Havlat and Niemi shine brightest in series opening win
If there are two moves that Doug Wilson has been criticized most for, they would be the additions of Martin Havlat and Antti Niemi.
Wilson looks like a smart man right now.
Havlat scored the series opening goal and he also scored the game winner in the second overtime, and Antti Niemi made 40 saves as the underdog Sharks beat the second seeded Blues 3-2, a win which took 83 minutes to secure.
It wasn't always pretty, but who in their right mind would have expected it to be; San Jose was going against what was arguably the NHL's best team in the regular season. Despite that, the Sharks were able to weather the considerable storm and take a crucial game one against the team that many thought would run them out of the building in this game and throughout the series.
On to how it happened. The first period was a tight, viciously contested, yet scoreless twenty minutes as both teams traded chances and were bailed out by solid goaltending. The deadlock was broken, however, when the Sharks converted on the first power play of the evening for either team. Six minutes into the second, Havlat made a beautiful tip off a Dan Boyle shot to put the puck past Jaroslav Halak and give the Sharks the first lead of the series.
St. Louis didn't lay down though, and tried to even up the score with some great chances through the second. Niemi played an inspired brand of goaltending and was able to keep the Sharks ahead through the end of two.
The third was a different story.
Say as much as you want about the Blues playoff inexperience, but they showed some real moxie when they came out in the third and pinned San Jose into their zone. After two minutes of solid play, Patrick Berglund was able to will the puck into the net and past Niemi to tie it. Then, about six minutes later, Berglund would catch the puck as the trailer and put the Blues up one goal with less than thirteen minutes remaining. I have to admit, at that point, I thought that the Sharks were dead in the water.
Tommy Wingels changed that. No, I'm not confused as to who scored the goal, but Wingels definitely generated it, beating contact as he crossed the blue line and dishing back to Andrew Desjardins. Somehow, Desjardins was able to break Halak, who looked almost infallible through two and a half periods, and tie the game. At that point, it was just getting started.
Even if you are the most critical Niemi fan out there, you cannot possibly fault him tonight. He was absolutely incredible and was the only reason that the Sharks survived the first overtime. Niemi made save after save after save and Did anything he could to keep the puck out of the net. He was the sole reason the Sharks survived, and once they made it out of the first overtime, there was no looking back.
Havlat scored from the high slot and sent the Sharks to the dressing room happy, sealing a much needed win and destroying St. Louis' home ice advantage. From here on out, the Sharks and Blues are playing on an even field, with San Jose needing a win less than their adversaries.
And it's all because of Havlat and Niemi.