So when Alexander Steen put the Blues ahead 4-1 by scoring a power-play goal 59 seconds into the third period Monday night at HP Pavilion, they appeared to put a stranglehold on Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. But St. Louis, the NHL’s stingiest team during the regular season at 1.9 goals against per game, needed all of those goals to hold off a furious Sharks rally and secure a 4-3 victory.
The Blues lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for Thursday night at HP Pavilion (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"We all feel ecstatic that we got the win," said defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who assisted on three of the Blues' four goals. "But a lot of us are pretty upset about the way we finished. You can’t let a team like that get any life. You can’t let a team like that scratch and claw, especially when we played so well for 55 minutes of the game. At the end of the day, we battled hard, we found a way to win.
"Our special teams were huge -- penalty kill and power play. We’ll learn from that. It’s a learning thing for us. We’ll take a look at the video, we’ll learn from it and we’ll be better the next game."
The Blues went 3-for-4 on the power play against a Sharks penalty kill that ranked 29th in the NHL during the regular season. St. Louis has scored at least one power play goal in all three games in the series and is 5-for-13 overall. The Sharks went 1-for-4 on the power play and are 2-for-11 for the series.
"We just do what we do," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the power play. "I don’t think we get enough credit. If you look at our power play, I think we finished mid-pack, somewhere around there, but we made a heck of a climb because we were in 30th place and everybody was laughing at us around Christmas time, so we’ve made a heck of a climb since then. And I think our power play has been a threat now for almost 40 days. We’ve done good things."
Elliot went 2-0 with one shutout of the Sharks during the regular season, then came off the bench early in the second period of Game 2 on Saturday after Jaroslav Halak was injured to earn a share of a 3-0 shutout. Halak went 2-0 with a shutout against San Jose in the regular season, too.
This time, the Sharks got to Elliott three times, though two of the goals came after the Blues led by three.
Defenseman Brent Burns scored for the Sharks on a power play in the first period. Defenseman Colin White, making his first appearance of the postseason, made it 4-2 with 3:02 left to play, and Logan Couture added a goal with 17 seconds remaining.
Goaltender Antti Niemi had a rough night, allowing four goals on 27 shots.
"There was a spark at the end and it gave guys some confidence," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "We have to win more battles everywhere. It can be as simple as winning the puck race. We need to stay on our forecheck and keep those sustained, a few more clears and win a few more battles. Penalty kill cannot give up three.
"Five-on-five was pretty even. We played them tight and they played us tight. We just have to do a better job on power plays. There’s a lot of work left that has to be done. We need to sharpen up. We need to execute."
After the Blues and Sharks exchanged power-play goals in the first 20 minutes, St. Louis scored twice in the second to take a 3-1 lead.
McDonald put St. Louis ahead 2-1 with his second goal of the series 1:01 into the period. Colaiacovo ripped a long shot that deflected off Berglund and past Niemi to McDonald, who put the puck into a wide-open net from just to the left of the crease.
Arnott made it 3-1 with a power play goal at 10:06. With Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray in the penalty box for interference – he shoved ex-Shark Scott Nichol into San Jose’s goal from behind -- Arnott took a cross-ice pass from McDonald and beat Niemi with a sharp-angled shot.
Steen made it 4-1 with the Blues' third power-play goal. He sent a laser from the right circle past Niemi on the continuation of a power play from late in the second when Sharks forward Daniel Winnik boarded Colaiacovo.
They held on for the win, but Hitchcock feels his team has plenty of room for improvement.
"This isn’t taking anything away from the win, but we can play a lot better than we played tonight, and we’re going to play a lot better," Hitchcock said. "The next game we’re going to play better because we’re learning how to win. We did a couple things in the third period that weren’t our 200-foot game, but the reason we were on the power play was we were committed to that. We got onto the power play because of that. Our puck placement was a lot better.
"The win in St. Louis eased the burden on everybody, a lot of the younger players, and I think there’s a level of confidence starting to grow. Sure, we kind of fumbled things at the end a little bit, but that’s the learning curve. Instead of clearing, we decided to stickhandle twice and got caught. We’ll learn that lesson and move forward. I know we’re up 2-1, but I know we can play a lot better. I know we have individuals that can play a lot better and we will. I like the fact that we came out in a tough building and played the way we did and got a 4-1 lead. That’s a good sign."
The Blues went 34-2-2 during the regular season when leading after two periods. With Elliott in goal, that lead seemed beyond safe. Elliott led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940) and tied for second in shutouts with nine during the regular season. His save percentage was the highest since the statistic was adopted in 1982.
But the Blues had to hang on for the win as the Sharks refused to roll over.
"The determination was still there until the end," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "There was no roll-over, there was no play dead, even till the last second. Logan had a deflection that had a chance to go in. We can build off of that."
The Blues took a 1-0 lead at 14:31 of the first on Berglund’s power-play goal with Sharks forward Tommy Wingels in the box for high-sticking defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Colaiacovo’s long blast hit the right post and bounced back in front of the crease. With Niemi sprawled on the ice to the left of the crease and no other Shark in the area, Berglund sent the puck into a wide-open net for his third goal of the series.
"It came up huge," Berglund said of the power play. "We play it simple. We support and talk to each other a whole lot. We get momentum from it. We’re real happy we could get three tonight."
The Sharks answered at 16:45 when Burns scored his first career postseason goal in his 14th game -- the first 11 came with Minnesota. Burns took the puck, maneuvered his way past T.J. Oshie and the rest of the Blues’ penalty-killers, then beat Elliott with a backhand from short range.
Joe Thornton earned an assist on Burns’ goal for his first point of the series – and the first point by a member of the Sharks’ top line of Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Pavelski in the three games.
When the Blues beat the Sharks 3-0 in Game 2 on Saturday night, the two teams combined for 132 penalty minutes, including 88 from a nasty brawl at the third-period buzzer that had three fights and two game misconducts. The question approaching Game 3 was whether the two Blues and Sharks would pick up where they left off Saturday at Scottrade Center.
There were a few scrums and no brawls -- just an unaccustomed power-play surge from the Blues, who didn't score three times with the extra man in any of their 82 regular-season games.
"There’s no doubt about it, we have to look at it and fix it," McLellan said of his team’s penalty kill. "We’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We’re going to do what we do and we’re going to do it better."