. That is very bad. Like leaving a jar of mayonnaise in your car on a hot day bad.

Watching this was stressful, and almost unbearable at times. Every clear was a minor victory. Every shot by the Avalanche caused a sinking feeling. But the Sharks battened down the hatches and weathered the storm and did some other cliches as best they could. They held on to win 3-2 and will play in the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues.

Brent Burns has been criticized for his defensive play for a long time. As with most things, there is a kernel of truth in this argument, but it was certainly not the case tonight. While Burns was on the ice, the Sharks controlled 50.92 percent of the SVA 5-on-5 shot attempts; through the end of the second, this number was 64 percent (and as we saw above, the Avalanche dominated the third) It should be noted that much of his ice time came while MacKinnon was on the ice. Injured though he may have been, MacKinnon is still a supremely skilled player, with nearly unparalleled skating ability. Burns is a very good skate in his own right, and his long reach broke up many plays involving MacKinnon.

Martin Jones was great, again. He stopped 27 of the 29 shots he saw, including 14 of 15 in the third. It was a tremendous effort in the final frame, when Colorado threw absolutely everything towards the Sharks’ net.

Who scored the winning goal?

The Western Conference Final starts on Saturday in San Jose. We’re coming for you, St Louis.