Pavelski, Sharks stave off scrappy Avalanche in Game 7

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Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks will continue their push for a first-ever Stanley Cup victory after eliminating the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7, but the biggest story of San Jose’s 3-2 win was the other Joe: Joe Pavelski.

Pavelski returned to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs a full round after suffering a gnarly, tide-turning injury in Game 7 against Vegas, and this wasn’t just a Willis Reed situation where a hero makes a brief return, pops the crowd, and then just make a minimal actual impact. Instead, Pavelski was brilliant, particularly early on.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The courageous Sharks captain scored the 1-0 goal on a deft deflection, then fed Tomas Hertl with a beautiful pass to make it 2-0.

A lesser team would have wilted, especially when they saw a player like Nathan MacKinnon leave the ice with what sure looked like a separated shoulder, or something similar and significant. Instead, the Avalanche just kept fighting and fighting; while they’re entering the off-season nonetheless, it’s easy to envision this as the start of something big for Colorado.

Mikko Rantanen made it 2-1 late in the first, giving Colorado life. The second period sent more body blows to the Avalanche, as a would-be 2-2 goal for Colin Wilson was negated by a strange offside/too many men on the ice situation with Gabriel Landeskog; after that, the Sharks made it 3-1 … but Colorado still wouldn’t stop pushing.

The Avalanche sent, well, an avalanche of pucks toward Martin Jones during the third period, generating a 15-2 shots on goal advantage during the final frame. Only Tyson Jost could score on all of those chances, however, as Jones allowed the Sharks to get away with sitting on that lead.

Joonas Donskoi‘s 3-1 goal was rare. It was also the game-winner, and awfully pretty:

Brent Burns ranked among the other non-Pavelski stars for the Sharks in Game 7, generating two primary assists. The Sharks boast more weapons than the Avs – and arguably most, if not every, other team in the NHL – and it showed on nights like these. The Avalanche have plenty to build on, but they fell short of the finish line versus San Jose.

And now, we have the final four locked up, as the Sharks will take on the St. Louis Blues in Round 3. That figures to be a rugged, tightly-matched series, and one that could very well test San Jose in new ways. In other words, it should be a blast.

The Sharks will be glad they have leaders like Joe Pavelski then, as they were delighted to deploy him – finally, somehow – in Game 7 on Wednesday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.