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Blues face Sharks in game 3

St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) and San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (39) fight for possession during the third period of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup Western conference finals on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at the Enterprise Center. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

When San Jose forward Logan Couture scored the tying goal in Game 3 with 1:01 to play in the third period, the question was both How did it happen? and What took him so long?

The goal was the 14th this postseason for Couture, five more than anybody else. (Jaden Schwartz of the Blues is tied for second with nine.) In his NHL career, Couture has 48 postseason goals. That’s the second most in the NHL since he made his playoff debut in 2010, putting him two behind Alex Ovechkin and above teammate Joe Pavelski, Sidney Crosby of the Penguins (both with 42) and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks (41).

So what’s it like being in such elite company?

“Those guys have won (the Stanley Cup) and I haven’t,” Couture said Thursday. “So those numbers don’t mean anything unless we win the Stanley Cup.”

If the Sharks do win the Cup, it will likely be because of Couture, who hasn’t exactly single-handedly carried the team, but who has done much of the heavy lifting and has to be a favorite at this point for the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. Couture had six goals in the Vegas series, including two in the pivotal Game 7. He had a hat trick in Game 3 against Colorado as the Sharks took a 2-1 lead in the series. And he has five goals in three games so far against the Blues.

In 17 playoff games this season, the 10th-year center from Guelph, Ontario, has 20 points. If he gets to the Stanley Cup Final, he’ll have a shot at the record for most goals in one postseason, 19, by Reggie Leach with Philadelphia in 1976, and Jari Kurri with Edmonton in 1985. (Though many NHL greats didn’t get a chance because there were fewer rounds in the playoffs in their day.) At the rate he’s scoring against the Blues, he could have the record by the end of this series.

So even if his Game 3 goal was the easiest of the bunch, a tap in from inches out, it was filled with drama, saving what almost was a major collapse for the Sharks.

“No (surprise),” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “Just kind of get numb to it. You shouldn’t. I think it’s one of those playoffs runs we’ll look back at years down the road and say, wow, what a competitor, what a leader. But when you’re in the heat of the moment, he’s just doing what he does.”

“It’s pretty impressive,” said Sharks goalie Martin Jones. “He’s just a reliable player in the big moments of the big games. Those are the kind of guys you need if you want to have success in the playoffs. He’s been huge for us for sure.”

Couture, who has played his entire career with San Jose, which drafted him with the ninth pick in 2007 (Kane was the No. 1 pick that year), is coming off a season where he had career highs in assists (43) and points (70), to go along with 27 goals, down from the career-high of 34 the season before. He finished the regular season second on the team in assists and takeaways and was third in points.

“He’s a good player,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Good players find a way to produce and he’s doing that right now. We can definitely focus on that a little bit more when he’s out there. I think we’re doing a pretty good job but he’s hot. He’s a big-time player for them. But we’ve got to make sure we’re a little tighter to him.”

His teammates also see him as more than just a goalscorer.

“He does a lot of stuff for us that helps us win games,” said linemate Timo Meier. “He obviously comes up with big goals but also does a fantastic job defensively, plays all three zones. He plays an honest game. As a teammate, it’s obviously unbelievable to have a guy like that on the team.”

If there should be a scary thing for the Blues – as if Couture’s play in this series isn’t scary enough – it’s that even when they did a solid job defending Couture and his line (Gustav Nyquist is the third member), they couldn’t keep him from scoring. For all they did, Couture was able to get room to work in front of the crease and score.

“Yeah we didn’t play well as a line,” Couture said. “We didn’t create much offensively, we gave up two to their guys. It was nice to find a way to score one at the end of the game and we won it in overtime.”

Tom Timmermann is a Blues beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.