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Posted On Thursday, 04.19.2012 / 4:40 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Blues playing with proper edge in San Jose

SAN JOSE -- Ken Hitchcock said there's a simple reason why the St. Louis Blues have gone 3-0 at HP Pavilion this season, beating San Jose twice in the regular season and then in Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series on Monday night.

"Scared to death," Hitchcock said Thursday after his team's optional morning skate. "I think fear gets your attention. I think this has been a grave site for a lot of teams for a lot of years. I think you just get to a point where you're so afraid of getting blitzed that you get ready and you play on the edge, and I think we're better when we play like that.

"I think when you have a healthy respect, like our players do for their players, you play on the edge. We play better when we're uncomfortable, and we're uncomfortable in this building. It really gets our attention, and I think our players respond the right way."

The Blues built a 4-1 cushion, then held on for a 4-3 victory Monday night at HP Pavilion, giving them a 2-1 series lead entering Game 4 on Thursday night.

"We've got to win," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We're down 2-1. We need to win this home game. That's the bottom line."

Based on how the Sharks practiced Wednesday, they'll likely insert third-line center Michal Handzus and fourth-line wing Brad Winchester into the lineup in place of Dominic Moore and TJ Galiardi. It's also likely that first-line wing Patrick Marleau will move to center on the second line, swapping places with Logan Couture.

"Potentially," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of those changes. "We've got some options we can use as far as injecting some new people into the lineup as well as shuffling lines around a little bit. We're looking for a little more sustained offensive zone time in 5-on-5 situations, a little more finish when we do get some opportunity, and we'll need that to have any type of success."

Hitchcock said he's had plenty of time to prepare for a new look from San Jose's top lines, with Joe Thornton and Marleau split up.

"I don't know how this is going to work. I don't know if [McLellan's] going to stay with it, but we've had a couple days to prepare for it if that's the way he's going to go," Hitchcock said.

"I think we're going to keep the same 12 forwards in, but don't be too surprised if there's tweaks in the lineup that impact the way we are. I like some of the things we did down the lineup, third and fourth lines, but I think we can even help them a little bit more, so depending on how this thing looks through the first rotation, the players are prepared to make a couple of small adjustments and get ready for it. We already know what we're going to do, and we'll be ready for it."

The Blues have a chance to go up 3-1 and put a hammerlock on the series, which returns to St. Louis for Game 5 on Saturday. Any possibility of the Blues being overconfident probably ended when they gave up two goals in the final three-plus minutes in Game 3.

"We're still in a series here against a very good team and we can't take anything for granted," Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "For us, this is the most important game of the series. We're going to expect a very desperate game from them. It's a matter for us to respond and handle it and play the way we can."

As important as Game 4 is, McLellan didn't come close to calling it a must-win for the Sharks.

"Well, the last time I checked, you have to win four," he said. "So, I don't know what that means to you guys, but it still means four to me. It would be great to be 2-2. Three-one is better for them, but four is the magic number.

"If there's a team that should know that, it's us. We just went through a seven-game series after being up 3-0," he added, referring to the Sharks' semifinals victory last year over Detroit. "So you can (put) it anyway you want. I still know that the playoffs are about four games, and we're still three away."

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.18.2012 / 7:26 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks won't be only desperate team in Game 4

SAN JOSE - St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the San Jose Sharks won't have a monopoly on desperation Thursday night in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series.

The Sharks trail St. Louis 2-1 in the series and desperately want to avoid digging themselves into a 3-1 hole. But Hitchcock said Wednesday that the last thing he or his players want is to let the Sharks pull even and turn this series into a long, brutal battle filled with travel nightmares and little time for rest.

"If this thing goes 2-2 then it's, 'Who's got the best bus and who's got the best plane?' -- and that's not good for either team," Hitchcock said after the Blues' practice at HP Pavilion. "We're looking at this the same way they are. They want this thing going where they could start taking it over and we're looking at it as it gets scary after tomorrow. You're talking long flights, not much sleep, [a game] every other day, and who's got the best plane and who's got the best bus will be a big factor here. So we're looking at it like they are too. It's a big factor.

