SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 16: Goaltender Brian Elliott #1 of the St Louis Blues can't stop the shot from going in the net off the stick of Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks in the first period in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on April 16, 2012 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Sharks headed into tonight's game with home-ice advantage due to their double overtime victory in game one against St. Louis.
They left the building without it.
St. Louis found twine four times, including a trio on the powerplay, to win 4-3 and take a 2-1 lead in the first round series.
Things got started off with a bang as Douglas Murray absolutely flattened TJ Oshie after the opening whistle but the pace settled down immediately afterward. Some sparse chances for both clubs were dispersed throughout the opening eight minutes, with the Blues cleaning up the neutral zone and giving San Jose hell coming out of their zone, but an interference call on Carlo Colaiacovo sent San Jose to their first power play of the night.
On the power play San Jose generated some very good chances, the most notable of which when Barret Jackman tried to clear the puck up the middle of the zone. A strong forecheck from the Sharks led to a turnover to the stick of Dan Boyle, who wasted no time swinging it down to Martin Havlat at the end line. The centering pass did not produce anything however, and after a solid save from Brian Elliot on Boyle later in the frame, the Sharks power play ended without a tally.
Following a Tommy Wingels stick up in the grill of Alex Pietrangelo in the offensive zone the Blues headed to the man advantage and an eventual one goal lead. Carlo Colaiacovo's initial shot from the point found iron, but with the Sharks desperately trying to clear the crease in front of Niemi, Patrik Berglund snuck in behind and tapped one into the empty net.
The Sharks struck soon afterwards.
After a pretty harmless dump in from Joe Thornton bounced in and out of the glove of Kris Russell, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns who was joining the rush pounced. Taking the puck from the right side to the backhand he sent a screamer past Brian Elliot for an early goal of the postseason contender, knotting the game at one apiece and rendering the first goal of the game impotent.
Unfortunately for San Jose, Burns' tally received the same impotency treatment less than a minute into the second period.
A shot from the point bounced off a few bodies on its way to the net, eventually skipping to the far side past the outreached pads of Niemi. He didn't have a chance on the play and Andy McDonald tapped the puck into the back of the net for the second relatively uncontested Blues goals of the evening.
The third and fourth lines gave the Sharks some energy with strong back to back shifts about 6 minutes into the period but HP Pavilion quickly went back to sleep when an interference call on Douglas Murray led to a Blues power play and eventual goal.
A pass through the box, something that has been the Sharks kryptonite shorthanded this season, struck once again when Andy McDonald threaded the needle and found Jason Arnott coming down the short side. Arnott took the puck off his skate and lifted a pretty shot over Niemi that found twine, giving the veteran his first goal of the postseason and his team what seemed like a commanding 3-1 lead.
San Jose would began to pick up some life later in the period, getting some chances off the rush, but Elliot's ability to make the first save and give up nary a rebound opportunity proved crucial in keeping St. Louis ahead by a pair of goals leading into the final frame.
A boarding call on Daniel Winnik at the end of the second period bled over into the third period and end in a result you might expect at this stage of the season-- Alex Steen's shot from the point victimized the Sharks penalty kill for the third time of the game, leaving them 0 for 3 at that point and a woeful 7 for 12 in the series. It was a shot that Niemi would have liked to have back despite the marginal interference occurring in his crease, and one that effectively buried San Jose as St. Louis tightened up the screws in the neutral zone much to the delight of Head Coach Ken Hitchcock.
If the fans in HP Pavilion didn't sound like t a morgue at that stage of the game I don't know what does. I like Dave Matthews as much as the next guy, but when you have to turn to the fiddle and faux yodelling in the third period of a playoff game to get the crowd into it you know you're in trouble.
San Jose made things very interesting late in the game when Colin White and Logan Couture scored a pair of goals in the dying minutes, giving San Jose a chance to tie it with 16.8 seconds left, but the comeback wouldn't be enough.
This is the Blues team we knew they were-- a tough checking, defensively responsible, quick attack team that creates turnovers and wins puck battles at a whim, feasting on the fruits of their labors that are born of that dedication to hard work.
San Jose's ability to win this series is far from over. A 2-1 series deficit is more than manageable, even if a must-win most definitely lies in wait on Thursday night at The Tank. The comeback late in the game tonight shows that San Jose has a little bit of red ass in them and won't go down without a fight.
Sure the Sharks looked one shift behind all night, the penalty kill showed itself as the soft spot it looked like for much of this season, and their work is definitely cut out for them.
But that's the rub here-- in the postseason you're only as good as your last shift.
With a strong effort on Thursday that ends in a victory, tonight's result will be quickly forgotten.