The version of the San Jose Sharks that hockey fans are accustomed to seeing in the regular season finally showed up in playoff action on Thursday, registering a comprehensive 5-0 home win over the Colorado Avalanche.
Logan Couture and Dwight Helminen each marked their first NHL playoff goals in Game 5 at HP Pavilion, with Couture scoring twice. Joe Pavelski got his third goal of the series for the Sharks, with Patrick Marleau netting his first to go along with an assist.
"I thought Scotty Nichol's line, again, early [on] started our team and brought everyone into it with the buzz on the forecheck, but the young guys played with a lot of discipline and really found a way to contribute," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan.
Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley each registered two assists while Evgeni Nabokov finished with 28 saves for his seventh career playoff shutout.
San Jose takes its first lead of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series, up 3-2 with a chance to close out the series in Denver on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET).
"We've got to take some lessons out of this, but at the same time it's the playoffs," said Avalanche forward Darcy Tucker. "We've got to regroup here and go home and win a hockey game — we've been pretty good at home this year — and we're looking forward to getting back there and doing our thing."
The Western Conference champs have struggled mightily with the depleted Avalanche in the series, echoing previous spring disappointments in which San Jose could not build on regular-season strength.
San Jose needed overtime in both the second and fourth games to win and couldn't score on 51 shots on Craig Anderson in Game 3.
"Finally tonight, the puck went over the goal-line when we needed it to," said McLellan. "I think we were probably better offensively in Game 3, and maybe even in Game 4 than we were tonight but finally got rewarded with five goals."
Anderson, who's faced a constant stream a shots in the series, made 29 saves. With the game out of hand midway through the third, Avalanche coach Joe Sacco pulled Anderson in favour of backup Peter Budaj.
"I feel we got what we deserved tonight," said Sacco. "I don't think we played well enough to win for 60 minutes."
The Sharks outshot the opposition 12-2 in the first period, although Colorado arguably came the closest to a goal as Marek Svatos hit the post behind Nabokov.
San Jose had plenty of chances, with Ryan Clowe, Manny Malhotra, Heatley and Couture all unable to convert.
Tucker started an odd-man rush early in the second, but the Avalanche made too many passes and were unable to offer a shot on Nabokov.
That proved crucial as soon the rookie Couture would get the Sharks on the scoreboard, re-directing the puck near the crease. Marleau started the play with a rush up the left side, stopping to draw the Colorado defenders toward him before sending a cross-ice pass to Heatley to set up the goal at 8:25.
Couture, the team's top draft pick in 2007, played just 25 regular-season games for San Jose, spending most of the time in the minors.
"We have a lot of confidence in Logan, we saw it during the year," said McLellan. "For his development it was very good that he got to spend almost a full year in the American League … and I think it's really paid dividends for him now that he's up here and playing."
The Sharks went up by a pair less than two minutes later on the power play. San Jose worked the puck around the puck expertly, with Pavelski's blast coming just after Anderson stumbled in his crease. He couldn't recover, and San Jose had its first two-goal lead of the series.
Helminen got in on the act at 15:30, as Anderson was beaten to the puck by the Sharks forward near the right post.
Colorado defenceman Scott Hannan nearly got one past Nabokov through traffic late in the second with a sharp-angle shot.
"We caught on some long shifts in our own end and then when we tried to change, our defence weren't able to change because the puck wasn't deep in their zone, so you get caught back there a little bit on their heels," said Sacco.
The Avalanche came out with energy in the third but TJ Galiardi and Paul Stastny could not beat Nabokov.
Clowe performed yeoman's work on the fourth goal, hauling the puck across the blue-line and fighting off Avalanche defenders to set up a rebound goal for Couture to pot his second.
Colorado forward Cody McLeod took a five-minute charging penalty, with Marleau re-directing a Heatley past Budaj for his first of the playoffs.
Marleau now has 38 career playoff goals, with many coming early in his career before San Jose's recent post-season swoons.
San Jose took a pair of minor penalties to threaten Nabokov's shutout bid, but the Avalanche hit the crossbar and the post behind the Russian.
Budaj faced four shots in net in his first NHL playoff action in two years.