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Blues top Sharks, end three-game losing streak

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE, Calif. – It was a happy homecoming Saturday night for St. Louis Blues defenseman Kent Huskins.

The stay-at-home defenseman scored an unassisted, game-tying goal in the third period against his former team as the Blues went on to beat the San Jose Sharks by a 4-2 score at HP Pavilion.

The Blues snapped a three-game losing streak to the Sharks and made goaltender Brian Elliott a winner in his first start since signing with St. Louis as a free agent in July. Elliott stopped 34 shots.

"I think it was just, more than anything, a real important win for us to get us back to .500 after the way the second period had gone," said Huskins, who was booed loudly by Sharks fans. "Elliott did a great job of keeping us in the game, just keeping it to one goal. They really put the pressure on us. But I think we showed some good resiliency, fought to the end and were fortunate enough to get a couple goals."

The Blues entered the final period down 2-1, but Huskins pulled them even at 2-2 at 4:33 of the third. He fired a shot from the left circle that somehow found its way through a sea of Sharks defenders and past goalie Thomas Greiss.

"I just kind of came down the boards, took a little bit of a fake, and I just tried to wrist it through, in hopes of just getting a rebound," Huskins said. "Just getting it to the net, you never know what can happen. Luckily it just found its way through."

The Blues then grabbed a 3-2 lead with 10:42 left to play on Alexander Steen's goal. Steen, racing down the left side, worked a perfect give-and-go with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Steen passed the puck to Shattenkirk in the middle, got it back and had a clear path to the goal, beating Greiss.

Elliott and the Blues still had more work to do to preserve their win, especially once the Sharks went on the power play with 6:09 left. With that power play winding down, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle corralled the puck in the right circle and launched a laser, but Elliott scrambled back in position to make the save of the game.

"Just a desperation play to get over," Elliott said. "That's a fun save to make. We obviously needed it. It's good to get a win for the guys. The guys playing in front of me tonight, blocking shots and clearing pucks was awesome, especially in my first game."

Watching Elliott make that save was anything but fun for Boyle.

"I've got to put that away," Boyle said. "If I'd have taken maybe a half more of a second to look, I would have seen the bottom of the net open. We had our chances. We had out looks and we let one slip away."

Blues center David Backes scored an empty net goal at 19:33 of the third, making it 4-2.

Center Michal Handzus and defenseman Brent Burns, two of San Jose's key offseason additions, scored the Sharks' goals. Burns' goal, his first since coming to the Sharks from Minnesota in a blockbuster trade this offseason, put San Jose ahead 2-1 at 11:18 of the second period.

Burns took a pass from Ryane Clowe and unloaded a shot from above the right circle that deflected off a Blue and fluttered over Elliott's pad.

"There's times during the game when we're playing really well, a real fast game," Burns said. "I think it's when we're doing the simple things, getting the puck behind their defensemen and working. Sometimes we get away from it, and that's when we get in trouble."

Both teams were coming off losses and looking to get back on track. The Blues fell 3-2 to Dallas on Thursday night, the start of a four-game road trip and a stretch of nine of 11 games away from home. The Sharks, meanwhile, lost 1-0 Friday night at Anaheim.

The Sharks outshot the Blues 10-4 in the first period and 36-20 for the game.

Greiss, starting for the third straight time as Antti Niemi recovers from offseason surgery to remove a cyst from his leg, fell to 1-2. Niemi suited up in reserve for the second straight night and will likely start Monday night against Anaheim.

The Blues entered the game 1-for-13 on the power play and continued to struggle, going 0-for-3.

St. Louis took a 1-0 at 2:37 of the first period on Matt D'Agostini's breakaway goal. The Sharks turned the puck over in the neutral zone, and D'Agostini capitalized, burying a shot in the upper right corner of the net to beat Greiss.

"I'm disappointed in our start," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We weren't prepared to play a grind-it-out game. We wanted to play fancy, puck possession stuff against a team that wanted to grind it out, and we were second the whole first period. We decided in the second period we were going to get involved. We were OK. In the third period we made not a lot of mistakes, but enough for them to score. And we didn't bury any of our opportunities."

The Sharks countered late in the first with Handzus' power-play goal at 18:44, knotting the score 1-1. Defenseman Jason Demers sent the puck from the right circle toward the net, and Clowe tried to hammer it home from close range.  Elliott rejected Clowe's effort, but Handzus banged the rebound past him for his second goal of the season.

San Jose dominated the second period and built a 2-1 lead, putting the Blues "back on our heels," St. Louis coach Davis Payne said. At the intermission, Payne had a message for his team.

"We talked about getting back to the formula that we know creates success for us, skating and making sure we make good decisions," he said. "Credit to the guys for getting back on the right track, but those lessons tend to get pretty costly, so we have to learn from that one."

The Blues were without first-line left wing Andy McDonald, who suffered a head injury Thursday night against Dallas and returned to St. Louis Friday to be examined by team doctors. McDonald's absence forced Payne to juggle his lines.

Left wing T.J. Oshie moved up from the second line and took McDonald's spot on the top line, skating with Backes and right wing Jamie Langenbrunner. Vladimir Sobotka moved from the fourth line to take Oshie's spot on the second line, joining center Patrik Berglund and right wing Chris Stewart.

Evgeny Grachev, traded by the Rangers to St. Louis for a third-round draft pick during the offseason, made his Blues debut Saturday night. Forward Chris Porter, who played 45 games for the Blues last season, played his first game of the 2011-12 campaign. Grachev and Porter skated on the fourth line with former Sharks center Scott Nichol.

After skating on the second line the first two games in placed of the injured Martin Havlat, Tommy Wingels was a healthy scratch. The Sharks went with seven defensemen – Jim Vanderveer made his debut – and 11 forwards. Torrey Mitchell moved from the third line to the second.

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