"I was in a lot of these [series] coming in and out of Dallas and they were not easy series. When it got to Games 5, 6 and 7 they were not easy for players, for coaches, for sleep patterns and they really impacted the next series."

After splitting the first two games in St. Louis, the Blues beat the Sharks 4-3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion. St. Louis took a 4-1 lead early in the third period before the Sharks rallied for two late goals.

'The biggest thing for us is knowing that we could win a playoff game on the road," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We have a lot of young guys who haven't had that much experience. We know we can win in this barn; we did it in the regular season. But it's a tough place to win in the playoffs."

Hitchcock said he's still not sure when injured goaltender Jaroslav Halak will be healthy enough to play. Halak hasn't played since suffering a lower-body injury early in the second period of Game 2 when Blues defenseman Barret Jackman accidentally knocked him to the ice. Halak skated Tuesday for the first time since being injured but didn't skate or practice Wednesday, and he will miss Game 4. Brian Elliott will make his second straight start.

"We'll keep him working toward getting back at some time," Hitchcock said of Halak, "but right now he's not available so Brian is the guy."

Elliott went 23-10-4 during the regular season with nine shutouts and led the NHL with a 1.56 goals against average and .940 save percentage.

"We've had confidence in him since Day 1," Hitchcock said. "For us it just feels like one guy is playing a few more games than the other one. I think if it lasts, if it ever went where you stayed with the same guy for a month then it would seem different. I think most teams have this scenario going where they just stay with one guy. It's still early in the picture and we're fully expecting Halak to be a player, hopefully."

Hitchcock said that Elliott impressed him earlier in the season by how competitive he was in practice. Now that Elliott is carrying the full load, Hitchcock is trying to rein him in.

"We're constantly having to [do] like we did today -- stop him, kick him off the ice," Hitchcock said. "He has to get in the mindset that the games are everything, less is more, get enough of your practice in and once your reps are done, get off the ice. He's one of those guys that wants to hang out there until the last shot."

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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 6:16 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks feel Blues just as dangerous with Elliott in net

SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak missed practice Monday morning with a lower-body injury and, as expected, won't suit up for Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks.

Brian Elliott will be in goal for the St. Louis with Jake Allen, a call-up from Peoria of the American Hockey League, on the bench as his backup, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock said he doesn't know how long Halak will be sidelined.

"He's out today. He's day-to-day, and we'll just see how he feels tomorrow and see if we're going to get him back in any short period of time. We're not really sure," Hitchcock said. "It gets better quickly, but obviously not enough to skate today."

Halak was injured early in the second period of Game 2 when Blues defenseman Barret Jackman accidently skated into him, knocking him hard to the ice. Elliott took over and completed the Blues' 3-0 shutout.

Both Blues goaltenders put up stellar numbers this season, and both went 2-0 with a shutout against the Sharks in the regular season. Despite having similar stats, Halak and Elliott aren't clones, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

"Elliott's bigger," he said. "I think there's an obvious size difference there. Less experienced. You look at what Halak had done in Montreal. Some of the wins he provided that franchise were incredible, really, but other than that they're both tremendous goaltenders. They know that. I don't think they miss a beat one bit by starting Brian Elliott tonight."

Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said Elliott made some key saves "using his long legs" in Game 2.

"I thought he came in last game and we probably gave him a chance to feel comfortable," Clowe said. "We didn't get much action on him early. Tonight if we can sustain pressure and get some chances -- some second chances more than anything -- early, you're going to score. We got to try to get to him."

Elliott had nine shutouts during the regular season, while Halak had six. Elliott posted a 1.56 goals-against average to 1.97 for Halak.

