Following a game two dominated by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, game three came down to a pair of stellar performances by Paul Martin and Brent Burns.
The two finished with the best corsi differentials in the game and despite not factoring in on the scoresheet were on the ice for two of the Sharks' three goals. They both saw a bit of special teams time, but it was in 5v5 play that the pair showed their real dominance.
That chart, from hockeyviz.com, shows how damn impressive the defensive pairing played on Thursday. The two helped the Sharks spend oodles of time in the St. Louis end of the ice, creating chance after chance for San Jose. It didn't matter who the two were out on the ice against, which you can see in another excellent chart from hockeyviz.com.
The two saw plenty of ice time against the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester and beat the ever loving crap out of all of them. Burns showed his offensive dominance in game two, but in game three he displayed just how much he's improved on the defensive side of the ice.
Burns only took one shot on goal Thursday in game that saw the Sharks put just 16 shots on goal. That's the lowest number of shots on goal the Sharks have taken in 15 playoff games this season. Part of that is thanks to our good friend score effects, of course, but San Jose didn't have their best offensive game on Thursday night as the Blues applied tons of pressure in the Sharks' zone.
That required great defensive play to turn the Blues aggressive offensive into breakaway chances for the Sharks. Throughout this postseason, Burns and Martin have been paired against tough competition and have responded beautifully.
Among the defenders listed above, only a handful (including Vlasic and Braun) have seen tougher competition than Burns and Martin. Despite seeing difficult opponents, the pairing have posted great possession numbers — and that's without mentioning Burns' incredible offensive output throughout this postseason.
Vlasic and Braun, once again, served as the shutdown defensive pair the Sharks needed to win. On the other end of the ice, Burns and Martin proved equally vital in keeping the puck as far away from Martin Jones as possible. One of San Jose's greatest strengths this season has been its depth and its diversity among its top four defenders have been no exception.