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Meier puts skills on display for Sharks in Game 1 against Blues

Has three points, impresses with defense, physicality to open Western Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in 15 seasons. They finished 22nd in the NHL standings in 2014-15 and got the No. 9 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

And they turned it into Timo Meier, who had two goals and an assist in a 6-3 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Saturday. Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is here Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The forward reached a new level this season and displayed his skills as the First Star on Saturday, forcing a turnover that led to the Sharks' first goal, putting on a puck-handling show for their fourth goal and getting a lucky bounce for their fifth goal. 

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Blues series coverage]

 

"He was a bull," said center Logan Couture, who also had two goals and an assist. "When he skates and [with] his strength, he's tough to defend. We're fortunate enough to play with him on our line.

"I thought he was really, really good -- good stick, strong on pucks -- and you saw the talent on the one where he was able to walk around the [defender] and finish. He's a really good player, and he's coming into his own right now."

Video: STL@SJS, Gm1: Meier dekes to backhand for great goal

Meier was not an instant success. The Sharks sent him back to junior, sent him to the minors, brought him up to the NHL and sent him back to the minors again. In 2016-17, he had six points (three goals, three assists) in 34 regular-season games in the NHL. He had no points in five playoff games.

But last season, he had 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) in 81 regular-season games, then five points (two goals, three assists) in 10 playoff games. And this season, he broke out with 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) in 78 regular-season games, and has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 15 playoff games.

"There's been some tough times where he came up and he wanted to score right away, and I think that's natural when you're a scorer in junior and you're a high pick," said Couture, the No. 9 pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. "I felt the same pressure when I was trying to break into the NHL.

"It didn't come right away. It takes time. And he stuck with it at that time. He found other ways to contribute to our team. He was physical, and then the goals started to come. He's a very good player right now, and everyone's just learning about him."

On the Sharks' first goal Saturday, Meier knocked Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo off the puck in the neutral zone, sparking a 2-on-1 that Couture finished.

On their fourth goal, Meier hounded Blues defenseman Colton Parayko as he tried to skate the puck out of the St. Louis zone. Couture stripped Parayko of the puck at the blue line. Meier grabbed it, cut around Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and slipped the puck past the left pad of Jordan Binnington. Beautiful.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm1: Meier speaks following Game 1 victory

"He does a lot of things well," San Jose forward Joe Pavelski said. "He's fast. He forechecks well. He's heavy on the puck, holds into it, wins a lot of battles, can score some pretty nice goals too, which he showed tonight."

On their fifth goal, Meier threw the puck in front, and it went off the skate of St. Louis defenseman Vince Dunn and into the net.

The Sharks would say Meier earned that bounce. He has had lots of chances in these playoffs and could have more than five goals.

"You've just got to fight hard to score some goals, but it's important to keep going and help the team whatever way you can," Meier said. "Sometimes it's not scoring goals. Sometimes it's blocking a shot or making a hit. In the playoffs, it's everything for the team. I think our mentality is like that, chip in for the team."

Could a player the Sharks got that one season they missed the playoffs help put them over the top for the first time? Is he blossoming at just the right time?

"He's a great player," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We took him in the top 10 of the draft. So you know you've got talent. … I think [power forwards] take a little longer to have success at the NHL level, learning how to use that physicality and still use their skill. So I think he's right on track.

"I think (general manager) Doug Wilson and (assistant GM) Tim Burke and the group handled him perfectly. They sent him back to junior first, started him in the minors, brought him up. When he stumbled, we put him back down again. And now he's arrived, and he's the real deal."

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