"We have confidence in both our goalies," Blues defenseman Kris Russell said. "They both play the puck well, they both talk to us very well. I feel as a D corps with those goalies we have a connection there. We've done well talking together and working plays out. We have confidence in both those goalies. That's why we have been successful."
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 5:48 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Projected Game 3 lineups

SAN JOSE -- Here’s how the lineups could look Monday night when the San Jose Sharks play the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series at HP Pavilion:

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen - Patrik Berglund - Andy McDonald
Vladimir Sobatka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

SHARKS
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Colin White/Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 5:36 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks could change lineup to add size, toughness

SAN JOSE -- Something needs to change for the San Jose Sharks after falling 3-0 on Saturday to the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

It could be the Sharks' lineup for Game 3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion.

"We have that option," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after his team's optional morning skate. "We have five extra players that are here. We're debating different line combinations, different players that we can throw in. When the puck drops we'll all know what they are."

If McLellan does make lineup changes, defenseman Colin White and former Blues forward Brad Winchester are the most likely additions. Both would add size and toughness in what has become a very physical series.

"Do we need some size in and around the net?" McLellan said. "Perhaps. Is it in and around their net or in and around our net? We'll have to make a decision there. Do we need some tempo? I didn't think we skated the way we needed to skate in the last two periods to get to the battles. They got their eyes up in the offensive zone and were dangerous, and we never had that chance. In the offensive zone we were a little bit slow. We need to find some tempo in our game as well."

Neither Winchester nor White offered any clues as to whether they'd be in the lineup for Game 3.

"I have no idea," White said. "Your guess is as good as mine."

San Jose's top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski has yet to record a point in the series in two games matched up against the Blues' top line of David Backes, David Perron and T.J. Oshie. But now that the Sharks are home and have the last change, McLellan, if he chooses to, can adjust the matchups and pit Thornton's line against St. Louis' second line of Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald.

"We'll make some decisions as the game goes on," McLellan said. "The Backes-Jumbo matchup is what they want. If you get away from it you fall into the Berglund-Jumbo match. We talked about this in St. Louis. They're just as capable as Backes is. … If you avoid one you take the other one on. The top end players are going to have to play through it and find ways to be effective."

Oshie said he's ready for a curve from the Sharks and wouldn't be surprised if McLellan adjusts the matchups, which would also pit St. Louis' top line against San Jose's second line of Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat.

"Something's going to change," Oshie said. "If that's it, the responsibility (against Thornton's line) goes on someone else and we're going to have to deal with Couture, and that's a great line, too. I think our top two lines are pretty similar in the sense they're both hard-working, they both can put the puck in the net."

"I think that's one of the things about our team, is with the depth we have, if Jumbo's not getting us, they're most likely getting Berglund's line. They're very good at playing in the offensive zone. We just try to play in the offensive zone as much as we can on them. They're going to get their chances. We're not going to hold them to no points the whole series. We know that. They're a great line, but as much as we can we want to limit them."

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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Stewart back in lineup, hears message 'loud and clear'

SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock sent an unmistakable message when he pulled third-line forward Chris Stewart from the lineup Saturday night for Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals against San Jose.

Hitchcock sent another clear message Monday morning when he announced that Stewart would be back in the lineup for Game 3 at HP Pavilion.

"He's going to play today," Hitchcock said. "Need him. Need his 'A' game. When he's playing, he's a hard guy to play against. He can play physical. He plays a lot like Milan [Lucic] does in Boston. So we need him in. He's got good hands and can score from the inside. He's a guy that gives us a chance to get way more five-on-five scoring chances, which we're going to need on the road. We're not getting enough of those. So he's going to help us there hopefully."

When he made Stewart a healthy scratch in Game 2, Hitchcock said he needed "more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort from that position."

Stewart said that after the Blues beat San Jose 3-0 in Game 2, knotting the series at 1-1, he didn't expect the lineup to change. He welcomed the chance to redeem himself.

