Sharks turn to youth in taking 3-2 lead over Avs
DENVER – So much for the notion the San Jose Sharks were nothing more than a group of grizzled graybeards.
San Jose’s smattering of young players is stealing the spotlight from the baby-faced Colorado Avalanche, whose roster is chock full of kids with energy and exuberance.
Rookie Logan Couture, along with up-and-comer Dwight Helminen, led the Sharks to a Game 5 shutout of Colorado that put them one win away from silencing some of their postseason demons and finally putting away the pesky Avalanche.
“We needed some young players,” said 40-year-old captain Rob Blake, whose team can close out Colorado in Game 6 on Saturday night. “They’re being counted on up here. To have success in the playoffs, you need that.”
Just a week ago, Helminen was with Worcester of the American Hockey League. Now, he’s contributing in big ways, including a goal Thursday night. Later, he caught a highlight of it on ESPN.
Surreal, for sure.
“That was the first time I’ve seen myself with highlights on SportsCenter,” Helminen said. “It was really cool.”
Like Helminen, Couture spent some of the season with Worcester, before being called up in March. He came up big in Game 5 with two goals, including the first of the game in the second period, the one that jump-started the Sharks to a 5-0 rout.
His phone has been buzzing since, receiving numerous congratulatory text messages.
“I think every kid dreams of scoring an overtime goal to win the game,” Couture said after the game. “Scoring a couple of goals like that is just as nice.”
It hasn’t taken Couture long to get into the swing of the playoffs. All it took was getting over the initial awe in Game 1 at home.
“It was a wow moment,” Couture said. “After the first shift, I kind of settled in and realized it was still hockey.”
Couture has only gotten better as the series moved along, the jitters and nerves dissipating.
“I don’t know if he knew what to expect initially,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “He now is settling in.”
Colorado has been relying on the speed and spirit of its kids to provide a spark all season.
But the Avalanche played almost sluggish in the blowout loss, like they had tired legs.
Now, the team is on the brink of elimination.
Pressure? The youngsters certainly don’t see it that way.
“Anytime we’ve had a tough game, we’ve always rebounded well,” said Matt Duchene, who has been nominated for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s outstanding rookie. “To get a win tomorrow night, send it back to San Jose, I think the ball will be in our court at that point.”
Serving as more incentive is this – Duchene doesn’t know what to do with himself once the season ends.
So, he doesn’t want it to.
“My motivation to keep playing – and I think it should be for every guy in this room – is to not go home and have to watch another month of NHL hockey and us not being in it,” Duchene said. “We’re definitely putting some pressure on ourselves. It’s pressure we need to put on ourselves. If we didn’t put pressure on ourselves, we wouldn’t be the team we are.”
Colorado got away from its trademark aggressive style in Game 5, leading to what turned into a lopsided loss, the first of a series that’s included three overtime games.
“All season long, when we’ve played on our toes, when we’ve played an aggressive, forechecking game and don’t sit back, we’ve had success,” coach Joe Sacco said. “We’ve got to create the storm at the start … show these guys we want to force a Game 7.”
The Avalanche will be missing one of their top offensive threats in Milan Hejduk, who will sit out Game 6 with an upper-body injury. And while forward Peter Mueller resumed light skating Friday, he’s still doubtful for the game.
More than anything, though, the Avalanche need to return to doing the little things – at least that’s defenseman Adam Foote’s take.
That, and quickly forget the recent loss.
“You can’t let it come in and suck the life out of you. Let it go,” Foote said. “It’s happened to us in the (Stanley) Cup years. We’ve got blown out. If you play seven games in a series, you’re going to have a bad game. … We’ve got to regroup and focus.”
– AP sportswriter Josh Dubow in San Jose contributed to this report.
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