SAN JOSE (AP) — In the biggest games this postseason, Logan Couture has often been San Jose’s best player.
While goalie Martin Jones’ 44 saves to protect a lead were the main reason why the Sharks staved off elimination with a 4-2 win at Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, Couture’s play early in the game was why San Jose played with a lead for the first time this series.
“Great players have that ability,” coach Peter DeBoer said Friday. “I put him in that category. ... I think Logan has the ability to raise his level of play when the chips are down. I think he’s done that for us the entire playoffs. It’s a great gift to have. Not everyone has that ability.”
Couture had a goal and two assists in the first period alone for his fourth three-point game of the postseason. The first three came in San Jose’s clinching wins in the first three rounds, including Game 7 against Nashville in Round 2 when the Sharks also were facing elimination.
The most recent also came when San Jose was on the brink of being eliminated. Now, instead of packing up for the summer, the Sharks are preparing for Game 6 at home Sunday night, when they will try to extend the series to a decisive seventh game.
“This is the time of year, your backs are against the wall, people have to step up with big-game performances,” DeBoer said. “We got a couple last night from those guys. We’ve got to get a couple more in Game 6 here to give us a chance in Game 7.”
Couture’s line with Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson on the wings was by far San Jose’s best in Game 5. Couture helped set up Brent Burns’ early goal just over a minute into the game that allowed the Sharks to play with the lead for the first time all series.
Less than two minutes later, Couture got to the front of the net to deflect a point shot from Justin Braun past Matt Murray to put San Jose up 2-0.
After the Penguins tied the game with a pair of goals 22 seconds apart, Couture helped San Jose regain the lead, He sent a slick backhand pass to Karlsson in the slot for a one-timer that put the Sharks in front for good.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Couture became the fourth player since the start of the expansion era in 1968 to score three points in one period with his team facing elimination in the Stanley Cup Final.
Couture has nine goals and 20 assists so far in the playoffs, giving him six more points than teammates Burns and Joe Pavelski, who are tied for second in scoring in the NHL this postseason.
Couture’s 29 points are the most in the NHL in a single postseason since 2010, when Philadelphia’s Danny Briere had 30 and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews posted 29.
“I think Logan hasn’t gotten credit for it, but he’s one of the two or three guys who really makes this team go,” teammate Tommy Wingels said. “He’s a guy who quietly goes about his business. He often gets overlooked compared to other guys in this room.”
Couture has been a key to San Jose’s success all season. He broke his right leg in practice after three games and missed nearly two months. He played just two games when he came back before internal bleeding in the leg forced him to miss three more weeks.
Couture’s return in late December helped spark the Sharks’ turnaround. They surged from 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference in early January to the playoffs, and eventually to their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Sharks were 32-15-5 with him in the lineup. Without him, they were 14-15-1.
“It’s been a difficult year throughout the regular season,” Couture said. “Missing games is never fun, injuries that are tough to get over. An ankle injury is difficult, I’ve never had something like this before. Mentally and physically it was difficult, but it makes it worth it now.”
NOTES: F Tomas Hertl remains day to day with a lower-body injury that has forced him to miss the past three games. ... San Jose has just one power-play goal this series and has failed to convert its last nine chances.