The Associated Press
SAN JOSE, Calif.–Joe Pavelski was positioned just a few feet away from the spot where he was bleeding from his head on the ice just over two weeks ago when he did what he has done so often in his brilliant career.
Pavelski got his stick on a shot that he redirected into the net to give the San Jose Sharks a Game 7 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Sharks got their captain back and are moving on to the Western Conference final.
Pavelski made a triumphant return from a gruesome head injury by posting a goal and an assist in the first period that helped send the Sharks to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 last night.
He scored the first goal and assisted on Tomas Hertl’s goal as the Sharks advanced to their fourth conference final this decade.
San Jose will now play St. Louis in a conference final matchup between two successful teams seeking their first championship. Game 1 is Saturday night in San Jose.
Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost scored for the Avalanche, who were trying to make their first conference final since 2002. Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves.
The excitement started early at the Shark Tank with the fans cheering loudly when Pavelski stepped out for warmups for his first game back since his bloody concussion in Game 7 of the first round against Vegas.
There was a deafening roar when Pavelski was announced as a starter and the entire first period became a lovefest for San Jose’s captain in what could be his final home game with the Sharks before he can be a free agent this summer.
Pavelski took less than six minutes to provide more than just inspiration.
He deflected Brent Burns’ point shot past Grubauer for the opening goal of the game.
Pavelski then set up Hertl with a pass from behind the net to make it 2-0 midway through the period and drew a penalty that nearly led to a power-play goal later in the period as the Avalanche struggled early.
The Sharks restored the two-goal lead later in the second period when Donskoi skated around the net and beat Grubauer high to the short side for his first goal since Jan. 10.
Colorado pushed hard in the third, getting a goal in the first minute from Jost, but the Sharks managed to hold on from there for the win.
There were no other Stanley Cup Playoff games last night. The Boston Bruins will host the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final tonight.