"The message was sent. It was received loud and clear," Stewart said. "I'm going to go out there and I'm going to work my [tail] off. You see the last game. Those are the games you dream about. End of the game you win and there's line brawls and stuff like that. That's stuff you want to be a part of. I'm obviously disappointed I didn't get to experience that, but that's the good thing about this game, you get a chance right now tonight to redeem yourself. It's, 'What have you done for me lately?' I'm going to go out there and show 'em."

Hitchcock said he hadn't decided which forward Stewart would replace, but during line rushes in the morning skate, Matt D'Agostini appeared to be the odd man out. Stewart skated with center Jason Arnott and wing Vladimir Sobotka. Fourth-line center Scott Nichol skated with Jamie Langenbrunner and B.J. Crombeen.

Hitchcock was asked how much Stewart could elevate his game, just two days after being scratched.

"A lot," Hitchcock answered. "I think we'll get a good player tonight."

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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 8:19 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks hope to capitalize on their chances

SAN JOSE – Two games. Zero points.

That's not the type of production the San Jose Sharks expected from their top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against St. Louis. But that's the reality approaching Game 3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion. Thornton's line has matched up against St. Louis' top line of David Backes, David Perron and T.J. Oshie, which has produced just three points.

"Both lines have had their chances," Thornton said Sunday after practice. "I think me and [Pavelski] had a couple of chances last night. We're feeling good, we're feeling comfortable. Hopefully we can be on the score sheet tomorrow."

Most of those good scoring chances Saturday night in Game 2 came in the first period.

"I thought our first period was our best period of the series so far and we come out of it [trailing] 1-0," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "They did create some opportunities. Where their polish has to come a little better or a little more is on the power play. If [the Blues are] going to take some penalties, undisciplined penalties, we have to make them pay for it. Last night, we weren't as good as we were in Game 1. We were a little disjointed, so we'll look at fixing that."

The Sharks, who went 1-for-15 on the power play against St. Louis during the regular season, went 0-for-4 in Game 2. They went 1-for-3 in Game 1, a 3-2 San Jose victory in double overtime.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 6:21 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Moore practices, expected to play in Game 3

SAN JOSESan Jose Sharks forward Dominic Moore practiced Sunday afternoon, one day after suffering a broken nose in Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.

Moore was hurt during a brawl that broke out after the third-period buzzer when Blues winger Vladimir Sobotka took him to the ice and hit him in the face. Sharks coach Todd McLellan called it a "sucker punch."

Moore said he was having some trouble breathing through his nose but that he is available to play in Game 3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion. As for Sobotka's punch, Moore offered no opinion.

"I really don't have any need to comment on it, to be honest," Moore said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 7:17 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks know special teams will be crucial

SAN JOSE – It should come as no surprise that the San Jose Sharks are spending plenty of time working on their penalty kill and power play as they prepare to face the St. Louis Blues in a first-round playoff series that begins Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

San Jose's special teams were a disaster zone during the regular series against the Blues, who won all four games by a combined score of 11-3.

The Sharks went 1-for-15 on the power play. The lowlight came during a 1-0 loss on Dec. 10 in St. Louis, when the Sharks went 0-for-6.

San Jose's penalty kill, which ranked 29th this season, was equally bad. The Sharks killed just 14 of 19 power plays against St. Louis. Five of the Blues' 11 goals in the series came on the power play. In the Blues two most recent wins over San Jose, they scored two of their three goals via the man advantage.

"You definitely can build momentum or lose it at times through special teams," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said Tuesday after a long practice. "We haven't really had a great special teams season against these guys. We're going over a few things, seeing where we can attack them, where they've been really good against us. It's still going to come down to that moment, winning the one-on-one battles, making a play, hitting a shot, all those things that come down to it.  But many series, special teams are pretty important. It's definitely going to go a long ways in this series."

Three of the Blues' power-play goals came when they had two-man advantages.

