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April, 22, 2010

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The playoffs are about revelations.

Which players can hack it and which can't?

You certainly can't find a more sensitive hockey subject in the Bay Area over the past half decade.

But here's what the Sharks are finding out in the first round of the playoffs: Little Joe Pavelski is a gamer. He's bringing it big time. You want to talk clutch? He tied the score with a huge goal late in Game 2 to force overtime and avoid an 0-2 series start against Colorado and then scored in overtime on a wicked wrist shot Tuesday night to help avoid a 1-3 hole in the series.

The foreshadowing of Pavelski's exploits came at the Olympics two months ago, when he revealed himself to be one of Team USA's most reliable players. There is no bigger stage, and Pavelski agreed when asked whether that performance helped propel him in these playoffs.

"Yeah, I think so. It was another step and I think it definitely did raise everyone's skill level a little bit," he said after Thursday's pregame skate. "The game was so fast. It was a good learning experience, something you could take and a good step to get ready for the playoffs. The nerves were there, the excitement, the atmosphere -- it was an exciting time to play."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan thought Pavelski had that kind of level of play in him even before the Olympics.

"I thought that before he went," said McLellan. "He was a very good hockey player for us. You have to remember that he missed a month and a bit at the beginning of the year and that really set him back. When he came back, he found his game and he was playing well enough to make the Olympic team, and I think he made an impact on that team there and really played well and he's carried it over here."

Pavelski's line, with wingers Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe, is saving San Jose's bacon right now. The trio had scored five of San Jose's nine goals in the series heading into Game 5 on Thursday night.

"I like Pav's responsibility on the line, both offensively and defensively," said McLellan. "Seto has found his game at the right time of the year, and that's encouraging. He can shoot the puck as well as anybody and wants to shoot it. And I think Ryane Clowe's game, when you look at it from the beginning of the year to where it is now, he's really come a long way. He's probably playing his best hockey he's played in my two years here, anyhow. Using his size and strength and the way he protects pucks. Three pretty good ingredients when you put it all together."

Setoguchi said Thursday he believes the three players are doing a nice job reading off each other and using each other's assets.

"We were challenged this year," said Setoguchi. "They wanted more secondary scoring and that was our main focus, and I think we've done a good job in the last four games in doing what we can do best."

Secondary scoring? Try primary scoring, because so far the top line hasn't produced. Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley didn't have a goal between them heading into Game 5. To be fair to Heatley, he's clearly playing hurt. But the donuts in the goal column for Marleau and Thornton repeat an awful playoff pattern both players want to shed. Mind you, two Sharks observers told me Thursday morning they believed Thornton (who has two assists in the series) played pretty well the last two games. Marleau just appears to be fighting it. He led the team with 44 goals in the regular season.

The Sharks are surviving through their second line right now, but they won't go too far in these playoffs without Thornton's line contributing.

"If we weren't getting any shots and not playing in their end at all, that's the time to worry," Marleau said Thursday. "But we've been getting lots of chances and we've been stymied a little bit. We've got to keep going and keep getting those chances in order to get the goals."

Heatley update

Heatley, who missed Game 3 before returning for Game 4, doesn't quite look to be at full speed.

"Heater's good enough to play and contribute," said McLellan. "There's no doubt about it. He'll be in the lineup and we expect to get a real good game from him."

Heatley said after the pregame skate he felt "real good." When I asked him for a percentage, he smiled and said, "One-hundred percent, Pierre, 100 out of 100."

Credit the star winger for toughing it out. That's what the playoffs are all about.

Duchene nominated

Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene was officially nominated as a Calder Trophy finalist Thursday, along with Jimmy Howard and Tyler Myers.

"It's definitely a huge honor," Duchene said after Thursday's morning skate. "You only get one shot at it and it's pretty cool to be named in the top three there. I'm very honored and happy to be part of that. It's a huge credit to my teammates this year.

"Everybody helped me so much to have a good year, coaches and everyone. I'm very thankful to be there, but we have a big job to do here tonight and I can enjoy it after the playoffs."

Duchene's landlord, veteran teammate Adam Foote, ran out of words to describe his basement tenant.

"He's awesome. He's the real deal," said Foote. "He loves the game, he's a student of the game. He's very mature on the ice. He's mature in the room, definitely ahead of his time with that. It's going to be fun to see where his career goes."

But as a tenant?

"It's getting better," Foote said with a smile. "The second half has been better than the first half. He's giving me a head's up on what I can expect with my kids."

Boyle's boo-boo

Dan Boyle's headline-grabbing own goal in Game 3 is still fresh on his mind even if the Sharks blueliner bounced back impressively with a goal 74 seconds into Game 4 and an overall strong effort in the victory.

"I officially wouldn't put it behind me until we would win the series. It cost us a game," Boyle said Thursday. "Until we win the series, I won't officially put it behind me. It's not like it's mentally going to cause a problem here. It's in the rear-view mirror. It is what it is."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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