SAN JOSE, California – Coming home to Northern California, the root of many deep runs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the San Jose Sharks prepared for a surge of hometown energy with home ice advantage in hand.
That was until the St. Louis Blues embarked on a power surge of their own, unseen like any other result from this season, courtesy of the power play.
Three goals on the man advantage were enough to fend off a Sharks rally down the stretch and St. Louis escaped by sending San Jose to a 4-3 defeat at HP Pavilion at San Jose before a sellout crowd of 17,562 in game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinal.
“Our penalty kill was not very good,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “First one gets through and they earned that one. The second one was on a missed assignment. The third one was on our tape – we don’t clear – and it ends up in the back of our net. Our power play wasn’t real sharp and at this time of year it has to be. ”
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The Sharks converted a power play goal on four chances – their lone marker was a game tying goal by Brent Burns in the opening period. But Blues goaltender Brian Elliott – who made 17 saves to preserve a shutout in game two in place of an injured Jaroslav Halak – stood in the way for the rest of the game and made 26 stops.
“Explanation is execution, sharpness,” said McLellan. “Other than that, there were some systematic things that we’ll have to look at. But we’ll have to be better in that area.”
St. Louis took a 2-1 lead in the series, the first time in such situation since 2003 when they squandered a 3-1 lead in a seven game set loss to Vancouver in the first round.
The Sharks know what’s at stake in Game 4 on Thursday.
“It’s a series,” said Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. “We took their home ice advantage and they took it away from us. Next game’s absolutely huge.”
The Blues, who had never scored more than two power play goals all season, buried their first three chances and led as much as 4-1 until goals by Colin White and Logan Couture turned the game into a photo finish, which included a sharp angled bid by Couture from the right goal line before the final horn sounded.
The Sharks first threat came on two wide open chances on their first power play of the game. After St. Louis failed to clear the puck, Joe Thornton was spotted at the right circle, but Brian Elliott turned away his wrist shot with 11:41 to play.
Patrick Marleau then deflected a centering pass from the left corner to a wide open Boyle at the top of the right circle, but Elliott foiled his slap shot bid to the upper right corner just ten seconds later Thornton’s chance.
Niemi then flashed his first stunning save of the game with 6:10 to play, stopping David Perron on a follow up rebound with his left pad after a Sharks turnover that occurred deep in their zone. A Tommy Wingels high sticking penalty then opened the door for St. Louis’ game opening goal on the power play.
They cashed in when Patrik Berglund buried a rebound into a wide open net – his third goal of the playoffs – with 5:29 to play in first period after Carlo Colaiacovo banged a slap shot off the post from the right point, leaving the puck behind Antti Niemi for Berglund’s backhander.
The Sharks responded for a 1-1 tie after Roman Polak was nailed for a cross checking infraction and Brent Burns’ first power play snipe of the playoffs served retaliation with 3:15 to play in the period.
Joe Thornton set up Burns with a trademark lobbed backhanded saucer pass – over the Blues defense – from the neutral zone, received by Burns at the right circle while in stride. Burns raced on net and buried a backhander over Elliott’s blocker, sending HP Pavilion into a frenzy.
Andy McDonald helped boost the Blues out of the gate in the second period on a deflection at the goal mouth for a 2-1 edge with just 1:01 elapsed. Colaiacovo blistered a shot from the right point that caromed off Berglund and found McDonald open for the second deflection at the left post.
The Sharks nearly found daylight for a tie game after a faceoff win in the offensive zone, but Elliott foiled Joe Pavelski’s set up from Marleau with 16:44 to play in the period. Elliott then fought off another Sharks threat and denied Thornton’s wraparound bid with 14:15 remaining.
The Blues then bolstered the lead to 3-1with 9:54 left on their second power play goal of the night and Jason Arnott’s first goal of the postseason. The Blues worked the puck into the right corner for McDonald, who found the veteran Arnott on a tape to tape feed at the left circle.