"We gave them too many 5-on-3s," Pavelski said. "That's never easy. So stay sharp there. Get one early. We don't want to be a couple games behind then find our power play. We need to find it early and put them on their heels."

The Sharks' power play ranked second overall in the regular season, and the Blues' penalty kill ranked No. 7. San Jose knows it will be a challenge to convert when the opportunity arises.

"Their penalty kill is exceptional," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It's been the best for the last two months, the best in the League. It starts with their two goaltenders and the way they play. They're aggressive. They have a confidence level that's very high in there. It will be a very big challenge for our power play and we've spent a lot of time in those situations the past two days."

St. Louis scored the first goal in all four of the regular-season meetings, and the Sharks enjoyed a lead for just one brief stint during a 4-2 loss on Oct. 15 at HP Pavilion. Defenseman Brent Burns put San Jose ahead 2-1 at 11:18 of the second period. Kent Huskins tied it with a goal at 4:33 of the third, and the Blues scored two more unanswered goals en route to victory.

Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said the defensive-minded Blues "clamp down" even harder when they get the lead.

"We have to try to get to a lead, play with the lead and force them to maybe try some different things or do some different things that way, but I'm suspecting they're going to play the same way whether they're up or down," Marleau said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 7:06 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks preparing for both Halak, Elliott

SAN JOSE – One of the biggest first-round playoff mysteries for the San Jose Sharks – which St. Louis Blues goaltender they'll face in the opener on Thursday night – cleared up a bit  Tuesday.

Throughout the season, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott formed a two-headed goaltending monster for the Blues, but Elliott missed the second of two practices Tuesday with a upper-body injury he suffered late in the regular season and, according to St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, is day-to-day.

Although Hitchcock downplayed the injury and said Elliott is healthy enough to play, the Blues called up goaltender Jake Allen from Peoria of the American Hockey League.

"We'll prepare for both," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We all know what the injury thing is like at this time of the year with coaching staffs and teams. So we'll prepare for both."

On Monday, Hitchcock said he wouldn't reveal his starting goaltender until Thursday. On Tuesday, however, he said he'd announce his starter on Wednesday.

The Sharks lost twice to Halak and twice to Elliott. Each goaltender had one shutout against San Jose.
Does it matter which Blues goaltender the Sharks face?

"I don't think it really does because they're fairly {much} the same goalie, it seems like it," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "They have similar numbers. From there you just got to play. When you get your chance, you're not really caring if it's Elliott or Halak because there's not too big of a difference between them."

McLellan was asked if the Blues are a different team depending on which goalie starts.

"Their team doesn't play any different. Their goalies are a little bit different size-wise and the ability to play the puck and that type of stuff," McLellan said. "That's a situation that we're aware of, that they have the two, that they're capable of playing two – a little bit like the [Mark] Sanchez-[Tim] Tebow situation in New York, two very good quarterbacks that both want to play.

"I guess the trick there is figuring out who the team is comfortable playing in front of and playing that guy. Sometimes it's a hard thing for a coach to do. There's no doubt that I know in our group we feel more comfortable in front of one than the other, not that the other isn't capable, but there's a security blanket there. Which one is it there?"

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi started the final 21 games. Backup Thomas Greiss hasn't started since Feb. 26.

On the Sharks' injury front, defenseman Brent Burns returned to practice Tuesday after missing Monday's workout, when he took what McLellan called a "maintenance day."

Forward Ryane Clowe, however, missed a second straight day for an undisclosed injury.

"I'm assuming he's playing," McLellan said of Clowe. "He's had a couple maintenance days. I think when we put the gear on, you'll see Ryane Clowe out there."

McLellan said he expects Clowe to practice before the Sharks open the series Thursday night.

"I believe he will. That will be up to him and how he's feeling," McLellan said.
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Because of the way they play and their skill set I don't think they're fourth-line players, so in my mind I'm looking at one of those guys I'll have to move over to the wing.

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