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Sharks complete season sweep of Blues

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The San Jose Sharks have been an opportunistic team against the St. Louis Blues in the first period this season.

Tuesday was no exception. The Sharks scored twice, on goals by Joe Pavelski and Matt Irwin, and the momentum carried San Jose to its third win against St. Louis in as many games, 4-2 at Scottrade Center.

The Sharks (21-7-6) have outscored the Blues 8-0 in three first periods. San Jose outscored St. Louis 16-7 in sweeping those games.

"A win's a win," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I haven't seen anybody play a perfect game this year no matter how many we watch. We did let the momentum get away on us, but we needed to take advantage of a team that was tired and beat up. And we did that."

San Jose's Brent Burns scored his first goal in 10 games, Martin Havlat scored his third goal in 19 games, and Patrick Marleau and Justin Braun each had two assists. Antti Niemi stopped 20 shots for the Sharks, who won for the second time in seven games (2-4-1) and snapped a four-game road losing streak.

"The result's what you want," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "You go up 3-0, you'd like to not let them back in the game. ... We played good enough to win, and hopefully we can turn this around now."

The Blues (22-7-4), playing without injured forwards David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz, lost their second game in as many nights -- they were beaten 3-2 in overtime by the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

St. Louis got goals from defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester. Jaroslav Halak stopped 23 shots.

The first period again has Blues players and coach Ken Hitchcock going back to the drawing board.

"It's a cooperation from the players and coaches," Hitchcock said. "Obviously there's a preparation problem. We've got to do a better job between coaches and players at preparing to function properly checking-wise early. We're giving up too many scoring chances. We're not going to win many games giving up this many goals."

Shattenkirk said, "It's like a broken record. We've got to get better on our starts. We did initially early for a couple minutes and then got away from it. They get a fortunate bounce on the first goal, but from there, we've just got to kind of pick our heads up and know that what we were doing at the time was getting the job done."

The Sharks utilized the backboards on their first-period goals. Pavelski took the carom of Havlat's shot from the left point that bounced off the boards to the other side of the net, where Pavelski knocked in a rebound at 9:38 to open the scoring with his fourth goal in as many games.

Irwin scored his first of the season on a similar play. Braun's shot caromed quickly off the boards, and Irwin was in the low slot. He beat a slow-reacting Halak and Chris Stewart to the puck and put it into an open side at 12:34 for a 2-0 lead.

Halak has allowed 14 goals in his past five starts, 10 on 50 shots in the first period.

"We can't catch a break," Halak said. "It seems like the first periods lately, every time we go into the second, we are down. It's hard to come back every single game."

Hitchcock wouldn't lay all of the blame on his goalie.

"It's really sloppy defensive play," Hitchcock said. "We've been guilty of that for a little while, not near ready to go from a checking standpoint, loose coverage. The lead-up to the goals was loose coverage. The second goal, we're standing beside the guy who scores. Loose coverage, not ready to check, and that's something we're going to have to discuss [Wednesday]. We've had too many of these starts like this. It's not engaged quick enough. Some we got away with, some we didn't.

"Same start in Columbus (Saturday, a 4-3 win in overtime), same start in Ottawa."

Burns last scored Nov. 29, when he had a hat trick against the Blues. Tuesday he took a Joe Thornton pass and snapped a shot over Halak's glove two minutes into the second period for a 3-0 lead.

St. Louis found life with a pair of second-period goals to make it 3-2.

Shattenkirk's one-timer from the top of the left circle caromed off Sharks defenseman Andrew Desjardins, who turned over the puck initially to allow the Blues to stay in the offensive zone, at 15:31.

Bouwmeester's blast from inside the blue line came with 24.2 seconds remaining in the period. The Blues pinned the Sharks deep following a faceoff, and Alexander Steen set a screen in front of Niemi.

The Sharks withstood the Blues' early third-period surge before Havlat fired in a rebound of Braun's shot that hit the left post. Havlat collected the puck from a sharp angle in the left circle and beat a sprawled Halak at 8:19.

"He's getting better every game," McLellan said of Havlat. "He's accepting more and more of the responsibility that he has to for his play and for the team's success. He's been a big part of it.

"When we look at Marty, since he's been back in the lineup, I think he's only been a minus player three nights. That's pretty darn good. There's not a lot of guys in that situation. Would we like more offense from him? I think it's coming."

The Sharks will not see the Blues again unless they meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's really good to get the three wins," McLellan said. "They're a team that had our number. Tonight, I don't think it was indicative of what can happen down the road if we meet in the playoffs. They're going to have a different lineup. They're going to be a lot fresher. You have four or five of these games a year, you have to take advantage of it."

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