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Blues beat Sharks for fourth time this season

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE – The St. Louis Blues broke out the brooms Saturday night at HP Pavilion and completed a four-game series sweep of San Jose with a 3-1 victory.

Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk scored for Blues, who swept the Sharks for the first time since the 1994-95 season. St. Louis finished its road trip with a 5-1 record and pushed closer to Detroit in the Central Division race. Both teams have 89 points, but the Blues have played 66 games, one more than the Red Wings.

"When I took over I said, 'You're going to get measured against the top dogs,'" Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've been competitive against the top dogs. We'd like to prove that we can play against the top dogs in our division. We circled San Jose, we circled Vancouver as teams that we got to prove ourselves against, if we want to beat those teams. That's going to help our energy, it's going to help our confidence. I think beating these teams makes us more of a confident team going back home."

The Blues dominated San Jose, as they have throughout most of the series.

Torrey Mitchell scored the Sharks only goal, in the second period. That ended the Blues' shutout streak against San Jose at 164 minutes and 11 seconds, dating to the 11:18 mark of the second period of their 4-2 win on Oct. 15 at HP Pavilion. After that win, the Blues blanked the Sharks twice in St. Louis, 1-0 with Brian Elliott in goal then 3-0 last month with Jaroslav Halak, who earned the win Saturday night.

"They're one of the best teams in the League year in and year out," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Big points for us there. You never know, we might end up playing them in the first round. Just give them a taste if we do play them of what to expect."

After grabbing a 2-1 lead in the first period on goals by McDonald and Oshie, the Blues made it 3-1 at 12:38 of the second on Shattenkirk's power-play goal. The Blues outshot the Sharks 24-10 through two periods and 32-19 for the game. San Jose had just one more shot than their season low of 18 at Colorado on Nov. 20.

St. Louis won the special teams battle, too, going 2-for-5 on the power play while the Sharks went 0-for-3. The Blues have now killed 27 straight penalties.

"It wasn't good enough," said Sharks forward Logan Couture, who returned to the lineup after missing two games with a lower-body injury. "They were the hungrier team. They outshot us and outplayed us. Starting with each and every one of us, we need to get better. We have to regroup and get it going."

For the second time in three days, the Sharks had a chance with a win to retake the Pacific Division lead from Phoenix, which lost 5-2 to Columbus. And for the second time, they lost and remained stuck in seventh place in the Western Conference with 73 points. They suffered their seventh regulation loss in their past nine games and have scored just two total goals in their past three games.

"We're in a funk and we need to get out of it and get it going," said Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray, who was in the lineup for the first time since getting hit in the throat with a puck on Feb. 16 against Tampa Bay. "It's easy to talk. We have to get it done on the ice, get some wins, get the confidence level up as a team. We're too good a team to let this go on any longer. It's small details and they had the better execution."

The Blues grabbed a 1-0 lead at 2:52 of the first period when McDonald capitalized on a huge mistake by Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi to score his sixth goal of the season, on the power play.

Moments before McDonald's goal, Sharks forward Patrick Marleau had a breakaway and ripped a shot from close range, but Halak stopped it, and St. Louis raced the other way then dumped the puck in the Sharks' end, to the right of net.

Niemi left the crease and went behind the goal line, expecting to take the carom and send the puck to a teammate. But the puck hit HP Pavilion's new – and much livelier boards – and bounced straight back and past him to McDonald, who put it into a wide-open net.

Mitchell tied the game 1-1 at 15:29 of the first, firing a shot from above the left circle that bounced off Halak's glove and into the net.

The Sharks, who were outshot 12-7 in the first, barely had time to celebrate the end of their scoring drought before St. Louis regained the lead 20 seconds later, on its next shift. Vladimir Sobotka sent a cross-ice pass that bounced off the boards to Carlo Colaiacovo, who one-timed it from above the left circle toward the net. Oshie deflected the puck and it skipped over Niemi's glove and into the net for his 16th goal of the season.

Hitchcock said he had told his players how important it would be to bounce back quickly after a Sharks goal and not let them gain energy and confidence from their sellout crowd.

"I told the players this is the loudest natural building in the League – this and Winnipeg," Hitchcock said. "Having coached so many games here, every time it's the next shift. If they score a goal, usually they swamp you. We were ready and we went right back at them. I think that was the turning point in the game. We didn't give them a chance to celebrate. We didn't give them a chance to gain any momentum, and then we kept the burners up most of the game."

With Sharks defenseman Justin Braun in the penalty box for cross-checking Oshie, Shattenkirk jammed the puck past Niemi after a scrum in front of the net, putting St. Louis up 3-1 midway through the second period. Oshie set up the goal when he drove the net and fired from close range, setting up a mad scramble.

With a goal and an assist, Oshie played a huge role in the win that made it four-for-four against San Jose, which reached the Western Conference Final the past two seasons.

"They've had our number pretty good in the past," Oshie said. "We just kind of came together. We know it's going to be a hard game. We know we can't out-skill them. They have a lot of skill on that team and a lot of big skill. When we try to go chance for chance against them it's not going to end well for us."

By the end of the second period, the Sharks were clearly frustrated as they struggled to even get a shot on goal against a St. Louis team that has allowed the fewest goals and shots per game in the NHL.

"I mean, we're a hard team to play against," Hitchcock said. "We don't have much quit in us and we're willing to work for it. So, we're not easy to play against. I think it's like anything else. I don't even recognize the (Sharks) team, they've integrated so many players in the last few weeks with all the guys coming back from injuries and the new guys. They'll be good, they'll be good at the end."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan missed his third straight game since being hit in the head with a stick and suffering a concussion last Sunday at Minnesota. Assistant coach Matt Shaw and Jay Woodcroft filled in against the Blues.

McLellan likely couldn't have saved his Sharks from another loss against a Blues team that went 5-for-6 on the road.

"We're a confident bunch," Pietrangelo said.
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