SAN JOSE – If the San Jose Sharks are searching for inspiration after digging a 2-1 hole in their Western Conference Quarterfinals series against St. Louis, they know where to look.
The Sharks were down 2-1 two years ago in a first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche. Then they won three straight games -- two of those on the road -- captured the series and went all the way to the Western Conference Final.
BLUES VS. SHARKS
Blues hold off Sharks 4-3 in Game 3By Eric Gilmore - NHL.com Correspondent
The Blues scored three power-play goals and withstood a late rally by San Jose to post a 4-3 win and take a 2-1 series edge. READ MORE ›
Of course, the Sharks were the No. 1 seed in 2010 and are seeded seventh this time around, but they're still drawing on that experience of coming back in the postseason.
After splitting the first two games of the series at St. Louis, the Sharks lost 4-3 Monday night on home ice at HP Pavilion. They trailed 3-1 after two periods and 4-1 early in the third – giving up three goals on the power play – before waging a comeback in the final three minutes on goals by Colin White and Logan Couture.
"There's no right or wrong way to win a series," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said Tuesday. "There's going to be times you get behind. There are teams that have gotten behind early in the series and won Stanley Cups. Look at Boston last year -- they were down 2-0. It's game by game. If we win the next game, they probably will be asking St. Louis questions about what they need to fix. That's just how it goes.
"But experience definitely helps. I feel at times it's frustrating on the bench playing St. Louis because we want to create more chances. But I feel like our composure is there. I just don't feel any panic."
The Blues have won two straight games in the series and have looked dominant at times, but the Sharks struck a defiant note Tuesday. Consider coach Todd McLellan's response when asked if he could make "enough small changes at this point to have an impact" on the series.
"Absolutely," McLellan said. "We can do some things in all areas of our game to get better. We can look at the line combinations, the potential lineup changes. There's a lot of things we can do. It's 2-1. We've been here many times. We've conducted ourselves appropriately and come back and won series. The way you asked that question, it's like we’re out of it. We're not. We're in a spot where we can win a game and keep going."
The Blues won all four games against San Jose during the regular season and two of three in the postseason. St. Louis was the NHL's stingiest team during the regular season, allowing less than two goals per game. By the numbers, this could be seen as a bad matchup for the Sharks, but that's not how they're thinking.
"If we're thinking that way, we might as well pack it in now," Clowe said. "It would be a terrible mindset to have in the middle in the series if we think it's a bad matchup. We're more than confident. We went in there and played a great Game 1 and won. Last night obviously we scored on the power play and they scored on the power play early. Then we give up a couple more power-play goals. That's an area we have to improve on. We know that.
"We want to play these guys 5-on-5, they want to play us 5-on-5. We're confident in our ability there. Honestly, like I said before the playoffs started, there was no matchup we looked and said, 'I hope we play that team,' because I think that will just come back and bite you and that's karma. We feel confident. I can tell how the guys are still believing here. I'm sure they feel with where they finished they're the better team, but we feel like we are."
Through three games, the Blues have certainly proven to be the better on special teams. They got the better of the Sharks' penalty killers in Game 3, scoring on three of four power-play opportunities. The Sharks' penalty kill ranked 29th in the NHL during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Sharks have allowed five power-play goals in 13 chances.
"We just haven't moved well together," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "We know we can do it. We've shown it in the past. We've shown in Game 1 that we're confident when we do it right we'll get the job done. We've got to get the clears when we get the chance and get the first save, which we have. We have to do a better job of clearing out."
"We can do some things in all areas of our game to get better. We can look at the line combinations, the potential lineup changes. There's a lot of things we can do. It's 2-1. We've been here many times. We've conducted ourselves appropriately and come back and won series. The way you asked that question, it's like we’re out of it. We're not. We're in a spot where we can win a game and keep going."
-- Sharks coach Todd McLellan
On the power play, San Jose has converted just two of 11 chances against the Blues. The Sharks have had trouble simply setting up in their offensive zone on the power play, and they've typically been unable to control the puck for very long before the Blues' penalty killers send it to the other end.
"They play tight four-man out there," Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said of the Blues' penalty kill. "They've been racing to pucks and battles, something we can do a little bit better to support each other. We're probably not going to get as much time as we think, so we just have to get shots through."
McLellan said the Blues' penalty killers "put a lot of pressure" on his power-play units.
"We can be better. Some of it's execution," McLellan said. "When you have an aggressive team and you're able to get your eyes up and make one or two passes, those passes have to be on tape, and you have to attack off of it. When they're in your feet or they're off by two or three feet and you have to battle for position again, you're starting all over. Some of it's execution, some of it their goaltender has made some good saves as well. So we'll be fine. I have more concern about our penalty kill than our power play."
The Sharks held an optional practice Tuesday, and most of McLellan's top players opted for rest over ice time. The entire team will get back to work on Wednesday, in preparation for Game 4 on Thursday night at HP Pavilion.
When the puck drops on Thursday, "there's a good chance" the Sharks will have some different players in the lineup, McLellan said. The Sharks' coach also might well use some new line combinations to get his goal-scorers untracked. The top line of Joe Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski has yet to score a goal in the series. Thornton has three points – all on assists Monday night – but Pavelski and Marleau have yet to crack the scoresheet.
If their top players don't get rolling Thursday night, the Sharks could be staring at a 3-1 deficit.
"It's huge," Clowe said of Game 4. "It's our second game at home. They kind of did what we did to them there. We won that first game, they won last night. We have to bounce back like they did and have a strong game. We need to take the momentum back. We're playing a good team. St. Louis is a good team. They had close to 50 wins for a reason. We know we don't want to get behind 3-1 against them going back to their building, so it's a big game. I wouldn't say it's an absolute must-win, but it's as close as you get, I guess."