Arnott then stashed a wrist shot before Niemi could cover the blocker side post.
St. Louis third power play strike came just 59 seconds into the third period after Daniel Winnik’s boarding penalty on a hit behind the St. Louis net late in the second period.
Alexander Steen took a McDonald feed at the right boards, walked out to the point and buried a slap shot past a screened Niemi.
The Sharks finally broke the Blues three goal run to slice the deficit to 4-2 with 3:02 left in regulation on White’s blast that beat Elliott over the glove.
Ryane Clowe attempted a blast from the slot that McDonald blocked, but the rebound caromed to an open White, who blistered a shot to the back of the net from the right circle.
Couture then buried Thornton’s centering pass in the slot with 16.8 seconds left in regulation, slicing the deficit to one goal.
After a timeout called by the Sharks, they successfully penetrated the Blues zone and Couture threw desperate shot at the Blues net from the right goal line that Elliott turned away before time ran out.
“It’s nice to see the guys not quit,” said Sharks captain Joe Thornton. “We’ve got to be ready for Thursday.”
TURNING POINT: ARNOTT'S GOAL
BAD BLOOD: After a vicious ending to game two which included the broken nose of Dominic Moore, both teams continued a muscular and intense battle through the first 30 minutes in a tight checking affair before the Blues began to pull away on the pair of power play goals in the second period.
“MOORE” ICE TIME: Dominic Moore fought off his broken nose and skated in game three by sporting a full face shield, in spite of media reports that Moore would sit the game out in favor of Brad Winchester.
LINE MATCHUPS: With the Sharks earning the last change via home ice advantage, opportunity came for the Thornton-Pavelski-Marleau line – which stayed together for most of the night – to shed St. Louis’ top line of David Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron (who had been matched up thoroughly through the first two games of the series). Thornton’s line found key scoring chances when matched up against the Blues’ second line of Steen, Berglund and McDonald. However, Elliott was the Blues’ backbone with timely saves against the Sharks top trio.
CLOSE GAMES: The Sharks continued a trend of playing in close games – moving their pace to 11 straight contests (in game three situations) decided by one goal. Their record fell to 6-5 in those games.
STAR OF THE GAME: Andy McDonald. The Blues’ speedy and shifty forward engineered the attack on the power play with two assists and added the go-ahead goal slightly ahead of the one minute mark of the second period. He was also the Blues top faceoff man, going 6-of-9 on draws.
SHOTS: The Sharks outshot St. Louis, 29-27, earning key scoring chances on 21 shots on goal at five-on-five situations.
JUMBO’S BREAKOUT NIGHT: Joe Thornton – after being held scoreless through the first two games of the series – came through to lead the Sharks offense with three assists.
POWER SURGE: St. Louis went 3-of-4 on the power play – the root of their success in the game three victory. Their three goals on the man advantage were the most they scored all year – regular season and playoffs combined.
INJURY REPORT: Dominic Moore stayed in the Sharks lineup despite suffering a broken nose in game two and earned 11:25 of ice time while winning four of five faceoff attempts.
TEAM VS TEAM STATS
SHOTS: Sharks 29 – Blues 27
FACEOFF WIN PERCENTAGE: Sharks 54 – Blues 46
TAKEAWAYS: Sharks 11 – Blues 5
“We’ll look at doing something. We have some players that we can access. I thought we had better legs tonight than we had in game two. It was nice to see that we generated more in the offensive zone than we did in game two.” – Sharks head coach Todd McLellan
“We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. That was it. (St. Louis’) power play was important tonight – that is what won them the game.” – Sharks captain and forward Joe Thornton
“We’ve struggled to score goals especially on (Brian) Elliott, so it feels good to get some by him.” – Sharks forward Daniel Winnik
The Sharks will regroup for two days off before returning to HP Pavilion at San Jose for game four of the series on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (CSN-CA and KFOX 98.5/102.1).