SAN JOSE -- It was early in the second period Saturday night when San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture slammed into the boards awkwardly after a battle with the Los Angeles Kings' Jeff Carter. Couture limped off the ice and headed to the dressing room, where he joined teammate Martin Havlat, who reinjured himself in the first period.
The Sharks and Kings were tied 1-1 in Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal series, but the Sharks were down two players -- including Couture, their rising star. They appeared on their way to going down 3-0 in the series.
But Couture rejoined his teammates on the bench with 1:33 left in the period, giving the Sharks a huge emotional boost. He gave them an even bigger left when he scored a power-play goal 1:29 into overtime to give the Sharks a crucial 2-1 victory.
"It was huge," Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart of Couture's return. "In my opinion, he's the leader of this team. Throughout the season he's taken that role, I think, especially on the ice. To see him come back was huge. It was just a boost to the guys mentally if nothing else. And it's good to have him on the ice obviously."
Couture took a pass from Patrick Marleau in the slot and roofed San Jose's 40th shot of the night past goaltender Jonathan Quick. The Sharks can get even in the series by winning Game 4 on Tuesday night at HP Pavilion (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
Couture was getting treatment after the game and available for comment, but his teammates and coach Todd McLellan had plenty to say about his performance.
"You're in the game and you don't know if he's going to come back or not," Marleau said. "And now he has his stick back in the game, and he scores the overtime winner. It's huge. It's huge to see him be able to push through that kind of pain."
McLellan said Havlat is "very doubtful" for Game 4 but he expects Couture to be ready.
"Based on the smile in the locker room, I assume he'll be fine," McLellan said.
Couture's goal came 11 seconds after a 5-on-3 power play expired. Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr was called for hooking Tommy Wingels in the Los Angeles zone with 42 seconds left in regulation, and Trevor Lewis was penalized for goaltender interference after running over Antti Niemi with five seconds left. Regehr had left the penalty box, but Lewis had 26 seconds left on his penalty when Couture scored.
It was the 19th overtime game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring and the fifth to be decided by a power-play goal.
Kings forward Dustin Penner took issue with the call on Lewis, who was battling with Marleau while racing for the net when he crashed into Niemi.
"I find it very tough to believe that a player as intelligent as Trevor Lewis, that he’d run the goalie," Penner said. "I asked him and he said he got pushed from behind. I believe him. I’m disappointed that the refs had enough confidence to make a gutsy call like that in the last 30 seconds of the period. It’s pretty impressive when you have enough gall to guess because I’m going to look at the tape and I’m going to see if he got pushed because I know what it’s like to drive the net. Sometimes it happens."
The Kings beat the Sharks 4-3 in Game 2 at Staples Center, scoring two power play goals in a 22-second span, including one with a 5-on-3 advantage.
"They said we got a break last game so now they got a break," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "We did an awesome job killing the 5-on-3. They didn’t score on the 5-on-3. We talked about killing the 5-on-3, killing the 5-on-4 and then winning the hockey game. We [nearly] did it."
Until Couture's game-winner, the game had been a goaltending duel. Niemi, a Vezina Trophy finalist, made 26 saves and allowed just one goal after allowing a combined six in the first two games. Quick, who gave up three goals in Game 2 after shutting out the Sharks in Game 1, was back in top form and made 38 saves.
The Sharks and Kings were deadlocked 1-1 entering the third period, with both goals coming in the first. Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle opened the scoring with a power-play blast from the blue line 1:34 after the opening faceoff, and Kings forward Tyler Toffoli capitalized on a turnover to beat Niemi on a backhander from the slot at 10:08.
After that, Quick and Niemi went save for save as the tension built at HP Pavilion.
With 5:16 left in regulation, the Sharks went on a power play when Kings captain Dustin Brown slashed forward Joe Pavelski. But the Sharks, who scored their first power-play goal of the series when Boyle connected early in the first, didn't get a shot on goal. They managed very little during the 5-on-3 advantage before Couture's game-winner during the 5-on-4.
"He's our guy," Boyle said of Couture. He's obviously a huge part of our team. The guys did a great job while he was out, but he comes back and scores the game-winner with a terrific shot. That was a pretty good shot. He's a tremendous hockey player."
Boyle gave the Sharks an early lead four seconds after the Sharks got a power play after Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin was called for delay of game after flipping the puck over the glass in the Kings' end. Pavelski won the faceoff with Anze Kopitar in the right circle, sending the puck back to Marleau. He hit Boyle near the blue line, and Boyle beat Quick with a one-timer, sending the puck over his right shoulder with Joe Thornton screening.
Toffoli, a 21-year-old rookie, answered with his first career playoff goal midway through the period by making Stuart pay for an awful giveaway deep in San Jose's zone. Stuart was below the right circle when he took a pass from Niemi -- only to put the puck right on the stick of Toffoli, who beat Niemi with a backhander from the slot.