SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Logan Couture got San Jose started in the opener of the Western Conference final against St. Louis by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush. He sealed the win with an empty-net goal, and in between, he did everything else the Sharks needed on both ends of the ice.
Just another typical standout performance from Couture, who always seems to be at his best at this time of year.
”Logan Couture, if he’s not the top two-way center in the league, he’s in that conversation,” coach Peter DeBoer said after Couture had two goals and one assist in a 6-3 win over the Blues in Game 1 on Saturday night.
”Plays a 200-foot game, always on the right side of the puck, always making the right reads. When your center is like that, he drives the guys around him to play an honest game like that.”
Couture and linemates Timo Meier and Gustav Nyquist once again led the way for the Sharks, with Meier also having two goals and an assist, Nyquist getting two helpers and the trio combining for a plus-seven rating.
This is Couture’s time of year. Ever since his first postseason as a rookie in 2010, he has shined on the big stage. His 45 goals in the playoffs since making his debut that season are second most in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin‘s 50. He leads the NHL this postseason with 11 goals and 17 points and is one of six active players with two postseasons with at least 10 goals.
But four of those other players have won the Stanley Cup – a goal that has eluded Couture and the Sharks despite making it to the conference finals for the fourth time in his 10 seasons.
”We haven’t won,” he said. ”So I don’t care what my numbers get to be. I could go this whole playoffs and have zero points and if we win the Stanley Cup I’ll be the happiest guy in this room.”
Couture led the NHL with 30 points in the 2016 playoffs, when the Sharks got to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, and he scores at a higher rate in the playoffs than the regular season despite the tougher opponents and more defensive approach.
He has eight game-winning goals in the playoffs and two in overtime, earning the reputation as a clutch player.
”His biggest thing is he doesn’t change his game no matter what the situation is,” teammate Erik Karlsson said. ”I think we all know that these games are more important than the regular season, but that doesn’t mean that the game of hockey is changing. You still have to do the same thing out there to be successful. He’s really good at doing that. No matter what happens out there, he doesn’t let anything affect him, and he’s not trying to do things that aren’t normal.”
While the goals and the points get the attention from outsiders, his team respects him most for aspects of his game that don’t always show up on the scoresheet.
He plays in all situations, including the penalty kill, often matches up against top lines, takes faceoffs, blocks shots and is a leader in the dressing room.
”I think Logan is the consummate ‘I’m not going to tell you, I’m going to show you what my commitment level is,”’ DeBoer said. ”He brings that every night. … I know everybody looks at the goals and where he is in the scoring and the production and what he’s brought offensively. For me, he walks the walk at both ends of the rink. Those are the type of guys you can win with.”
While Couture delivered for the Sharks in Game 1, the Blues know they will need more from one of their top forwards if they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.
Vladimir Tarasenko, who led the team with 33 goals in the regular season, was once again mostly a nonfactor in the conference final outside of an assist on St Louis’ first goal. Tarasenko managed just one shot on goal and was on the ice for four of San Jose’s goals.
Tarasenko also struggled the last time the Blues made it this far in the postseason back in 2016, when they lost to the Sharks in six games. He had no points and a minus-four rating in the first five games before finally scoring twice in the third period of a 5-2 loss in the clincher.
”Vladi’s got to work without the puck a lot harder and he will,” coach Craig Berube said. ”He’s got to get more involved. You can’t just wait for things to happen, especially in the playoffs. You’ve got to go get it and you’ve got to go make it yourself. It’s about working and it’s about working with your line.”