NHL Playoffs 2012: Martin Havlat Is X-Factor in Sharks' Opening Win over Blues

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NHL Playoffs 2012: Martin Havlat Is X-Factor in Sharks' Opening Win over Blues
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Martin Havlat was the true No. 1 star of the Sharks' series-opening win over the Blues.

The San Jose Sharks have been a different team with Martin Havlat in the lineup. Though he had an unspectacular 27 points in 39 games, the Sharks earned 53 points in them (.679 point percentage) while going 18-18-7 without him.

Not surprisingly, he was in the lineup for most of the team's three 15-game streaks. He sparked the first one (12-2-1) in his first game of the season. He was part of the first four games (2-0-2) of the next one, and he returned for the last 13 (9-4-0) one that ended the regular season.

Havlat got into only one game against the St. Louis Blues during the season. They looked dominant against the Sharks, winning all four games by a combined 11-3 score and shutting out San Jose in both trips to St. Louis.

But the reality is the games were close. The only margin beyond two goals was because of an empty-netter, and another gave a second game a two-goal margin. Those games were won thanks to the Blues outscoring the Sharks power play 5-0, with two scores five-on-three.

In a series with so many factors weighing in on both sides, Havlat looked like the guy who tipped the balance to San Jose in Thursday night's series opener. He scored the first goal just before the midpoint of the game.

San Jose's power play cashed in on its first opportunity. Dan Boyle took a Ryane Clowe feed and fired it off Havlat, giving the trio the first of their two assists or goals each. The Sharks would make it stand through the end of the second period despite giving up more shots (28-23).

But everything changed quickly in the third: Patrick Berglund scored his first career NHL playoff goal less than a minute in to tie the game. Havlat took a tripping penalty just over five minutes later, and Berglund put the Blues ahead 2-1.

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In the final six minutes, Tommy Wingels used his speed to push the play deep, then swung the puck into the slot from behind the goal line. Andrew Desjardins got to the puck and one-timed it home to tie the game.

The first overtime period went back to the style of the opening 20 minutes, with the majority of chances going the Blues' way. They out-shot the Sharks by the same ratio (7-4) but at double the volume (14-8).

Yet Antti Niemi was up to the task.

By the second overtime, San Jose was able to break the St. Louis trap and got three shots in the first three-plus minutes. The third was an off-balance shot by Havlat from the high slot that beat Jaroslav Halak and the Blues for the 3-2 win.

Both teams were 1-for-3 on the power play, but the Blues won most of the other stats: 42-34 in shots, 78-67 in attempts, 21-19 in blocks, 45-42 in faceoffs, 31-26 in hits and 2-3 in giveaways while both teams had seven takeaways.

But Niemi won the goalie duel, and the great play of Havlat, who also had a hit and three blocked shots, was more than St. Louis could handle. If they do not figure out how to counter that line Saturday, this inexperienced team that so prides itself on defending home ice may find itself down two games heading on the road.

Then again, the Sharks have been known to get complacent in these situations. Considering their play in this one, St. Louis should be okay with earning just a split.

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