By any means necessary, the San Jose Sharks had to get the top guns locked, loaded and ready to fire in game three.
Monday night was finally their arrival on the scoresheet.
A 4-3 Sharks loss to the St. Louis Blues at HP Pavilion at San Jose, resulting in a 2-1 series deficit, ultimately points to special teams as the difference as the Blues cashed in on their first three power play chances. But the Sharks top gunslingers finally generated and produced when Joe Thornton
led the way with a three assist night, after coming up empty handed in the first two games of the series.
Maybe to no one’s surprise, Thornton’s linemates – including Joe Pavelski
and Patrick Marleau
– enjoyed more offensive output and several “close shaves” early in the game by facing a change in line matchups. The Sharks, with privilege of holding home ice advantage, were allowed to deploy the last change before each faceoff.
Thus, no more constant occurrences of the Thornton-Pavelski-Marleau trio against the St. Louis top line of David Perron, David Backes and T.J. Oshie.
SHARKS: The Sharks began their game with the top line of Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski, who totaled three assists and a +3 rating – granted that trio of assists came from Thornton himself. Following Thornton’s magical lob over the Blues defense to Brent Burns
for the game tying goal in the first period, they produced a key scoring chance in the second period that nearly tied the game after the Blues struck for a key goal in the first 61 seconds of the period.
With 16:44 to play in the middle frame, Marleau found Pavelski on a blast at the right circle that Blues goaltender Brian Elliott – who sustained the Blues with 26 saves – stopped with no rebound produced. The Sharks top line generated the chance with against the Blues third line of Vladimir Sobotka, Jason Arnott and Chris Stewart.
Pavelski began the play with a faceoff win and Thornton outmuscled defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk for the loose puck. Thornton then slid the puck to Marleau, stationed at the right goal line. His quick re-direction found Pavelski wide open at the right circle, but Elliott made the save on Pavelski’s lightning quick attempt.
Matched up against center Patrik Berglund and wingers Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald, the Thornton trio found another threatening chance at the 5:44 mark in the second period when Thornton dominated with puck control behind the Blues net. With Marleau and Pavelski waiting in front of the net and unavailable for a pass, Thornton found a wide open wraparound attempt but Elliott stopped the bid with his left pad.
They also combined for 18 faceoff wins, exploiting Berglund for a 5-of-14 effort in the faceoff circle.
BLUES: Oshie, Perron and Backes – who combined for a goal, assist and seven shots on goal in the game two victory, were largely a non factor as the Blues found most of their pay dirt on special teams, propelled by two power play assists from Andy McDonald.
Their best chance with their top line came with 6:12 to play in the first period. Oshie and Perron nearly connected for the game’s first goal after sniffing out a Sharks turnover, deep in the offensive zone. St. Louis went to work into the corners and Oshie stole a pass at the left circle and was foiled on Antti Niemi
’s stop. David Perron then snuck around traffic at the goal mouth for the rebound, but Niemi stood in the way with a left pad save.
The line was then nearly exploited in the first shift of the second period, when Logan Couture
– who began the game on a line with Ryane Clowe
and Martin Havlat
– took a threaded pass from Brent Burns
at the neutral zone, who found Couture on a feed through Backes and Oshie. Couture’s speed generated a wrist shot off the rush from the left circle, but Elliott managed to get his glove on the shot.
SHARKS: With the Sharks able to gain breathing room by mixing up line matchups, Thornton was able to generate scoring chances down low and Pavelski found two chances to finish – one that also rang off the post. Marleau’s playmaking ability contributed to the eight shots that the line combined for in the game.
BLUES: A battle against the Blues means eventually facing the grinding pressure that Backes, Oshie and Perron provide. They were kept off the scoresheet all night but still generated scoring chances off their trademark forechecking pressure and relentless pursuit to the front of the net for rebounds.
ADVANTAGE: Sharks. In a losing cause, the Sharks were able to mix up the matchups and free up Thornton – entering the game ranking sixth among active NHL players in playoff assists – for a three assist effort in game three after he was stifled in a scoreless output for the first two games in St. Louis. Key saves by Elliott in the first and second period prevented the Thornton-Pavelski-Marleau trio from enjoying a more resounding evening offensively on the scoresheet.
HEAD TO HEAD
SHARKS’ NO. 1 LINE: 0 G, 3 A, 8 SOG, 18 FW, +3
BLUES’ NO. 1 LINE: 0 G, 0 A, 6 SOG, 11 FW, -3