SAN JOSE -- They play for more than the Stanley Cup. They play for each other.
That was the essence of what will go down as one of the great games in NHL history.
When the San Jose Sharks defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round at SAP Center on Tuesday, they did more than roar back after trailing 3-0 in the third period, more than recover from a late tying goal.
They did more than win a best-of-7 series after trailing 3-1 for the first time in their history, more than advance to play the Colorado Avalanche in the second round starting here Friday.
They rallied for their injured captain, Joe Pavelski.
"The boys, they got together and they said, 'This is for Pav,'" center Joe Thornton said. "So we love him. It was just a matter of will, and we willed that one for him."
The game turned after a face-off in the Vegas zone 9:06 into the third period.
Pavelski won the draw, then was cross-checked by Golden Knights center Cody Eakin, knocking him off balance. In the next split-second, Golden Knights center Paul Stastny ran into Pavelski, who fell hard, hit his head on the ice and lay motionless.
In Game 1, Pavelski scored a goal when a shot deflected in off his face. He lost three teeth, had another sheared off and had two more cracked, and he had to put on a jaw guard to protect the dental work. Now he was bleeding again.
"He's the heart of this team, and to see him go down like that and suffer like that, it was heartbreaking for us," Thornton said.
Thornton and forward Evander Kane helped Pavelski off the ice with a trainer, with defenseman Brent Burns right behind. The whole way, Thornton cradled Pavelski's head, holding a towel to his wounds.
"It almost made you cry, because we love him so much," Thornton said. "You never want to see a teammate get hurt like that. It was a tough break for him. It was just hold him as hard as you can, get him off the ice and get him better."
Eakin received a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct at 9:13. The Golden Knights were upset with the call. But whatever you think of the incident, whatever you think of the call, you have to respect how the Sharks responded.
In the moment, there is no cold analysis. There is only hot emotion.
"Tough to see, man," forward Logan Couture said. "Real tough to see. But you've got to give credit to [Thornton]. As soon as we got to that bench, he said, 'You guys go out and you get ... three goals right now.' And I mean, when a guy that's played 20 years orders you around like that, bosses you around, you've got to go do it, so we did. We got four."
Couture scored at 9:20. Forward Tomas Hertl scored at 10:09. Couture scored again at 12:53. Then forward Kevin Labanc scored at 13:21.
The Sharks had scored four power-play goals in the first six games, and now they had scored four power-play goals in a span of 4:01 during one major penalty to take a 4-3 lead. They were the eighth-fastest four goals by one team in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.
But it wasn't over yet. Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault tied the game 4-4 with 47 seconds left. The teams went to overtime after going to double OT in Game 6 on Sunday.
"Yeah, I mean, that was tough," Couture said. "There's no lying. That was a difficult one to take. We did sag a little bit on the bench. That's natural. But it was good we had the overtime to kind of regroup and just enjoy it. I mean, first Game 7 overtime I've ever played in. This place was absolutely buzzing. The fans gave us the extra energy."
Back and forth went the action until Sharks center Barclay Goodrow took a pass from defenseman Erik Karlsson in the Vegas zone.
Goodrow, who played 7:26, the second-lowest amount of ice time among Sharks skaters, had fresh legs. He curled around Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb, cut across the low slot and slipped the puck past the right pad of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 18:19.
"I just got on the ice, so I saw the [defenseman] was a little flat-footed," Goodrow said. "I thought maybe if I could skate, I could maybe get behind him. Obviously Erik's a world-class player. He's able to make that play. I thought if I could get to the far side on Fleury I might have a chance."
The Sharks became the second team in NHL history to rally from three goals down in the third period and win a Game 7, following the Boston Bruins, who defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in the first round in 2013.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime game, I think," Couture said. "Knock on wood. I don't think my heart can take another one like that. That was up and down, and by the 10-minute mark of the overtime there was just nothing left, I think, for a lot of us for a double-overtime game. About 10 seconds into each shift, you're running on fumes, so [heck] of a play by [Goodrow] to win it. Holy [cow]. What a game."
Thornton, a veteran of 1,566 regular-season and 166 playoff games, said: "That was the best game I've ever been a part of. Period."
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer had no update on Pavelski's condition after the game. But after the victory, his teammates shared a moment with him, a moment they will never forget.
"He looks good," Thornton said with a smile. "So I'm happy."