Surprise! Sharks' Joe Pavelski is hottest hockey player on planet
Yep, just like everyone predicted. Right at the top of the Stanley Cup playoff statistics for goal scoring, just nudging out
First in goals (9). First in game-winning goals (3). First in power-play goals (5).
Even his own teammates can only laugh at Pavelski's blistering hot postseason.
In truth, Pavelski -- a 25-year old from Stevens Point, Wis. --started feeling it about three months ago. He was a key member of the scrappy American team that helped make the Vancouver Olympics the greatest hockey tournament ever.
The experience turned Pavelski from a little-known player -- even in his own dressing room he was identified as "Little Joe", to differentiate him from "
"He was on the bubble to make that Olympic team," said Sharks general manager
"He went there not knowing what the young American team could do. Not knowing where he'd fit in," McLellan said. "He worked his way up. One thing he had going for him is that [U.S. coach]
The power of the Olympic experience: it can shatter spirits or open a vast well of confidence. The latter happened to Pavelski, who speaks about Vancouver with reverence.
"It was awesome," he said. "The pace of play, the crowd, the excitement. You definitely felt, in terms of skill level, you had to raise your game or you're going to be left behind.
"After last postseason, it was the first taste of something that means that much."
Last postseason, Pavelski scored just one point in the Sharks tiny and abbreviated playoff effort, when -- as the top seed -- they lost to Anaheim in the first round. While much of the postseason finger pointing centered on Thornton and
But when Wilson sat down with Pavelski -- as he did with every player in an offseason of soul-searching -- he didn't have to point out Pavelski's shortcomings.
"He did it himself, right out of the gate," Wilson said. "He talked about what he needed to do to get better. And he went and did something about it. His hockey IQ is off the charts."
That's what everyone says about Pavelski, from Wilson to
"Watch how he plays -- you can play him at any position, at any time of the game," Wilson said. "He'll score a power play goal. He'll win the face-off. He's got a great skill set."
Pavelski -- now nicknamed "the Big Pavelski" -- has been in the right place this postseason, buzzing around the opposing goalie or finding a teammate in front of the net. His ability in the faceoff circle has helped give the Sharks great puck possession. He's not afraid to shoot -- taking 41 shots in eight games, second in the league.
Though the reticent player quickly turns all talk of his own accomplishments back to the team, he does confess to enjoying the moment.
"It's what you think about when you're lying in bed and can't sleep," he said.
Pavelski's emergence has given the Sharks some unusual breathing room. In recent years, ladened with great regular season performances and star expectations, the Sharks have squeaked into the postseason, tight and nervous and looking miserable to be the favorites.
Though they got have to a shaky start against Colorado, the Sharks have now won five games in a row -- three to close out the Avalanche and two to put the Red Wings in an early hole.
They are playing loose and confident. Something's different.
That something, surprisingly, is Pavelski.