PHOENIX – It was the rare night where an individual accomplishment was bigger than the result of the game itself.
For the first time in his career, Joe Pavelski – who took home the team MVP and Fan Favorite Award before Friday’s regular season home finale – reached the 40-goal plateau. For good measure, he even potted goal number 41 in San Jose’s 3-2 win over Phoenix to close out its regular season on Saturday night.
The 29-year-old forward, who has a five-year, $30 million contract extension kick in next season, became just the fourth Sharks player ever to reach 40 goals, joining Owen Nolan, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo.
One week ago, Pavelski said it would “definitely” mean something to him to reach the mark. It happened early on Saturday night, when his wrist shot on the power play less than four minutes in beat rookie goalie Mark Visentin. Pavelski hadn’t scored a goal in his previous three games, and a huge smile flashed across his face when he was mobbed by his linemates.
“It was nice that it comes right away in the game,” Pavelski said. “The other night, you could feel everyone trying to pass it.”
He continued: “It’s always on the to-do list to score. Whether it was an individual goal or not, the team was a huge part of it.”
Joe Thornton, who assisted on Pavelski’s second goal midway through the first period, admitted that the team was aware of him being stuck on 39 goals.
“Yeah, for the last couple games … even though I’m a passer, I’ve been trying to pass to Joe a lot more,” Thornton said. “Just really, really happy for him.”
Pavelski has shown no signs of slowing down in recent weeks, despite competing in the Olympics for Team USA in February. Todd McLellan said there was some thought to resting Pavelski in one of the final two games, like he did with Olympian Marc-Edouard Vlasic on Friday against Colorado, but ultimately deemed it unnecessary.
In the last nine games, Pavelski recorded seven goals and five assists for 12 points. He ended the season as the Sharks’ leading scorer with 79 points, playing in all 82 games.
“Obviously, you want to be fresh. This year’s a little different with knowing who we’re playing a little bit ahead of time,” Pavelski said.
“I think [the coaches] were aware that 40 goals was on the line, too, maybe. Players want to play 82 games, you want to score, you want to do a lot of things. You want to be there on a nightly basis for your teammates. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Pavelski’s name has been mentioned lately for more than just his career year. There is a notion that in order for the Sharks to match up with the Kings and other top teams in the playoffs, Pavelski will have to skate as the third line center, providing better balance to the club’s top nine forwards.
McLellan may be thinking that now, too, as rookie Tomas Hertl is back in action. Pavelski centered a line with Tommy Wingels and Marty Havlat late in the game with Phoenix, while Hertl returned to his regular spot alongside Thornton and Brent Burns.
“It was one of the things that we wanted to accomplish at some point during the night, so we made the change just to give Pav a little bit of time in the middle and put Tomas back up where he was before,” McLellan said.
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The assessment was difficult in that the game lacked emotion from both sides. The Sharks were likely trying to avoid injuries with the next game being the start of the postseason, while Phoenix looked deflated from getting eliminated from playoff contention on Friday night.
“It’s a tough game to really, truly evaluate the group and the team,” McLellan said.
For at least the plane ride home, though, that can wait. Pavelski and his teammates can feel good about the Wisconsin native achieving something that was clearly important to him.
“It’s a huge accomplishment. There are not too many guys that get 40, and it’s well deserved,” Thornton said.