Moments after the Stars’ do-or-die Game 4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, Jake Oettinger stood in front of the whiteboard in the middle of the Stars’ locker room. The overtime victory was fresh from the Stars netminder’s first season after Joe Pavelski fired a shot from the left circle past Edin Hill three minutes into the extra frame.
Asked if there was any surprise that it was Pavelski who delivered that moment, Oettinger shrugged. Then he smiled.
“Who else is that, right?” Otting said.
As Oetting spoke to the media, Pavelski stood in a corner in the hallway outside the locker room. Pavelski fielded questions from the media before heading down the hall for the official postgame news conference.
As Pavelski waited in the lobby, several stellar AHL prospects, including 2020 first-round pick Maverick Burke, went home for the night on the sidelines. Pavelski offered each of them fist bumps, smiling and exchanging cheers as they walked past him.
“When I was in San Jose, we had three great captains in that department,” he said of his history with Pavelski during his five-year stint with the Sharks in Dallas. “Patty Marleau was the captain. They took it from him (and) gave it to Joe Thornton. It was taken from him before I got there. I went in and gave it to Joe Pavelski because he was without a captain.”
On Thursday, the stars were without a captain. Stars captain Jamie Benn, the team’s second-leading scorer and first-class dressing room leader this season, was absent as he served the first term of his two-match suspension. Dallas was on the brink of extinction.
Without any formal guidance, Pavelski did what he did his entire 17-year career. He put on his coat.
This stellar postseason revolved around Pavelski. He only played a shadow at one point in the first round, but the head injury that took Pavelski out of the wild in Game 1 became a huge blow to the team. They refused to let the lasting image of Pavelski’s era be seen lying motionless on the ice behind the net.
“It’s a tight group in there,” Pavelski said. “When I went out with Minny in Game 1, I heard people talking about it. “Play me hard and try to buy more time and come back.”
Pavelski returned for Game 1 against the Seattle Kraken in the second round. With Tyler Seguin playing well on the top line, DeBoer placed Pavelski on the second line with Max Domi and Mason Marchment. Pavelski accepted the new position in the new line, and in the first back game, Pavelski had a historic four-goal performance. He’s leading the Stars in goals and points over seven straight games with four more goals against the Kraken.
The Stars entered Game 4 of the third round about to be swept by the Golden Knights. In Ben and Yevgeny Dadonov, the second best line for the team did not have two of their most effective strikers. Jason Robertson scored a pair of Pavelski-esque goals to help the Stars match the Golden Knights on the scoreboard.
For many Stars fans, it was a sense of doom for the team to reach overtime. Dallas has been a bad overtime team all season, going 0-4 in the postseason and 0-2 in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden Knights. If the pattern held, the All-Star season was just minutes away.
Instead, the Stars drew the power play and Pavelski cashed in the game-winner.
The goal was big for the Stars, but it was also a big point for Pavelski. Pavelski surpassed Alex Ovechkin and surpassed Sidney Crosby by two goals to become the active leader in playoff goals. The context of that collection speaks volumes. Ovechkin and Crosby were the No. 1 picks in the two drafts after Pavelski’s draft class. Pavelski was the No. 205 seventh-round pick in 2003.
“He’s ageless,” Debor says. “What do you say about him? I’ve seen that movie over and over and it never gets old. He lives for those moments. He wants to be in those situations, he always has and he always gives.”
A player’s product is the core of his value. Despite what his birth certificate says, Pavelski continues to excel. Most recently, the 39-year-old was a force for the Stars in their run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals, leading the team in scoring over the next two seasons and finishing with 77 points this season. His nine goals this season are just behind Hints’ 10 for the team lead, despite playing just once in the six-game opening round.
Pavelski’s production is a vital part of the Stars’ success. It is the gateway to providing as much, if not more, value to the organization.
Signs of Pavelski’s leadership are visible on several levels. Four years ago, there weren’t three piles of pucks spread out on the blue line before every morning skate, with a defenseman hovering around them and a handful of forwards practicing on the spinning net. Pavelski established that routine, with players like Ty DeLandria and Benn checking and screening him and other forwards.
“Part of it is, if you want to call it mentorship or whatever you want to call it, we’re out on the ice trying to figure things out together in certain areas,” Pavelski said. “I’ve gotten a little more experience (Dellandrea) over the years, what we see in each other’s games.
