Game Inside the Game: WCQF Game 1 - Sharks @ Blues - Recap
The boom of a Martin Havlat one timer accomplished many things at 3:34 mark of double overtime:
Swipe home ice advantage? Check.
Prove resiliency? Check.
Exorcise regular season demons? Check.
Send Northern California into a frenzy? Check.
Yet, there was more beneath the surface that created a scintillating recipe for another instant playoff overtime classic in the San Jose Sharks 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in game one of the Western Conference Quarterfinal.
Special teams played a noticeable role in setting the table. Whether it was Antti Niemi flaring the pads, Douglas Murray outmuscling a scrappy set of Blues along the boards or a timely screen set at the front of the net, the Sharks met challenges – and had to fight off numerous threats by the Blues – en route to a series opening victory.
Here’s how the combatants lined up in game one:
1. SHARKS SPECIAL TEAMS VS. BLUES SPECIAL TEAMS
SHARKS: As a bread and butter strength under head coach Todd McLellan, the Sharks entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs boasting the league’s second ranked power play (21.1 percent) but were sure to get a sweat against a pesky Blues penalty kill that ranked seventh (85.8 percent) during the season and never met a shorthanded rush they didn’t like.
Yet, the Sharks used a timely power play goal by Havlat (his first of the night) in the second period to set the tone and jump out to a 1-0 lead, closing the deal on their first goal all year at Scottrade Center. It took three games to do it, but a classic playoff goal – one scored in the trenches – finally opened the Sharks offense for business in the Gateway to the West.
With the Blues caught in a change, the Sharks quickly transitioned into the offensive zone when Ryane Clowe hit Dan Boyle with a pass into the slot – the first scoring chance in the middle of the ice that the Sharks had for the entire power play. The savvy Boyle showed enough patience to wait for a screen to evolve in front of Jaroslav Halak, followed by a wrist shot that Havlat deflected in past a nearly unsuspecting Halak.
On the first power play chance of the game for either team, the Sharks came through with a resounding strike to build a 1-of-3 effort with the man advantage.
BLUES: St. Louis’ power play, while not the most statistically eye popping (20th in the NHL at 16.7 percent), did cash in at 5-for-19 against the Sharks in the regular season and a key third period goal posted their only lead of the game, courtesy of Patrik Berglund.
With the Sharks taking a chance on a shorthanded break and failing to convert on Halak, the Blues swiftly found open ice in transition and the speedster Andy McDonald set up Berglund in the slot for the go-ahead marker with 12:32 left in regulation.
The Sharks had to survive a wave of St. Louis pressure on the previous power play after T.J. Galiardi took an interference penalty with 3:06 left in the second period. But a series of remarkable saves by Niemi – including a diving stop on Alex Pietrangelo just 15 seconds into the power play – proved the Sharks goaltender rose to the occasion when he was needed the most. It helped put St. Louis into desperation mode after 40 minutes.
The Blues finished at 1-for-3 on the power play.
2. STRENGTHS VS. STRENGTHS
SHARKS SPECIAL TEAMS
- Power play: it’s no secret that the big guns such as Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, etc. power the Sharks engine when up a man. And while the Sharks found it challenging to get passes to the inside on the first power play, their persistence paid off with finding Boyle in open ice. After that, Thornton was able to thread the needle to Joe Pavelski on the next power play, which required a big save by Halak to prevent the Sharks from boosting the lead to 2-0 in a tight checking affair.
- Discipline: the Sharks were the least shorthanded team in the NHL this season, allowing just 2.7 power plays per game which translated into a franchise low 785 penalty minutes in 2011-12. They stuck to the script in game one and endured an air-tight, muscle-flexing and tempo-setting first period without taking a penalty. They avoided the same pratfall in overtime, paving the way for Havlat’s heroics.
- Big Guns: as we know that on many occasions, the fortunes of Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski have guided the Sharks fortunes. But game one turned into a proving ground for depth scoring, with Havlat sandwiching the game’s scoring summary which included the lone power play goal, opening the door for “fourth” liners Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels to connect for the crowd silencing game tying goal late in regulation.
BLUES SPECIAL TEAMS
- Penalty kill: stingy as they come on the penalty kill during the regular season, the Blues earned two kills after Havlat’s game opening goal. Strong goaltending by Halak and a quick counterpunch killed off a David Backes penalty late in the second period and errant passes by the Sharks doomed their threat after a Kent Huskins penalty with 11:37 left in regulation.
- Shorthanded attack: a threat to score when retrieving the puck (five shorthanded goals at home to rank third in the NHL), the Blues turned in an ominous shorthanded rush in the second period when Alexander Steen barely missed on a 1-1 tie attempt when his shot hit the post from the left wing.
- Goaltending: the Blues’ last line of defense – Halak – came through with 31 saves in the losing effort and it took a clustered screen by the Sharks to get the game’s first goal past him.
3. ADVANTAGE: SHARKS
In 23 of the previous 26 games, the Blues did not give up a power play goal and the Sharks found a way to break the mold in a critical moment. Their ability to stay out of the box – especially in overtime – set the stage for Havlat’s winner.
4. HEAD TO HEAD
- Sharks power play: 1-of-3 (Havlat PPG – 2nd period, 6:02)
- Blues power play: 1-of-3 (Berglund PPG – 3rd period, 7:28)