The San Jose Sharks’ season was all but over.
Down 3-0 with just under 11 minutes to go in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights in April, the Sharks needed something to go their way.
What they got instead was a disaster.
On a faceoff in the offensive zone, Joe Pavelski was cross-checked by the Golden Knights’ Cody Eakin and fell hard after colliding with Paul Stastny. Pavelski’s head crashed into the ice and play was stopped as blood trickled out of his helmet.
Silence fell over the SAP Center as the injured forward lay motionless on the ice. Several minutes later, veterans Evander Kane and Brent Burns helped their teammate to the bench while Joe Thornton pressed a towel up against his wound to stop the bleeding. It was one of the most gruesome injuries in recent memory and it had pretty much everyone shook up, especially Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer.
“I’m just worried about Pavelski coming off the ice because I know how tough he is and I know for him to be carried off like that that this was a serious, serious injury. I’d love to tell you I saw this as an opportunity and I already knew what we were going to do with the power play, but that was not the case. I was stunned and distressed for him,” DeBoer told TSN.ca Thursday, reflecting on Game 7 at the TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference in Toronto.
Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major for cross-checking. They might not have gotten it the way they wanted, but it was the spark the Sharks needed.
Six seconds after play was resumed, Logan Couture beat Marc-Andre Fleury on the power play to cut the lead to 3-1.
“That was the whole key,” DeBoer said of their opening goal. “Winning that faceoff and scoring five seconds later was huge. You know if you lose the draw, you’ve got to go back, set up, come back up again, the other team gets the momentum so that first goal really set the table for the rest of what we did.”
Almost as quickly as they got their first goal, they got another. Tomas Hertl deflected an Erik Karlsson point shot to get the Sharks even closer with still almost four minutes to go on the man-advantage.
They kept coming.
Just over two minutes later, Couture blasted home his second of the power play to even the game 3-3, a feat that would have been unthinkable just minutes ago.
Joe Thornton’s line was next up as the Sharks looked to take the lead, but Thornton told DeBoer to leave the first unit out despite them having played well past their usual ice-time.
“Joe looked at me and said, ‘leave them out there.’ And I get a little emotional now just thinking about it because that shows you where his heart was. It had nothing to do with him,” DeBoer said.
So he listened, and Thornton was right.
Kevin LeBanc beat Fleury glove side in the slot and the home crowd roared louder than ever as San Jose jumped in front 4-3. As the clock ticked down inside of a minute, it didn’t seem possible Vegas could recover. And somehow, from almost as dire a position as the Sharks found themselves in 10 minutes prior, the Golden Knights tied the game off a goal in tight from Jonathan Marchessault.
“That game should have been over,” DeBoer said. “Great credit to Vegas and their leadership and their coaching that they’re able to grab the momentum back and tie this game up.”
To overtime it went. It was an unlikely path to get there and it was an unlikely hero who ended it for San Jose. Especially considering he was benched for most of the game.
In the first period, Barclay Goodrow not only lost a faceoff in the defensive zone, but lost William Karlsson in front of the net as the Golden Knights got on the board first. Goodrow was benched, barely seeing the ice until the extra frame.
With fresh legs, Goodrow beat the Golden Knights down the right side and tucked home the forehand-winner, redeeming himself in the biggest way possible. Pandemonium ensued and the Sharks were moving on to the second round.
"To be honest I can't really remember what just happened," Goodrow told reporters after the game. "It was a pretty surreal moment. Definitely the biggest goal of my career, obviously."
“It was the craziest night of hockey I’ve ever been involved with. I’ll never forget it,” DeBoer said.
As for the controversial major penalty call that led to the Sharks’ third-period barrage, the NHL issued an apology to the Golden Knights according to general manager George McPhee. Head coach Gerard Gallant and Marchessault were both outspoken about the call. Even DeBoer admitted Thursday that it shouldn’t have been called a major penalty. Still, he’ll take it.
“We put it behind us a couple days after it happened,” Golden Knights assistant coach Mike Kelly said Thursday. “Just one of those things that happened in a year; it’s not normal but we don’t think about it much. If you end up thinking about that stuff, it doesn’t do you any good.”
Indeed, things roll on. The Sharks defeated the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2 in Game 7 – fittingly enough, that was the same game Pavelski returned to action from his head injury – but fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
While the Sharks brought back both Erik Karlsson and Timo Meier on long-term deals, they did lose Pavelski to the Dallas Stars.
“You don’t replace him. You know I just think we have to move forward,” DeBoer said. “I think it just became one of the realities of today’s cap that you just can’t keep everybody and you have to make those tough decisions.”
As for Thornton, who is currently still unsigned?
“He’ll be back,” DeBoer said. “When I saw him working out two days after our season ended I knew he was still going to play and I knew he still had gas in the tank. I’m not thinking about if he’s coming back, I’m just excited to work with him again.”
The TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference runs July 18-20 at Ryerson University in Toronto. Click here for more information.