SAN JOSE, CALIF. – With Sunday night’s Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final being the latest “biggest game” of Logan Couture’s career, the San Jose Sharks have reason to feel confident they’ll force a Game 7.
The lightning-fast, brash young center has proved throughout this postseason to be a big-game performer.
“I just don’t want to go home, don’t want the season to end,” Couture explained after Saturday’s practice.
Not only is Couture lapping the competition with a six-point lead in the NHL playoff scoring race with 29, he has extracted some monster efforts. His latest was a three-point first period, including an ultra-skilled setup of the winning goal, in Game 5 to help the Sharks avoid elimination.
“I think great players have that ability,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. “I put him in that category, just like Joe Pavelski has a knack for game-winning goals. I think Logan has the ability to raise his level of play when the chips are down. It’s a great gift to have. Not everyone has that ability.”
Thursday night was just the latest time the guy nicknamed, “Cootch,” has come through in the clutch.
In Game 5 in the first round, Couture had three assists as the Sharks eliminated the rival Los Angeles Kings. In Game 7 in the second round against Nashville, Couture notched a goal and two assists. In Game 6 of the conference final, Couture helped eliminate the St. Louis Blues with yet another three-point game.
That’s four three-point performances in closeout or potential elimination games this postseason run. Against St. Louis, he became the third player in NHL history to have three or more points in three series-clinching wins in a single postseason. The others are Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.
His four three-point games in a single postseason are the most since Evgeni Malkin had five in 2009, the year he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins.
“I think he’s maybe the most overlooked guy in the NHL,” teammate Tommy Wingels said. “He comes to work and puts his head down every day, and he gets overlooked because of the other great players we have here. But he can do it all: score, defend, special teams.”
Couture, 27, is thriving in the usually tight-checking postseason after a terrifying injury this season.
After a 3-0 start to the Sharks’ season, Couture broke his right fibula in practice. He’d miss 23 games, and that was actually lucky because the initial talk was he could miss four to six months.
But in his second game after returning, Couture was hit harmlessly in Edmonton.
His leg swelled. It was originally thought to be merely a charley horse, but on the return flight to San Jose, Couture knew something serious was wrong. His right leg kept swelling bigger and bigger. He couldn’t walk and former teammate Alex Stalock had to help him off the plane and into a wheelchair.
“I couldn’t believe the pain he was in,” Stalock said. “He isn’t a guy that would want to be that guy that needed help.”
Couture went home, but after getting no sleep, he went to the hospital the next morning. After an MRI, it was discovered “by 8-10 doctors” that an artery had somehow split open in his quad.
“My leg was just continuously filling with blood and it could have gotten to the point where you don’t know what’s going to happen, if you’re going to lose your leg or die,” Couture said.
Couture underwent emergency surgery but only missed seven games.
The Sharks were 32-15-5 with him in the lineup. Without him, they were 14-15-1 and fell to 13th in the 14-team West. Sunday will be his 76th combined game this season — six fewer than a full regular season — so he has jokingly explained his postseason success as being fresh.
The Blue Jay die-hard and Tragically Hip fanatic has emerged as a Conn Smythe Trophy front-runner if a Sharks player is to be chosen the league’s most valuable playoff performer.
“It seems he’s on the score sheet every second,” teammate Joel Ward said. “He wants to be the best out there.”
Couture’s not the most beloved by Wild brass. It was his open-ice interference penalty in April that sidelined Zach Parise for the postseason.
Watch him every game though, and that was out of character. As good as Couture is offensively, he’s an under-the-radar good defensive player who loves blocking shots. He looks up to Kings center Anze Kopitar.
“In my mind, he’s one of the best centermen in this league, and unfortunately we have to play him often,” Couture said. “I like that type of game, I don’t know why. It’s not much fun, but I like it.
“You want to do something on the ice every single shift to help the team win, and that’s what I try to do.”