Joe Pavelski‘s run to the Stanley Cup Final with the Dallas Stars has drawn great interest from Joe Mullen and Mike Modano.
With 10 goals this postseason, the Stars forward has tied Modano for second among United States-born players with 58 in his NHL career. The 36-year-old forward is two behind Mullen for first heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The Stars trail the best-of-7 series 2-1.
“It’s nice to see,” Mullen said of Pavelski’s pursuit of his record. “I always say records are made to be broken. … Joe’s always been a good player. He’s one of those go-to guys all the time.”
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Pavelski has played 158 postseason games over 16 NHL seasons with the San Jose Sharks and Stars. In his first season of a three-year, $21 million contract he signed with Dallas as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2019, Pavelski has reached 10 goals in a playoff year for the second time. The native of Plover, Wisconsin scored 14 goals in 24 games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to help the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final before losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s cool to be up there with those names,” Pavelski said of Mullen and Modano. “We are focused right now on the finals, so all that stuff is just extra. Just look at it another day. … But I’ve played in a lot of playoff games, scored some goals along the way and we’re here today. So I’ll keep trying to add to it.”
Only Lightning forward Brayden Point (11) has scored more goals than Pavelski in the 2020 postseason. That Pavelski continues to be this productive at his age puts him in elite company.
He’s the fourth player in NHL history to score at least 10 goals in a playoff year at age 36 or older, joining Hockey Hall of Famers Maurice Richard (11 with the Montreal Canadiens in 1958), Wayne Gretzky (10 with the New York Rangers in 1997) and Brett Hull (10 with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002).
Modano, a 2014 Hall of Fame inductee, believes one of the reasons for Pavelski’s continued postseason production is that he hasn’t changed his approach.
“He’s just stuck to what’s given him success,” said Modano, who retired in 2011 after scoring 58 goals in 176 playoff games over 21 seasons with the Stars/Minnesota North Stars and Red Wings. “He’s smart around the net. He finds those pockets in the slot and around the sides and his hand-eye (coordination) is no surprise to people. He’s able to knock down pucks left and right.
“So he’s stuck with what works best for him.”
It’s also what works best in the playoffs when goals are harder to score and getting to the front is pivotal. Pavelski has mastered the art of establishing position in front of the net to deflect in shots from the point.
His power-play goal in the second period of Game 2 on Monday was a perfect example. Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh tried to box Pavelski out and keep him to the left of the crease, but Pavelski was able to reach across with his stick and redirect defenseman John Klingberg‘s shot down and past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on the stick side.
“He was kind of moving and it looked like it got shot across the grain and to tip it down as he’s moving, and on his backhand nonetheless, that’s a lost art,” Modano said. “Not too many can do that.”
Mullen said he believes it takes natural talent to tip pucks out of mid-air like that, but also hard work. Pavelski works tirelessly at it in practices and morning skates.
“For most guys it comes naturally, but going to the net, skating to the net, trying to tip pucks is harder than just standing there and tipping them,” said Mullen, a 2000 Hall of Fame inductee who scored 60 goals in 143 playoff games over 16 NHL seasons with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Penguins before retiring in 1997. “You’ve got to practice. I don’t know if practice makes perfect, but it makes you better.”
It took Pavelski some time to adjust to his new surroundings with Dallas this season after 15 seasons with San Jose and he dropped to 14 goals in 67 regular-season games after scoring 38 with the Sharks in 2018-19. But he’s elevated his game in the playoffs and given the Stars the production and veteran leadership they were seeking when they signed him.
“During the playoffs with the heightened responsibility of everyone on the ice, in particular the veterans, he’s certainly coming through for us,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “So it’s nice to see that he’s rewarded. He’s scored some huge goals for us and just important to us as what he’s doing on the ice is what he’s doing off the ice.”
Modano has noticed the difference Pavelski has made with the Stars, who are in the Cup Final for the first since Modano and the Stars’ repeat bid fell short against the New Jersey Devils in 2000 after they won the Cup in 1999 against the Buffalo Sabres. After watching Pavelski pursue the Stanley Cup for so long with the Sharks and fall short in his one previous Cup Final appearance, Modano would love to see him finish the job with the Stars.
“He’s been so close,” Modano said. “To hang in as long as he did in San Jose to try to accomplish it there was nice to see. But ultimately you get to that age, in the mid-30s, and you haven’t won, you’re trying to chase that thing and trying to get one.”
Mullen, who won the Cup with Calgary in 1989 and Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992, sees similarities in Pavelski’s story to that of Ray Bourque. The defenseman played 21 seasons with the Boston Bruins trying to win the Cup and finally did when he finished his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
Mullen hopes Pavelski is rewarded similarly.
“A guy like that deserves a Cup,” Mullen said. “He was with one team most of his career and takes a chance on another team and hopefully it will work out for Joe like it did for Ray. Both guys definitely deserve a Cup. But, yeah, I’m rooting for him.”