Joe Pavelski becomes a playoff icon

Joe Pavelski kept his team alive in the NHL playoffs with his overtime goal on Thursday night. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

When you think of dominating NHL playoff scorers, Joe Pavelski is unlikely to be the first name that comes to mind.

The veteran spent most of his career with a San Jose Sharks franchise known for failing to meet playoff expectations. The Dallas Stars have enjoyed playoff success since Pavelski’s arrival, but haven’t won everything.

On Thursday night, Pavelski kept his chances of doing it this year with an overtime winner.

It was Pavelski’s 73rd goal in the playoffs, the most among active NHL players. Part of that total can be attributed to the 38-year-old’s longevity, but he has two more goals than Sidney Crosby in the same number of playoff games (180). He also has six more goals than Evgeni Malkin in just three other contests.

Pavelski’s 73 playoff goals are tied for 13th in NHL history.

Of the 12 players ahead of him, only two are not in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Jaromir Jagr and Claude Lemieux. Jagr is shod when eligible and Lemieux has played for three different Stanley Cup winners and played in 234 playoff games.

Pavelski didn’t just fill the net at the most important time of the year, he did so at crucial moments for his team. The veteran’s game-winning 18 goals in the playoffs are tied for fourth all-time.

The all-time leaders (Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull) could be out of reach at 24, but unless Pavelski retires after this season, there’s a good chance he could break his current tie with Maurice “Rocket” Richard and tied with Lemieux and Joe Sakic for third place at 19.

Overall, we’re talking statistical oddities here, because no one considers Pavelski an NHL legend. That said, his playoff accomplishments are remarkable and deserve recognition.

They are also extremely unlikely given his career history. Pavelski ranks 66th on the NHL’s all-time regular season goals list. He has just one 40-goal season to his name and he hasn’t scored 30 in 12 of his 17 campaigns. He’s a former 205th overall pick who never had a point-per-game season and generally played second fiddle to the biggest stars.

In San Jose, it was Joe Thornton, Brett Burns and Patrick Marleau. With the Stars, Jason Robertson and Miro Heiskanen eclipse the grizzled veteran. Pavelski is the type of player no Sharks or Stars fan will ever forget, but he’s hardly an era-defining star.

And yet, when it comes to playoff scoring, he’s among the players who fit that description. 50 years from now, when hockey fans watch NHL playoff rankings populated by names like Connor McDavid, Connor Bedard, Connor McDavid Jr. — and in all likelihood another guy named Connor — Pavelski will sit among them.

These fans will ask the question “who was Joe Pavelski?” and the answer will be a guy who found a way when it mattered, even when his teammates couldn’t.

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