Thunder and lightening ripped through Northern California just about the time Double Overtime began in this incredible battle of wills and determination Thursday night.
This was no ordinary hockey match. But when are the Playoffs ever ordinary? Those who tried to say that the Sharks would fall easily because St Louis beat them in 4 out of 4 games during regular season play know nothing of how, within the Sharks, the post-season bouts turn even seemingly sub-par players into good ones and regular linemen into supermen.
Martin Havlat, who was acquired last season by the Sharks for Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild last year, counting last night’s game, at 2 goals, already scored as many as Heatley did all post-season in 2010-2011 (Heatley scored twice.). He was last night’s hero, scoring the final and winning goal in Double Overtime.
The first five minutes would determine how the whole game would play out. San Jose kept up with the Blues. On paper, St Louis is superior in many aspects. Their defense is tougher, goalies more successful. They have a better winning record; everything says that they will easily take the series. But the written word never takes the human element into consideration. And that is where the Sharks shined last night.
Extra defensive and penalty kill practice helped the Sharks maintain a good match-up to the Blues, who are better at both. The Sharks played through penalty kills when it was vital which saved the game. Antti Niemi as well was nearly perfect in the crease. His 40 saves showed he can do it when the team needs him.
San Jose didn’t panic; they kept up the pace, kept up the heavy hits and stayed in line with the Blues for much of the game. Defense stayed in front of Niemi for a majority of the time, helping him fend off the Blues’ slapshots. Good blocking by Brent Burns and Douglas Murray saved a couple very close goals. The gunslinger offense was ready; all four lines were in action. . Each member helped and made a difference.
But it wasn’t all positives. San Jose was sloppy in their puck coverage through much of the ice time. It seemed the Blues were everywhere the puck was, but the Sharks were…where were they? The Sharks defense was better than is has been but it needs to be even better if the Blues tighten theirs up more as I expect them to for the second game. The St Louis organization is a machine, it will play like one and it will run over a lesser team if that team is not as strong. Thursday, the Sharks had just enough to win with their defense, but barely.
Niemi was spectacular…let me repeat…spectacular with saves. Rebounds, however, were another story. There were lots of them and our goaltender lucked out that none were returned for quickie goals.
In many ways it was a typical Blues’ game, methodical, not many penalties, driving and defense-oriented. Jaroslav Halak was the St Louis goalie and had 31 saves for the game. He was, as he always is, very good.
There were also ample opportunities to score and for whatever reasons, bad aim, not quick enough thinking, not fast enough skating, (insert excuse here), the empty net could not be capitalized on. TJ Galiardi seemed to be most venerable at this.
No goals in the 1st Period, but in the 2nd Period, David Perron got a slashing call and Havlat scored with a Dan Boyle assist on the power play. They are second in the league and know very well how to take advantage of it. The game was then 1-0 Sharks.
Patrik Berglund of St Louis came back in the 3rd with two huge goals to make it 2-1 Blues, the second gold off a penalty Havlat gets. But the Sharks battled back strong, Tommy Wingels assists to Andrew Desjardins who scores to tie it at the end of the 3rd making it 2-2.
The 1st OT, yes there was more than one, was the worst period for the Sharks. St Louis dominated nearly the entire period. Fortunately, Niemi was on and able to block every shot. San Jose attempted some shots and started taking more shots towards the end of the period.
Every player on both teams was completely exhausted by Double Overtime. How much longer could the teams go on? As long as it took. As tired and the teams were, the Sharks reached a little more and at 3:34 into the period, Havlat, with the help of Logan Couture’s pass, whipped a nice shot into the net past Halak.
Second game is Saturday April 14, 2012, 7:30 Eastern Time.
- Martha Hughes (4/13/12)