ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 14: Members of the St. Louis Blues celebrate a goal against the San Jose Sharks during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on April 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Between the bench malfunction early in the first period, Patrick Marleau getting engaged in post-whistle scrums, Joe Pavelski dropping the gloves with Kris Russell, Barret Jackman running over Jaroslav Halak to knock him out of the game, and the symphony of punches that played both teams out of the building following the final whistle, it's safe to say tonight was an interesting one.
Things got interesting early, as an own-goal proved to be the game winner for St. Louis, who evened the series at one with a 3-0 shutout victory over San Jose.
A mere 1:31 into the game a shot from Vladimir Sobotka off the rush squeaked through Niemi, fluttering into the crease. With the Blues crashing the net defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is the guy you want to make a play in that situation 99% of the time, attempted to clear the puck out of danger. Unfortunately for Vlasic it was that 1% when you would have preferred someone else, as his backhanded clear went right into the open net to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead.
Both teams traded individual power play chances later in the frame, with the Sharks floundering and the Blues putting on immense pressure respectively. Antti Niemi made some excellent saves during the Sharks kill, knocking aside 5 shots to keep San Jose within a goal heading into intermission.
Goal against aside the Sharks probably had their best periods of the series thus far. Pavelski rang one off the crossbar and the Sharks carried the play at even strength, generating healthy offensive zone time and breaking into the zone cleanly and effectively. Packaging that performance over the course of 60 minutes would have been ideal, as the Blues were on their heels for the vast majority of the frame.
In the second period the script got flipped.
St. Louis came out and ran the Sharks ragged throughout the entire frame, outshooting the Sharks 11-3 at the halfway mark and 17-10 overall. Antti Niemi held the fort for San Jose for as long as he could with a little help from his posts, as both Sobotka and Steen ramped one off the iron, but the Blues would eventually capitalize despite Niemi's excellence.
At the 13:49 mark San Jose looked like they had T.J. Oshie handled off the rush, but a brilliant individual effort from the 25 year old right winger turned the Sharks inside out and back inside again. After Oshie slipped a Jason Demers check along the boards he proceeded to dangle around both Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski on his way to open ice.
The ensuing backhand pass through the box wasn't as pretty but it was just as effective. David Backes received the feed in his wheelhouse and slammed one past a helpless Niemi to give St. Louis a commanding 2-0 lead.
San Jose started the third period with some power play carry over from the end of the second and caught an excellent break when PK stalwart Scott Nichol went to the box for flipping the puck over the glass. The ensuing power play didn't manage to do much of anything however, and play continued on with St. Louis tightening up their play in the neutral zone.
Twelve minutes into the third period the Sharks had four shots on net, a testament to the way things were going as well as how good this Blues team can be when carrying a two goal lead. Martin Havlat had an excellent opportunity after a smart read in the neutral zone led to a takeaway, but a strong poke check from Brian Elliot would stifle the chance as it was approaching maturation.
San Jose received a power play at the 12:28 mark when Jamie Langenbrunner got dinged for a holding penalty. It was their most dangerous power play of the night and, filled to the brim with excellent chances, but for all of the excellent puck movement and pucks to the net San Jose couldn't find a way to capitalize.
David Perron would capitalize on a 5v3 with 26 seconds left in the game after Dan Boyle got jammed up after Alex Steen hit him with an alleged elbow behind the play when Boyle went to finish a check. Following the final whistle all hell broke loose, with numerous players dropping the gloves and fights breaking out across the ice.
Safe to say game three will be interesting.
Heading into this series we knew it was going to be a dogfight, and the fact that San Jose stole game one in St. Louis should definitely be considered a good thing. I really liked what I saw from the Sharks in the first period, and while the second period was all Blues in just about every way possible, taking positives from a 1-1 tie and their best period of the series is something San Jose should focus on heading back home.
There's still a lot of work to be done of course; this Blues team is for real as anyone following their progress this season under Head Coach Ken Hitchcock is well aware of. Whenever your backup has to come off the bench in the middle of a postseason game, and that backup led the League in SV% and set the GAA record, you know it's tough sledding.
San Jose got the road split they wanted.
Now it's time to capitalize at The Tank.