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Joe Pavelski returns, inspires Sharks in Game 7 win

AP

Joe Pavelski was positioned just a few feet away from the spot where he was bleeding from his head on the ice just over two weeks ago when he did what he has done so often in his brilliant career. Pavelski got his stick on a shot that he redirected into the net to give the San Jose Sharks a Game 7 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Sharks got their captain back and are moving on to the Western Conference final.

Pavelski made a triumphant return from a gruesome head injury by posting a goal and an assist in the first period that helped send the Sharks to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 on Wednesday night.

“I got to watch these guys play for six games. They gave a lot of motivation for me,” Pavelski said. “They were there for me. I wanted to come out and give them a good game as well. There wasn’t going to be one guy who won this game and there wasn’t. It was a big group effort out there.”

But no one was more important than Pavelski, who inspired the crowd and carried his team to another Game 7 victory after the epic comeback in the first round against Vegas following his injury. He scored the first goal and assisted on Tomas Hertl’s goal as the Sharks advanced to their fourth conference final this decade.

“He played unbelievable for a guy that missed playoff action for two weeks,” teammate Logan Couture said. “To have the injuries that he has, coming back, and set up a goal, scored a goal. I wish I could tell you what he’s gone through from seeing it firsthand. You wouldn’t believe that he’s playing right now, let’s just say that. He played unbelievable.”

Joonas Donskoi ended a 39-game goal drought, while Martin Jones made 14 of his 27 saves in the third period for the Sharks.

San Jose will now play St. Louis in a conference final matchup between two successful teams seeking their first championship. Game 1 is Saturday night in San Jose.

Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost scored for the Avalanche, who were trying to make their first conference final since 2002.