SAN JOSE, Calif. - There's something about the playoffs that seems to bring out the best in Joe Pavelski's game. Especially against the Detroit Red Wings.
While Benn Ferriero's overtime goal for San Jose got most of the attention, it was Pavelski who put the Sharks in position for the 2-1 victory in Game 1 on Friday night.
He batted a puck out of mid-air for the tying, power-play goal in the third period, drew three penalties including the one that led to his goal, and had five shots as he tormented the Red Wings again.
"It's his time of the year," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Saturday. "Somehow the puck finds him at opportune times and he has the ability to put it into the net."
The Sharks hope that continues in Game 2 on Sunday. The series shifts to Detroit after that for two games.
Pavelski scored two goals in each of the first two games of San Jose's playoff series against Detroit a year ago, getting the winner in Game 1 and the tying goal in the second game.
He struck again at a big moment in the latest Game 1, when he swung his stick at a fluttering rebound of Joe Thornton's shot and knocked the puck out of the air and into the net for the tying goal midway through the third period.
"He does so many little things well throughout the year and when it comes to this time of the year he gets rewarded for it," teammate Dany Heatley said. "He practices things like that; knocking it out of the air, all the time."
That unconventional goal by Pavelski was one of two the Sharks managed against Jimmy Howard on 46 shots. The other came in overtime when Ferriero's shot hit Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart's stick and caromed into the net for the game-winner.
Ferriero scored in his first career playoff game and in just his second NHL game since Feb. 5, as he spent most of the second half in the season in the minors. But McLellan gave him the chance because he wanted more speed on the fourth line to match up with the Red Wings.
"He's a skilled player," teammate Logan Couture said. "If he was with any other organization, he'd probably spend the whole year in the NHL. That just speaks to how deep this team is. For him to step in and score that huge goal is awesome. There were a lot of guys happy for him."
That depth is a big difference with the Sharks this year compared to some past post-seasons. They got at least five goals from each of their top three lines in the opening round and then got the winner in Game 1 from a fourth-line forward.
The days of opposing teams just needing to stop Thornton and Patrick Marleau to beat San Jose are now in the past. With five other 20-goal scorers—Pavelski, Heatley, Couture, Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi—the Sharks have great scoring depth.
"It used to be if Thornton and Marleau couldn't do it, there wasn't enough," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Now with Pavelski, Couture, Setoguchi, those are high-end players. You put Clowe and Heatley in the mix, they have a lot of really good forwards. That makes them a different team and a deeper team."
And a much more challenging team to face.
The Red Wings matched the Sharks in chances for the first period and had a 1-0 lead on Nicklas Lidstrom's goal, but were severely outplayed in the final two periods and overtime. They spent too much time short-handed, allowing the power-play goal to Pavelski. Ferriero's goal came just after Detroit killed a four-minute penalty in overtime.
"We have to get on their defence and get a lot more physical," said forward Justin Abdelkader, who committed the key penalty in overtime. "We kind of gave them a night off. We've got to get a lot better. We have to be smarter with our sticks for sure. These refs are the best in the league and it's what they are calling. We have to keep our sticks down and play within the rules."
The series opener was the first game after eight days off for the Red Wings and an even longer break for two of their most important players. Johan Franzen, who led the team with 28 goals in the regular season, missed the last game of the first round against Phoenix with an injured left ankle, and leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg had gone more than three weeks without playing because of an injured knee.
While Zetterberg's injury has healed, he's not yet the player who had 24 goals and 56 assists in 80 regular-season games.
"When he's healthy he's one of the best players in the world," Babcock said. "He's not even close. You practice and you're ready but you have to play a game. He'll skate much better (Sunday). We're going to skatea lot better than we did (Friday) night. It's one thing to skate in the open ice and another to skate in battle with someone hanging onto you. He'll get there, Hopefully he got his confidence back."