ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 12: Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks makes a save against the St. Louis Blues during Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on April 12, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Taking some time this morning to address what I thought was a very poignant comment made by FTF'er ievans in last night's recap thread:
The more pressure we put on them, the better, no doubt. But if the script was flipped and we were the team that outshot and outchanced the other team, but lost in OT due to some great goaltending and timely goals, we’d be preaching what Hitchcock and guys like Arnott and McDonald are no doubt saying tonight: keep playing that way, and you’ll get rewarded.
I don't think anyone could have put that better than he did. There have been so many times that Plank and I have had to rationalize a loss after the Sharks outchanced and outplayed a lesser opponent; think losses against teams like Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles in the playoffs.
Today, our sister site St. Louis Gametime (whose affiliation with Blogyang - North Korea's preeminent, government run blog, is not shared by FTF) has the tough task of explaning away what happened.
Obviously, the sky will be falling for some fans - it's been a long time out of the playoffs for Blues fans, so that Game 1 took on heightened importance in most eyes. But, for the two women I saw crying, it's just one game. The key is how the team responds on Saturday to this disappointment. If they can take in the positives and eliminate the few negatives they did have, they should definitely get Game 2 under control.
They're still confident, and they damn well should be; San Jose was lucky to survive a first overtime period where they were absolutely bitch-slapped for twenty minutes. It was a worrisome stretch, but it's one that the Sharks were able to somehow outlast, and we all know what happened the next frame.
Some are taking that period as a harbinger of what's to come in this series, and assume that the Blues will come a-roarin' back to break our hearts. I don't know if that's the case. Below, I've identified some reasons that the Sharks first game was actually encouraging, and I'd love your feedback.
- Many have said that it's unrealistic to believe that Antti Niemi is going to play the way that he did tonight over the course of the series. While I'm not saying he's going to put up 40 save performances on a nightly basis against St. Louis (and I hope he doesn't have to), I think we're seeing a goaltender who truly steps it up against quality competition (as long as it's not Vancouver). Conversely, it's not like we're going to see Jaroslav Halak dominate in net as he did either. I think the goaltending evens out, and as a result, the Sharks catch the advantage - they have much more talent in the scoring department.
- While the Blues definitely outchanced the Sharks in that first overtime frame, the scoring opportunities were not near as lopsided as you would expect. Our fantastic writer The Neutral will get into the chances in detail in about an hour, but in the first three periods the Sharks actually outchanced the Blues 14-13. And even with that crazy overtime period, the Sharks only lost the scoring chance battle by two, 19-17.
- The Blues won the face-off battle, which absolutely will not happen again. Joe Pavelski, who is one of the league's top men in the face-off dot, clocked in at just 38% on the night. Logan Couture also posted a 41%. Not typical, and not something I believe is repeatable.
- Marleau, Couture, Thornton and Pavelski had one assist between the four of them. While the Sharks did get some offense from their top-six with two mega goals from Havlat and two assists from Ryane Clowe (who didn't look right coming back from injury), there's no way that foursome is going to remain scoreless throughout the series.
- Back to the shots for a second: The Blues did outshoot the Sharks 42-34, but 11 of those shots came off the stick of Kevin Shattenkirk. What that tells me is that the Sharks did a decent job of pushing the blues to the perimeter and making sure that they didn't get fantastic chances, even if they did get a bunch of decent ones. Kevin Shattenkirk is a good player, but letting him take shots from the point is a lot better than having David Perron, Andy McDonald and company dictate the chances.
- Resiliency? Check. The Sharks could have easily been demoralized when the Blues tied the game or when they took the lead, but they showed the fire and the skill that makes them so dangerous in getting a tying goal from Andrew Desjardins. That goal also speaks to how deep this team is, as it was a goal generated by rookie Tommy Wingelsand punched home by Desjardins, both fourth-liners.
- And how about a little confidence? We all said that the Sharks had to take at least one game out of the opening two to have a shot, and the Sharks go and win the first one. Now, they have a chance to crush the young, inexperienced Blues with a win in game two and head back to San Jose with a stranglehold on the series. Even if they lose it, a 1-1 series tie coming back to the Bay is a situation that I think all of us would have taken yesterday morning.
All in all, yes, the Blues could have definitely won last night's game. But they didn't, and by my assertion, there were the positives I listed as well as many others that suggest the Sharks may not just have a chance this series, but they might just win it.
Knock on wood.