(AP) – Joe Pavelski's transformation as an NHL player can be illustrated by the evolution of his nicknames.
The undersized former seventh-round pick who came into league known as ''Little Joe'' in comparison to teammate Jumbo Joe Thornton turned into the Big Pavelski when he became a core player in San Jose and is now simply known as the captain.
In his first postseason wearing the ''C,'' Pavelski is leading in actions and words. He entered Monday tied for the NHL lead with six goals this postseason, with many coming at key moments like the go-ahead score late in Game 2 on Sunday that helped San Jose take a 2-0 series lead in the second round against Nashville.
Game 3 is Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena.
''It's just an exciting time of the year,'' Pavelski said. ''It's what you play for. You play all 82 games to set yourself up to get into this spot, and now that you're here you lay it on the line.''
Pavelski has done that his whole career with 32 postseason goals, including six winners. Pavelski has 10 points this postseason and some of the team's biggest goals as San Jose has won six of its first seven playoff games.
The go-ahead goal with 2:40 remaining in Game 2 against the Predators was just the latest example. Pavelski also scored the winner in the third period of the first-round opener against Los Angeles, opened the scoring in Game 2 and scored the key insurance goal in the Game 5 clincher in Los Angeles.
Most of those goals have come from right near the net, where Pavelski's superior hand-eye coordination makes him one of the best in the league at deflecting shots and pouncing on rebounds like he did Sunday.
''He gets to the right areas,'' teammate Tommy Wingels said. ''Guys in this league score goals different ways. The majority of Pav's goals, some are real nice highlight reels but a lot of them are in the dirty areas.
“He's not the biggest of guys or the fastest of guys but he finds a way to get in those areas. That's tough to do. He's so good at it. It's something other guys can take a page out of his book and try to emulate.''
Pavelski has far exceeded expectations as a seventh-round pick in 2003. He is third in the NHL in goals over the past five seasons with 163 and is one of the most versatile players in the league.
He is capable of playing on the wing or at center, killing penalties or on the power play, providing a key goal or shutting down the opposition's top line. He does it all despite standing 5-foot-11 and lacking elite skating speed.
''All he cares about is winning,'' coach Peter DeBoer said. ''There's not a selfish bone in his body as far as his own personal numbers or agenda. It's all about winning. Where do you find guys that get 100 points and block shots and kill penalties and win faceoffs and go to the dirty areas of the ice? You can count on one hand the number of guys in the league that do that.''
Pavelski has been called on to do even more the past two seasons for the Sharks. After San Jose blew a 3-0 series lead to lose a first-round series to Los Angeles in 2014, Thornton was stripped of his captaincy in the offseason.
The Sharks rotated the leadership last season with Pavelski one of four players wearing an ''A'' as alternate. But he quickly emerged as the leader and face of the franchise dealing with the media and becoming more vocal with his teammates.
So when DeBoer took over as coach this season he promoted Pavelski to the captaincy and the Sharks rebounded from missing the playoffs in 2015 to making the second round for just the second time since 2011.
Now they can move to the verge of making the conference finals for the first time since that year, though the Predators at least sounded confident they could turn the series in their favor after Game 2.
“I think everyone should feel encouraged in here; I think we played a great game,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm, whose goal at 12:56 of the third had tied it, told the team's official website. “We have to maybe convert a little bit more in front of the net and score a few more goals – we're not going to win hockey games by scoring one goal or two goals, so that's an area we can improve on, but (compared to the) last game, I thought we played a lot better tonight.”
Nashville held a 39-25 shot advantage, but its penalty killing has continued to struggle into this series. San Jose is 3 for 5 on the power play with Logan Couture scoring twice, making Predators opponents 6 for 18 in these playoffs.
“It'll be good to get back home,” coach Peter Laviolette told the team's website. “We've been on the road for a while here again; I've said it before in different series, we have to pull the good things from tonight, take the confidence from that and look to be better in Game 3.”