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Blues rally to beat Sharks in OT

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka entered Saturday's game against the San Jose Sharks on a hot streak, having scored a goal in three of his past four games, including back-to-back contests.

But that was just a warm-up act: Sobotka scored St. Louis' first three goals for his first career NHL hat trick before Patrik Berglund's goal 1:12 into overtime gave the Blues a 4-3 victory.

Sobotka scored a first-period goal and two more in the third when the Blues dug their way out of a 3-1 hole.

"It felt great," Sobotka said of the hat trick. "I don't know how to describe the feeling right now, but I feel great."

Sobotka entered the game with 23 career goals in five-plus NHL seasons and just four this season. But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he's not surprised by Sobotka's recent scoring streak or his hat trick.

"He plays a different role [in the NHL] than he plays in Europe," Hitchcock said. "He doesn't play the checking role that he does in the National Hockey League. He quarterbacks the power play on the [Czech Republic] national team. He runs most of the 4-on-4 play internationally. Plays on the top line.

"So he knows how to play. The thing that's interesting for us is he's not naturally a center. He's a left winger. He's learned to play with more patience now, and maybe it's made him a better player. He's a gifted offensive player who found a new role when he came to North America. He's a typical example of a guy who got pigeon-holed in a role just trying to make it in the League. He's a smart player."

After Sobotka's hat trick got the Blues to overtime, defenseman Barret Jackman fired a shot from the left circle and Berglund redirected the puck past Sharks backup goaltender Alex Stalock, who had replaced starter Antti Niemi midway through the third after the Blues had pulled even at 3-3.

"II don't even really feel that I tipped it in, but, you know, we had a great shift," Berglund said. "We kept the puck in. ... Trying to just go in front of the net there. Trying to battle and be in the way for something, and [Jackman] takes a good shot. I looked back and it's in the net. Obviously a great feeling."

The Sharks were outshot 35-25, but they had goals from Logan Couture, Scott Gomez and Matt Irwin.

For the Sharks, scoring three goals in regulation qualified as an offensive explosion. They hadn't scored more than two goals in regulation since a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 5, a streak of 12 games. In their previous 17 games they had scored just 24 goals in regulation -- after scoring 23 in their first five.

Yet even with three goals and a two-goal lead in the third, the Sharks had to settle for one point heading into a road game Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche.

"That was a tough one to take," Couture said. "With a 3-1 lead going into the third, obviously you don't want to give it up. It's tough right now to get over, but we have a game tomorrow that we have to focus on. You think about the mistakes you made, move on, and get better from it."

After the first period ended 1-1, the Sharks got goals by Gomez and Irwin in the second to take a 3-1 lead. But Sobotka scored two quick goals in the third, and the Blues made it 3-3 with 14:22 left to play.

"It was a good win for us," Hitchcock said. "We didn't deserve to be down 3-1 in the second at the end. Our guys knew it. We knew if we stayed with it, the law of averages would work out. We played a heck of a second period and all of a sudden it doesn't feel like it when you're down 3-1. Give our guys a lot of credit. They stayed with it. We didn't get discouraged after their third goal went in. We knew we were going to get more chances, like we did in the third."

Sobotka, who had scored the Blues' first-period goal, scored from the right circle at 4:18 of the third, threading a shot past Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic that got past Niemi and went just inside the left post.

Hitchcock said he sensed the momentum change the moment Sobotka scored his second goal.

"They were on their heels," he said of the Sharks. "They were a little bit nervous. We [were] just coming."

Just 80 seconds later, Sobotka completed his hat trick and tied the game when he scored a power-play goal with Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle in the penalty box for interference. With Chris Stewart planted in front of Niemi, Sobotka wristed an innocent-looking shot. The puck snuck over Niemi's left pad and trickled into the net.

"It doesn't matter who scores on this team," Sobotka said. "We got two points. That's really important for us right now because we need it."

The Blues have won back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game streak Feb. 13-17. They improved to 2-2-0 on their road trip with one game left, Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks.

After Sobotka tied the game, Sharks coach Todd McLellan pulled Niemi and replaced him with Stalock, who was called up Saturday from Worcester of the American Hockey League. Stalock suited up in place of backup goaltender Thomas Greiss, who suffered a neck injury Wednesday against the Calgary Flames.

"You could feel the team sag at that point," McLellan said. "We had two options. We could pull the goalie or take a timeout. We pulled the goalie. You could walk into that locker room and everybody will tell you how important Niemi has been to our team and how much he has meant. He's been our most valuable player, but tonight he struggled a bit."

The Sharks had grabbed a 2-1 lead at 7:45 of the second when Gomez banged a rebound past rookie goaltender Jake Allen. James Sheppard ripped a shot from the high slot that went in and out of Allen's glove then bounced off Ryane Clowe, directly to Gomez in front of the net. Gomez did the rest, scoring his second goal of the season.

Irwin made it 3-1 at 16:31, ripping a slap shot from the point through four Blues and past Allen. It was Irwin's second goal of the season; both have come on long-range lasers.

The Blues, who outshot San Jose 12-7 in the first period, took a 1-0 lead 4:51 into the game on Sobotka's fifth goal of the season. Kevin Shattenkirk fired a long blast from near the blue line along the right boards. Niemi made the save but couldn't control the rebound and it came to Sobotka, who had position inside of Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, just right of the crease. Sobotka beat Niemi from point-blank range.

"It's not a new thing that [Sobotka's] playing well," Berglund said. "He's contributing to this team every night. He plays all the roles, and it's just really fun to see that he gets his goals now. It's well deserved. He's a big part of this hockey team, hockey club, and I'm just real happy for him that he could collect the [hat trick] tonight."

The Sharks pulled even at 15:19 on Couture's ninth goal of the season, as he knocked a rebound past Allen. Forward Tommy Wingels earned the primary assist after coming off injured reserve and returning to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 23, when he was sent headfirst into the boards at Dallas.

Wingels drove hard to the net from the right side around Jackman and sent the puck toward the net. Allen made the save, but the puck pinballed off him and Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo's right skate to a hard-charging Couture, who was wide-open in front of the crease.

Wingels skated on a new-look first line with center Joe Thornton and Couture for the Sharks, who placed Martin Havlat on injured reserve Saturday with a lower-body injury.

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