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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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%
by Jonathan Okanes, SJSHARKS.com
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The St. Louis Blues were 6-7 when coach Ken Hitchcock came aboard. They've been among the NHL's best ever since.
Jamie Langenbrunner and David Perron scored in a 45-second span in the third period, and the Blues woke up in time to put away the San Jose Sharks 3-1 and wrap up their first-round series Saturday night.
"It was a frustrating two periods, obviously we wanted to come out and jump to the lead. We had to push them out of the game," Langenbrunner said. "We just stuck with it."
Joe Thornton scored in the final minute of the second period for San Jose, and the Sharks were seemingly in control before the flurry that ended their season.
"We competed hard, we just came up on the short end of the stick this time," Thornton said. "Hats off to the Blues, they played great, but it's a terrible feeling right now."
Brian Elliott made 26 saves, and Andy McDonald ended all doubt with an empty-net goal in the final minute. St. Louis, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, won a playoff series for the first time in a decade against a franchise that reached the conference finals the previous two years. Before this series, St. Louis hadn't won a playoff game in eight years.
"The fans have been waiting a long time and have been very patient," said defenseman Barret Jackman, the lone holdover from the last playoff team in 2004. "It's nice to give them a little taste of what's to come."
The Blues seemed a step slow most of the way in front of a sellout crowd waving white rally towels before tying it with their checking line, and getting the go-ahead goal from their top line. They were the first team to come from behind after two periods to win in the series.
"We didn't want to go back there, obviously," Perron said. "Knowing we didn't want to go back there obviously made it that much bigger."
The lightning strike rally began when Antti Niemi couldn't handle Scott Nichol's bouncing shot from just across the blue line and Langenbrunner tapped it home at 11:16, the first point of the series for both Nichol and Langenbrunner.
Perron deflected Alex Pietrangelo's floater from the point on the next shot, and Elliott made the lead stand with a handful of nice saves the rest of the way. Pietrangelo aimed for the stick, not the net, on the go-ahead goal.
"He's really smart out there," Perron said. "When you look at the replay up top, you see I think his show was probably 6-7 feet wide, so you could tell he was aiming for someone to get a stick on it. And I did."
The Blues had to kill off a delay-of-game penalty on McDonald in the closing minutes, and Elliott handled what could have been a tense situation calmly.
"I mean, you see a difference maker, and we're going to concede him that," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "He's a great goalie."
The Sharks knew they also came up short. Marleau and Pavelski, both 30-goal scorers, had no points in the series. They were 2 for 17 on the power play in the series, including 0-for-2 in Game 5, against the Blues' sticky defense.
"They are stifling," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "They play such a good checking game, they give you absolutely nothing. When you have only four forwards that hit the score sheet in a five-game series, odds are you're not winning."
The Blues were the NHL's best home team with a franchise-record 30 wins and just six regulation losses, and won two at home and two on the road against the Sharks. Counting the regular season, they were 8-1 against San Jose.
Hitchcock is giving players Sunday off and then it's back to work while they wait to learn their next opponent. The coach who replaced Davis Payne in early November noted that there was no sense of satisfaction in the locker room.
"There was elation and then calmness," Hitchcock said. "There's a real calmness about our group, they came down from the high real quick. That's good. I think we're going to play well the next series."
The Blues are getting healthier, too. Hitchcock expected Jaroslav Halak, the No. 1 goalie most of the season but out with a lower body injury the last three games, would be back at practice Monday.
Thornton's second goal of the series gave the Sharks their second lead of the series with 39 seconds to go in the second. The San Jose captain converted a pass from Daniel Winnik and beat Elliott between the legs from the left side of the net for his fifth point of the series, giving him a hand in his team's last five goals.
Both teams appeared to be on the defensive much of the first two periods, with few big hits aside from an entertaining fight between the Blues' Chris Stewart and Tommy Wingels in the second. There was no sustained pressure from either side and few hallmark saves before the Sharks finally capitalized when Perron was unable to clear the puck.
Notes: Thornton had 42 of his team-leading 77 points on the road during the regular season. He tied for first in the NHL in road points. ... This was the first time in the series the team scoring first didn't win.