I think that’s the biggest thing is that we’re in this together. We are trying to help each other, and at the end of the day we want the same result. Just good people to be around. Daly and Wyatt (Johnston) have a lot of fun together and then go away.
Pavelski’s leadership is not produced or shown. Nor does he need formal labels to immerse himself in the role. Former Stars head coach Rick Bowness didn’t need to name Pavelski as an alternate captain because Pavelski would lead no matter what. It allowed Bowness to give the letter to another player who needed it to step into a leadership role.
Pavelski brought his experience as a former captain to Dallas. The Stars already had a captain in Ben. In the last four years, Pavelski has maintained his own taste and is useful to Ben in the management team.
“I think you don’t understand the role until you’re in it,” Pavelski said. “For me, when I was in San Jose, we had the support of the team. Like Joel Ward, Paul Martin doing things with guys,[Thornton]was incredible then, Patty,[Brent Burns]we had a great lead. When I came to Dallas, all I wanted to do was support Jamie and know what a great job and maybe how he feels about it sometimes. Add more stuff where I can because you understand, as a player, you just want to help your teammates and you want them to help you.
“It’s been something I’ve taken throughout my career. You want to show up, you want to compete for the guys on your side because that’s what you expect from them and that’s probably the No. 1 thing in management: show up and play, compete, try to help the guys help you and then be a fun team to be around.
Pavelski leads by example. It also doesn’t have to work too hard to get buy-in. His work ethic and the way he continues to carry himself will do whatever it takes.
“He’s the conscience of our team,” DeBoer said. At 38, he’s blocking shots. With the career he’s had, how many goals he’s scored and the awards he’s won, how can you not sit on the bench and take your turn and do the same.
Some elements of Pavelski’s leadership receive more public attention than others. Pavelski’s residence and Johnston’s mentorship throughout the season is well documented. The chemistry he built with Robertson and Hintz fueled the development of two of Dallas’ brightest stars.
But there are countless other things that stemmed from Pavelski’s leadership. As the Stars found themselves in a dire situation following Ben Mark Stone’s cross-check on Tuesday, Pavelski stood in front of the cameras and took every question from the media. After Pavelski left the Wildcats in Game 1 with an injury, the pucks still lined up on the blue line the next morning. Dellandrea was in front of the net, carrying Pavelski’s routine and playing the pups.
Some of the profits aren’t related to what Pavelski does or how he manages it. His mere presence is enough. With much being made of DeBoer’s ongoing departure from Vegas, the Stars coach was asked what made him come to Dallas last summer. DeBoer paused briefly before answering.
“Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Joe Pavelski,” DeBoer said. “The captain at San Jose always respected him as a player. When I talked to him about the situation, he felt that the team could win. He spoke highly of the organization, ownership and Jim Neal and what a great man and a great man and the organization he built there. I trust John with my life. There was a conversation with him.
Obvious things (too). I’ve been in the league for 15 years. You come into Dallas, it’s a great city, it’s a great fanbase, it’s a great environment in the field. All these things. Lifestyle, weather. All of these things are important, but for me it was my conversation with Joe Pavelski. I think I would follow that guy anywhere.
DeBoer improved the stars on the fly and was able to achieve faster results. Much to his credit, Pavelski’s presence in the room served as an epitome of Deborah’s history and past success. Asked if he was sending a message to other players through Pavelski, DeBoer shrugged it off.
“I don’t have to,” DeBoer said. “Honestly, Joe can do my job and his job. If I was wondering, Joe already thought of it. Let’s put it this way. That’s just Joe.”
The hole the Stars are currently hoping to dig into is a good indication of how deep Pavelski’s experience bank is.
Dallas is trying to become just the fifth team in NHL history to snap a winning streak after falling behind 3-0. Pavelski was a part of the last time something like this happened: in 2014 when the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead before losing to Jonathan Quick, Alec Martinez and the Kings. When asked about it, Pavelski delved into the experience, recalling the time his Sharks took a 3-0 series lead over the Red Wings in 2011 but were able to survive in Game 7.
“When you’re on the other side, they’re not fun,” Pavelski said. We went 3-0 against Detroit and looking back at that, you saw how focused that team was. All pucks go in, all shots are directed to the net. There was a heightened sense of urgency.
Beating the Golden Knights was a tough task right from the start. It went hard as the Stars lost their third game in a row to open the series. And it became more of a challenge when they lost their captaincy for two games. But the stars still have it A Captain – Captain America. It’s a big reason why the Stars still believe they have a chance.
(Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)