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Recap: WCQF Game 4 - Blues 2 @ Sharks 1 - April 21, 2012

by Jonathan Okanes / San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE, California -
The rules say it takes 60 minutes to decide a hockey game. Saturday’s Western Conference Quarterfinal game took just 45 seconds.

Negating what was otherwise an efficient performance by the Sharks, the St. Louis Blues scored goals just 45 seconds apart during the third period and eliminated San Jose with a 3-1 victory at the Scottrade Center.

The Blues ended the Sharks season by winning the series 4 games to 1. San Jose won the series-opener in double overtime before St. Louis captured four games in a row, including two at HP Pavilion. It’s the Blues first postseason series win since 2002.

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For the first two-and-a-half periods Saturday, the Sharks had done the things they needed to for a win – they killed off both of the Blues power play opportunities, they scored first and goaltender Antti Niemi went toe-to-toe with seemingly impenetrable St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott.

And after Joe Thornton, who was easily the Sharks most dominant player in the series, scored with 39 seconds left in the second period to give San Jose a 1-0 lead, Team Teal looked to be in control.

But the Blues started to have better shifts midway through the third period, and when they finally broke through, they did so quickly. First, veteran Jamie Langenbrunner held off Sharks defenseman Justin Braun and poked a rebound past Niemi at 11:16. It was one of Niemi’s scant mistakes of the night. Scott Nichol had taken the initial shot, the kind that Niemi usually handles and had handled the entire night and most of the series. But this time he bobbled the puck and lost it, and Langenbrunner was right there to capitalize.

With the Scottrade Center now awake and boisterous, Alex Pietrangelo took a shot which was redirected by David Perron, the Blues first-liner who had been mostly quiet in the series. He changed the shot just enough for it to get past Niemi at 12:01, and stunningly St. Louis led 2-1.
As has been the story during the regular season and the series, the Blues proved to be a dominating opponent with the lead. The Sharks, now reeling , played with passion down the stretch. Their best chance to tie came when Michal Handzus had an opportunity to slip the puck into the left corner of the goal but was denied.

San Jose had one last dramatic chance when Andy McDonald was called for a delay of game after intentionally batting the puck into the crowd at 15:30. It was just the Sharks second power play chance of the night, and although they put some pressure on Elliott, they couldn’t register the equalizer.

The Sharks pulled Niemi in the closing moments but couldn’t break through and McDonald put it out of reach with an empty net goal at 19:21.

It was fitting that McDonald iced the game. He gave the Sharks fits the whole series, especially on the power play where he notched a point on all six of the Blues goals with the man-advantage. His empty-netter was his fourth goal of the series.

Although the Sharks didn’t do much offensively in the first period – they only had three shots – they matched the Blues defensive efficiency and looked as though they would be competitive throughout the night. They also looked good killing off the Blues first power play chance, which had been one of San Jose’s concerns during the series. Niemi came up with one terrific save on a high-percentage shot during the sequence, and defenseman Douglas Murray also had a key blocked shot.

The Sharks outplayed the Blues in the second period, putting consistent pressure on Elliott with quality zone time and finally breaking through with Thornton’s goal just before the horn. San Jose registered 13 shots in the second period.

Logan Couture came close to scoring early in the period when he shot off a feed from Thornton in the left slot. It was one of the rare times where a shot produced a rebound from the usually sure-handed Elliott, but San Jose couldn’t capitalize. Moments later, Elliott made a nice glove save on a shot by Handzus.

The Blues went on their second power play midway through the second period after Martin Havlat was penalized for holding the stick, but again the Sharks turned them back. Pietrangelo had the best chance during the man-advantage but Niemi made a glove save on his shot from close-range.

San Jose went on its first power play midway through the second when B.J. Crombeen was called for goalkeeper interference but never seriously threatened to score.

It was the last five minutes of the second period in which the Sharks really started putting on the pressure in the Blues defensive zone. San Jose swarmed Elliott with a handful of good shots, but the St. Louis goaltender for the most part was up to the task. That finally changed when Thornton broke through, getting set up after some quality work around the net by Daniel Winnik. Winnik kept control of the puck and got in good position to slide a pass to Thornton in the left slot. Thornton didn’t rush, instead handling the puck for a moment to set himself up for a higher-percentage shot, which easily found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

San Jose continued to put some good pressure on Elliott during the opening moments of the third period, but that’s when things began to turn. Niemi was forced into a good save on a shot by Nichol on a rebound, then made a terrific stop on a shot by Jason Arnott, who was set up beautifully by Kevin Shattenkirk on a pass from behind the net. At 10:03, the Sharks were late on a line change and T.J. Oshie fired a shot off the crossbar.

This is only the second time since the 2001-02 season that the Sharks have failed to advance past the conference quarterfinals, with the other coming against Anaheim at the end of the 2008-09 season.

NOTES: Thornton finished with two goals and three assists during the series. … Sharks coach Todd McLellan used seven defenseman, inserting Jason Demers into the lineup in place of forward Brad Winchester. The rest of San Jose’s lineup was similar to Game 4. By the third period, most of the Sharks top players were logging a lot of ice time. … McDonald finished with four goals and four assists in the series. … While Patrick Marleau had his best game of the series, he still finished without a point in the five games, as did first-line winger Joe Pavelski. … San Jose finished the series 2-for-17 on the power play.

SHOTS: Sharks 27, Blues 27
HITS: Blues 24, Sharks 21
FACEOFFS: Sharks 51%, Blues 49%

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