Saturday, April 14, 2012

Blues even series, blank Sharks 3-0

Teams combine for 132 penalty minutes as game
got hotly contested in what will be heated series

If the end of Saturday's Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Blues and San Jose Sharks indicated anything, it was a loud and clear message:

Game on, series on.

The Blues needed life and got it early Saturday night.

But it was the end of the game that really set the tone for this series that is now tied 1-1 after the Blues blanked the Sharks, 3-0, in the best-of-seven series at Scottrade Center.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' David Backes (right) and San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic
battle for position during Saturday's Western Conference Quarterfinals.

The series between the Blues and Sharks started with a calm demeanor, but the intensity and barometer rose through the roof of the building.

At the end of the night, the teams combined for 132 minutes in penalties, including 88 minutes and 15 penalties at final whistle.

"Boys will be boys," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said when asked of the three fights to close the game. "You found out don't open the Roman Polak door. Don't ever open that door. Wooh!"

Polak was one of three Blues involved in fights. He was joined by Vladimir Sobotka and Barret Jackman. Polak was involved with Justin Braun, Sobotka and Moore and Jackman and Murray all were involved in fights.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan was testy in his media session, saying that Sobotka "sucker-punched" Moore.

"It depends on what you're talking about," McLellan said of the end of the game. "If you're talking about the instigator, the sucker punch, the blow to the head, the broken nose [suffered by Moore], what do you think I thought of it? It's everything we're trying to get rid of. The rest of it in the corner, the men that looked at each other and got at it, that's part of playoff hockey. But the sucker punch is unacceptable. ... Let's move onto something else. Let's talk about the game."

The tension came much earlier in this contest witnessed by 19,500. It came early with the little-known fighters [Kris Russell of the Blues and Joe Pavelski of the Sharks] working up the tension midway through the second period.

"It's just one of those things," said Russell, shaking off the fight. "Everyone's crowding around the net. Frustrations kind of took over and that's about it.

"In the playoffs, if you look around the league, it's different guys accepting different roles and stepping up in different situations. That's what we need to win."

From there, it extended to TJ Galiardi's charging penalty that cracked the helmet of the Blues' Andy McDonald halfway through the third period and set up the final rough stuff when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns hit the Blues' Scott Nichol late with a punch.

"The one on Nichol's just a punch to the head," said McDonald, who scored the Blues' third goal. "It's really kind of unprovoked. he just turned around and punched Scotty in the head and the one on me, I was standing on the hash marks and he comes in and elbows me in the head and cracks my helmet. It's a two-minute penalty but I'm sure they'll look at it. It's a blatant hit to the head.

"You're going to be in vulnerable positions, but it's the attitude of the player coming in. I'm not expecting players to give me a pass or anything like that, but when you're using your elbow to hit the other player in the head ... it's targeting the head. There's another way you can finish the check and play hard and I'm all for that. I like physical play, too, but when you crack a guy's helmet, that speaks for itself."

Sharks captain Joe Thornton added: "That's normal. Its the playoffs."

Before all the penalties and bad blood boiling, there was a hockey game, and the Blues would get a quick goal that would set the pace for a game the team would desperately need to avoid.

Sobotka obliged and the Blues weathered a goalie change because of injury.

Starter Jaroslav HalakJackman.

Jackman crashed into Halak after a sliding attempt to break up a pass play to San Jose's Martin Havlat.

Halak was down, got up on his knees and got to his skates without help and appeared to be staying in the game but skated off on his own power to the Blues' dressing room. He was replaced by Brian Elliott 1:07 into the second period after stopping all 12 shots he faced.

"I just dove to try to make a play and just couldn't get up in time to avoid him," Jackman said of Halak, who Hitchcock said suffered a lower-body injury and will be evaluated Sunday but will make the trip to San Jose. "Unfortunately, I ran into him."

The Blues also got goals from David Backes and McDonald while Elliott stopped 17 shots in relief.

