When you think of dominant NHL playoff scorers, Joe Pavelski is unlikely to be the first name to come to your mind.
The veteran spent most of his career with a San Jose Sharks franchise that was known for falling short of expectations in the postseason. The Dallas Stars have had playoff success since Pavelski joined, but haven’t won it all.
On Thursday night, Pavelski kept their chances of doing so this year alive with an overtime winner.
That was Pavelski 73rd career playoff goal, the highest total among active NHL players. Some of that total can be attributed to the 38-year-old’s longevity, but he has two more goals than Sidney Crosby in the exact same number of playoff games (180). He also has six more tallies than Evgeni Malkin in just three more contests.
Pavelski’s 73 postseason goals are tied for 13th in NHL history.
Of the 12 players ahead of him, only two aren’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Jaromir Jagr and Claude Lemieux. Jagr is shoe-in when he’s eligible and Lemieux played for three different Stanley Cup winners and appeared in 234 playoff games.
Pavelski hasn’t just filled the net at the most important time of year, he’s done so at crucial times for his team. The veteran’s 18 game-winning goals in the playoffs are tied for the fourth-most all-time.
The all-time leaders (Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull) might be out of reach at 24, but unless Pavelski retires after this season there’s a good chance he can break out of his current tie with Maurice “Rocket” Richard and draw even with Lemieux and Joe Sakic for third place at 19.
By and large, we’re talking about statistical quirks here as no one is holding up Pavelski as an NHL legend. That said, his playoff scoring accomplishments are remarkable and deserve recognition.
They are also extremely improbable given the story of his career. Pavelski ranks 66th on the NHL’s all-time regular-season goal list. He has just one 40-goal season to his name and he’s fallen short of 30 in 12 of his 17 campaigns. He’s a former 205th-overall pick who’s never had a point-per-game season and usually played second-fiddle to bigger stars.
In San Jose, that was Joe Thornton, Brett Burns and Patrick Marleau. With the Stars, Jason Robertson and Miro Heiskanen overshadow the grizzled veteran. Pavelski is the type of player no Sharks or Stars fan will forget, but he’s hardly an era-defining star.
And yet, when it comes to playoff scoring he sits among players who fits that description. In 50 years when hockey fans gaze at all-time NHL postseason leaderboards populated by names like Connor McDavid, Connor Bedard, Connor McDavid Jr. — and in all likelihood some other guy name Connor — Pavelski will sit among them.
Those fans will ask the question “who was Joe Pavelski?” and the answer will be a guy who found a way when it mattered, even if his teammates couldn’t.