Saturday, April 21, 2012

Blues rally in third, eliminate Sharks

St. Louis win playoff series for first time since 2002

ST. LOUIS -- The Baby Blues have finally arrived.

And they have done so just in the nick of time, but it took some grizzly, wily old veterans to push the right buttons and help get the Blues franchise to a place where they haven't been in a decade.

Down a goal and staring at an unwanted trip out to Silicon Valley for a Game 6 encounter, Scott Nichol and Jamie Langenbrunner set the tone, and one of those Baby Blues [David Perron] sealed the deal, as the Blues used a three-goal third-period ourburst to eliminate the San Jose Sharks, 3-1, Saturday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

The Blues won the best-of-seven series 4-1 and now await their next opponent, as they won a playoff series for the first time since 2002.
(Getty Images)
Blues players go through traditional handshakes with Sharks players after
St. Louis won Game 5 Saturday night to eliminate San Jose in five games.

Langenbrunner's 34th career goal, with help from former Shark Nichol, helped get a raucous roar from the 19,490 in attendance thirsting for the franchise's first playoff series win in 10 years. The feeling filtered through the rest of the Blues.

"The momentum shifted in a matter of three minutes," Nichol said. "We always harped to put pucks on net. Our line was going all night. We were all around it all night long. It was just a matter of time. It was just a huge goal."

Brian Elliott came up with his third win of the series, stopping 26 shots. Standing 200 feet away, he got an appreciation for the guys that aren't asked to score big goals.

"Who better to do it than those guys, because they were battling all night," said Elliott, who improved to 3-0 in the series after stepping in for an injured Jaroslav Halak. "Even last game they were going, going, going. They're veterans and they pulled through for us tonight."

The Blues, the second seed in the West, looked dead in the water for much of the game, as the Sharks led the game on Joe Thornton's late second-period goal. However, St. Louis found some magic created once again by their fourth line.

Langenbrunner's goal tied the game 1-1 at 11:16 of the third period when he drove the net and popped home Scott Nichol's initial shot, a shot Sharks goalie Antti Niemi should have corralled.

"It was just a bad rebound ... it was a tip-in and I just tried to get the pad up," Niemi said. "I got the pad up but it was tough to get it."

"Just keep on pushing," Langenbrunner said. "Funnel the puck to the net and go there. In playoff games, it's the only way you're going to score.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Jamie Langenbrunner (left) reacts after tying the game up in the
third period Saturday night in Game 5 against the Sharks as San Jose's
Patrick Marleau reacts.

"They were playing extremely well defensively. They were really making it hard around the net and they did a very good job of sticking with it there in the third."

Forty-five seconds later, Perron put the Blues in front when he was able to deflect Alex Pietrangelo's point shot past Niemi, who was screened by Patrik Berglund on the play. Niemi stopped 24 shots.

"I think we lost the draw, [T.J. Oshie] jumped in from the inside and kind of got it back. I took it from him when he lost it, and I was able to make a play in the middle, got it to Petro and I think he shot that one wide on purpose so I could get a stick on it. I did and it ended up going in. That's a real exciting feeling."

Thornton's second of the series opened the scoring with 39 seconds left in the second period after the Blues had a chance to clear a puck out of the zone, but Perron was not able to get the puck out after it was whipped around the boards.

Daniel Winnik fed Thornton in the slot and he slipped a shot past Elliott, as San Jose outshot the Blues 13-8 in the period, but San Jose was eliminated in the first round for the first time since 2009.

"It sucks," Thornton said. "We had a good group of guys and you want to keep playing. This is the best time of year. Hats off to the Blues, they played great. But it’s a terrible feeling right now.

"It was a tight-checking series and they’re the best team at it."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan credited the Blues for holding his team to 11 goals in nine games against the Blues this season.

"A lot of this was St. Louis," McLellan said. "They gave up 165 goals [in the regular season]. In the last four years, the only team close to that was Vancouver with 185. They are stifling. They are just defensively stifling.

"When you only have four forwards on the scoresheet, odds are you're not winning."

McDonald backhanded an empty-netter after the Sharks pulled Niemi late as the Blues sealed their first playoff series victory since beating Chicago.

"We play the right way, the way we have to play to win," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And everybody is on that same page, and almost afraid to get off it. I think having to rely on each other kept the stress and pressure away.

"It’s a very unique team. There are no superstars. There’s just a bunch of guys that grew up together, they’re having fun together, and now they’re counting on each other."
(Getty Images)
David Perron (57) celebrates with the bench after scoring to give the
Blues a lead that led to a series-clinching game against San Jose.

As the Blues ended the traditional handshakes, there was not a seat left unfounded, and the team recognized it -- and appreciated it.

"There were some goosebumps. But I like goosebumps," captain David Backes said. "I hope they happen a lot more."

Added Elliott, who's become a fan favorite: "It was deafening. I've never heard anything like that. ... I couldn't even hear myself think out there."

Even Hitchcock, who's been through 1000-plus games and over 500 wins, was impressed.

"When we scored that second goal, that roof just came right off," Hitchcock said. "Then you saw joy.

"People an hour later still didn’t want to leave the building. That just shows you where this fan base is at now. I think they can now enjoy hockey rather than live in the disappointment of not getting through the first round or even making the playoffs."

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