The San Jose Sharks are one win away from their first ever trip the Stanley Cup final.
They are now up 3-2 in their Western Conference final series against the St. Louis Blues.
San Jose took Game 5 by a 6-3 final, but it was a tight, one-goal affair until the final minute.
Joe Pavelski's game-tying and game-winning goals late in the second and early in the third period stole the show in the victory. A couple of other headliners were Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joel Ward. The long-time Sharks defenseman and first-year Sharks forward each beat Jake Allen with goals of their own before Ward and Chris Tierney added empty netters.
But that's not who I want to talk about today.
I wanna talk about the unsung hero of the night.
That would be the man who maxed out to win a race to the face-off dot in order to negate a last-minute icing while defending a one-goal lead---Nick Spaling.
Oh and how was Spaling rewarded for winning that race? Moments later he was absolutely creamed into the end boards. Nine times out of ten, that hit would have been a boarding penalty. At that point in the game though, there was no chance the referee was going to make the call.
This writer will be the first to admit having been very critical of Spaling's performance during the regular season after being acquired at the trade deadline from Toronto. A second-round pick is a lot to give up for a 13th forward. However, in the playoffs, teams need their 12th and 13th forwards to make plays when their number is called. Thus far in the playoffs, Spaling has done just that.
Spaling winning that race won't get talked about on NHL Network or NBC or by most local writers, but those are the plays in the playoffs that mean a lot to teammates. Sacrificing one's own well being, taking a hit to make a play, that's what Spaling has done throughout this postseason.
While he did have one particularly poor game in the LA series, the majority of his minutes have been solid on the fourth line. In Game 5 on Monday night, Spaling skated 13:32, four-and-a-half more minutes than the highest total of St. Louis' fourth line members. He won 56% of his faceoffs and was seen getting so low to try and win draws that he would fall down to the ice to ensure the win.
Then of course there is the contributions on the penalty kill where Spaling skated 1:15 in the Game 5 win. The Sharks may still be at their best if Matt Nieto were to be healthy and Spaling were to come out of the lineup, but Spaling has played solid hockey nonetheless.
Winning Key Moments
Throughout the second half of the season and playoffs, one of the conversations that Sharks TV analyst Jamie Baker has brought up frequently in his postgame show appearances is one he had with Joe Pavelski in the middle of the season. When the Sharks were playing well, he asked Pavelski what the Sharks needed to work on. According to Baker, Pavelski paused before responding with, "we can be better in key moments."
Beating out that icing to prevent a face off deep in the Sharks zone is exactly what Pavelski was talking about when he brought up being better in key moments. Spaling may not end up on the scoresheet much in these playoffs and he may not be a great possession forward, but when his number was called to come up with a big shift in a key moment, he delivered.