Sharks’ budding star Couture shying away from limelight
San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture is taken down by Los Angeles Kings defenceman Alec Martinez during Game 2 of the NHL Western Conference semifinal in Los Angeles, May 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Surrounded Sunday morning by scribes and TV-types, Logan Couture patiently answered question after question about the only thing he didn’t seem interested in talking about.
The Sharks centre is the toast of the town in San Jose after shaking off a second-period leg injury and eventually scoring the winner in Saturday’s 2-1 sudden-death triumph over the Los Angeles Kings, a had-to-have-it game for the bunch from the Bay Area.
“We didn’t win just because of me,” Couture insisted. “We won because other guys stepped up and played well. I wasn’t out there the entire second period, and guys played extremely well. It was a full team effort.”
Like it or not, Couture is getting the credit.
Trailing by two in a best-of-seven series against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Sharks knew their season was — unofficially, anyway — on the line in Saturday’s clash with the Kings at HP Pavilion.
There was fear they might have — again, unofficially — lost the series early in the second period of Game 3, when the 24-year-old centre struggled to skate back to the bench after an awkward collision along the boards.
Couture went MIA for about 15 minutes, with the team telling reporters his return was “questionable,” but was back on the bench before the end of the second period. A few bolts in the roof of HP Pavilion probably shook loose when he stepped onto the ice during a stoppage to test his wheels.
He was all over the place for the rest of the night, logging nine minutes of ice in the third period — the second-highest total on the team, behind only linemate Joe Pavelski — and then picking the top shelf on a power-play early in overtime to finish it off.
Couture will be counted on for another big night in Tuesday’s Game 4.
“I told him it would have been a storybook ending if he got that goal,” said Sharks winger T.J. Galiardi.
He did get that goal.
Thing is, he doesn’t want this to be the Logan Couture story.
On Sunday, somebody mentioned the legend of Bobby Baun, who infamously suffered a broken bone in his leg and returned in the same game to score an overtime winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1964 Stanley Cup final.
“I’ve heard the story, but it’s not like that,” Couture said.
When it comes to playing hurt, the former Ottawa 67’s standout doesn’t need to dig into the archives for inspiration.
“Two years ago, (Ryane) Clowe and Jumbo (Joe Thornton) couldn’t even put their own jerseys on in the playoffs,” Couture recalled. “They had guys putting their jerseys on for them, their shoulders were so bad.
“It has nothing to do with being one of the leaders. I would hope every player on this team would play through injuries and do whatever they can to help us win,” he added later. “It’s what hockey players do. You know what you’re playing for. I don’t want to let anyone down in this room and I know everybody here feels the same way, so you play through whatever you can to help the team.”
Couture now leads the Sharks in playoff scoring, with four goals and a half-dozen helpers in seven post-season skates so far.
In years past, the offensive stats might have summarized his contributions.
Now in his fourth season in the league, that certainly isn’t the case anymore.
“He’s got a passion and an energy that’s contagious,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “He’s got a passion for the game that’s second to none. He’s got an energy that he brings. He never quits on plays.
“He drags a lot of people into the game, and that’s a sign of a good leader.”
In the time since McLellan was named San Jose’s skipper in June 2008, just one week after winning a Stanley Cup as an assistant on Mike Babcock’s staff in Detroit, the Sharks have had three different captains.
After McLellan’s first season behind the bench, Patrick Marleau was asked to surrender the ‘C’ as the team decided it was time for a new voice.
Rob Blake filled the role the following season before retiring.
Thornton has been the captain for the past three campaigns.
Couture is undoubtedly next.
“As times goes on, organizations evolve — good ones do,” McLellan said. “They have people coming. They have a torch that is held by one, then it’s shared, then it’s passed on. We hope that we’re doing that in this organization.
“Logan is a huge, huge part of our team. I think this is his coming-out party. Nationally, people are maybe starting to talk about him, but we’ve known Logan like this for a long time.”
To say that Couture has assumed a key leadership role for the Sharks is not a knock on Thornton, Marleau or any of the other 30-somethings in San Jose’s room.
Successful squads have more than one guy they can look to.
Just look at the Kings. Current captain Dustin Brown seems to be a perfect on-ice example of what the defending Stanley Cup champs want to be — responsible, ruthless and miserable to play to against — but former Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards was a critical voice during their title run and continues to be.
On Sunday, with the Sharks meeting at their practice facility but telling most of their regulars to stay off their skates, Couture insisted he hasn’t given any thought to eventually wearing the ‘C’ in San Jose.
He’s clearly captain material, though, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I’ve said it a few times — I think he’s become the leader of this team,” said Sharks defenceman Brad Stuart, who’s in the first season of his second stint in the Silicon Valley.
“I was new coming in here this year and didn’t know a whole lot about how important to the team he was. Obviously, I knew he was a good player, contributes offensively, but I’ve gotten to see him every day and a lot of the work that he does away from the puck and the way he just steps up in big moments, to me, that’s what’s impressed me the most.
“I think it’s built throughout the year and he’s just become a guy that we look to, to make big plays and be our most important player, I think.”
So important that it seems far-fetched to think the Sharks could oust the Kings without him.
Thankfully, they don’t have to try.
“I think he was just getting his skate fixed. I think he lost an edge,” said Sharks winger Brent Burns with a wry grin. “I think he’s got his skate issue figured out now.”
This team needs him.
On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson