2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Preview
Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 1 - San Jose 3, Los Angeles 2 (OT) – Sharks lead series, 1-0
The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs began in much the same way that the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs unfolded.
Joe Pavelski came through in the clutch to give the San Jose Sharks a lift.
Indeed, one year after storming onto the scene and preventing a snake-bitten franchise from losing in the first round of the playoffs, the previously-unheralded Pavelski again announced his presence and delivered a bolt of lightning that carried his team into the winner’s circle. Pavelski delivered a game-winning goal at 14:44 of overtime to push San Jose past the Los Angeles Kings in the opening act of an emotional best-of-seven California clash. It was just the latest and greatest display of ice veins from the Sharks’ most reliable performer.
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Last year, San Jose trailed the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs, one game to none, and was losing by a goal late in Game 2 at HP Pavilion (“The Shark Tank”). San Jose owns a sad history of bowing out early in the playoffs, so with Colorado smelling a commanding 2-0 series lead with a pair of home games coming up, the outlook was very bleak for one of the Western Conference’s most underachieving outfits. However, that’s when Pavelski answered the call for head coach Todd McLellan. “Joe Pav” scored in the final minutes of regulation to bring the Sharks into overtime, and San Jose eventually won to tie the series at one game apiece. A few days later, with Colorado owning a 2-1 series lead, Game 4 bled into overtime in Denver, and sure enough, Pavelski scored the winner to save the Sharks from a 3-1 deficit. Given another lifeline thanks to a 2-2 series tie, San Jose busted down the doors in Games 5 and 6 to finish off the Avs and move to the second round. The Sharks bested Detroit and earned a rare Western Conference Finals appearance (just the second time in franchise history). Joe Pavelski was the man most centrally responsible for that achievement; he scored nine goals in the first eight games of the playoffs for the Sharks, stepping up while the team’s more noticed leaders, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, struggled on the ice.
Now, in 2011, it’s as though Pavelski’s instincts for being the right man in the right place at the right time have never left. Pavelski completed a 3-on-2 rush in a wild overtime period by firing a shot inside the face-off circle that beat L.A. goalie Johnathan Quick. The overtime period was a deliciously entertaining open-ice festival of skating and shooting, with few interruptions and minimal grinding in the corners. Both teams gained quality scoring chances, and while Quick was superb for the Kings, San Jose goalie Antti Niemi, picked up from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason, proved to be even better. That’s the difference in a razor-close overtime playoff game, and now the Kings – who played well in defeat – will have to find a higher gear in Game 2.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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