"You never want to see anybody get hurt, especially Jaro, who's a big part of our team," Elliott said. "I don't know what's wrong, but I just wanted to get in there, try to feel good, get a couple stops right off the bat and get into the game. But the guys did a great job. I didn't have a lot of work in the second and it allowed me to kind of slide into the game unnoticed.

"I felt good out there. Adrenaline kind of takes over. You forget about your body and you just go out there and play.

It was the Blues' first playoff after snapping a seven-game losing streak dating back to April 12, 2004 when they beat these very same Sharks in a quarterfinal series.

"They gave us what a veteran team that knows how to win would do," Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "They gave it to us in the first period. They tested our will big time in the first period. We had no choice but to respond.

"I thought we grew up a lot today as a team because of what happened in the first period. They pushed us hard, they had that experience of being a veteran team knowing what it's like at this time of the year. They shoved us hard. I liked the way we responded after that. We bent a little bit in the first period, came back on the power play at the end and played very, very well in the second period. We grew up to the level of what it takes to win against a team that knows how to do it. That part feels good."

The Sharks, who will go home for Games 3 and 4 at HP Pavilion beginning Monday night, were blanked in this building this season for the third time, including twice in the regular season. Antti Niemi made 29 saves.

"We would rather have two (wins) but we'll go with this," Niemi said.

The Blues got off to the start they needed, when Sobotka's first goal of the playoffs put them on top with a little help from Niemi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Sobotka's wrist shot from the top of the left circle trickled through Niemi into the crease area, and in an attempt to swipe the puck away from danger, Vlasic inadvertently knocked it into his own net just 1:31 into the game for a 1-0 lead.

The goal really set the tone for St. Louis and enabled the Blues to play their game with the lead.

Vlasic felt bad on the play.

"It just popped up," Vlasic said. "That's it.

"The game's easy when you're sitting in the press box but it is what it is."
(Getty Images)
Jamie Langenbrunner (15) joins in celebrating with Vladimir Sobotka (left)
and Jason Arnott after Sobotka's first-period goal of a 3-0 win over San

The Blues were being outshot 10-4 when they got their initial power play but Niemi made great stops on Patrik Berglund twice, the second on a redirection that he got with the top blade of his left skate. The Blues had the last six shots of the period after they were being outshot 10-3, five of them on that power play.

"We actually played better after that [Blues goal]," McLellan said. "Our best minutes were in the first period. I thought we took it up to a certain level. We had some chances that we didn't capitalize on. We went into the break and when we came out, we never took it back up to that level. They rose, they took it up a notch and we never got it back to the level we established in the first period. They were harder and stronger along the boards, won more battles in those areas. You can't lose that many to this team. That gives them an opportunity to be successful, and we just weren't good enough in those areas."

Backes gave the Blues a 2-0 lead on a terrific individual play by T.J. Oshie, who avoided a check from Jason Demers along the right boards, then dangled the puck around Patrick Marleau and finally Joe Pavelski before dishing to Backes in the left circle. The Blues' captain easily slammed home a one-timer past Niemi with 4:11 left in the second period. It was Backes' first of the series and second career playoff goal.

"I thought I was going to get caught there from behind by Marleau and ... I don't know, I ducked under a check and saw Backes screaming down the back door," Oshie said. "If that doesn't go in, I might be getting yelled at. But it went in and it was good to get that first one.

"If that gets tipped and maybe goes the other way, I may be getting screamed at.

Added Backes: "He's got the skill when he takes it to the net and draws a few more guys, I get the easy play on that goal. Tons of kudos to him. He plays hard every night. With his skill, he's able to make a few plays like that."

McDonald added a power play goal with 24.8 seconds left to seal it for the Blues and set up what should be quite an eventful Game 3 Monday night.

"We had to win that one and put a great effort in to get it back to 1-1," Backes said. "It's a best-of-five series now."

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