Outplayed for nearly the entirety of the four periods leading up to the second overtime, the San Jose Sharks managed to steal a win in St. Louis, winning 3-2 on a Martin Havlat game-winning slap-shot Thursday night.
The Sharks shook off a first overtime period in which they were aggressively outmatched by the Blues, who controlled the puck throughout the third period, as well as the first overtime period. St. Louis out-shot the Sharks 14-6 during that time, but were not able to find the back of the net.
However, the Sharks turned a game which seemed like they would inevitably lose into a win against a team that lost at home only six times in regulation during the regular season.
Here are five things we learned about the series heading into Game 2.
A defensive-minded Blues team going up against a Sharks team that has been inconsistent in several aspects of their games all season seemed to be clearly favorable for St. Louis.
The great equalizer—experience.
The Sharks used their knowledge of the playoffs to be patient and wait for opportunities in the final periods of the game. However, the Blues seemed to panic at the fact they could not put the puck past goalie Antti Niemi. St. Louis has not been to the playoffs in several years, and it showed in their inability to close the game when they should have.
We all knew the Blues were this good defensively, as they do have the No. 1 ranked defense in the NHL. But they seemed to use their defense to fuel their offense repeatedly on Thursday night, and that has made them one scary team heading forward.
Throughout the third and first overtime periods, the Blues controlled the puck in the Sharks' zone. For most of those periods, San Jose was not able to get the puck past the neutral zone, which only added to the Blues' chances of getting their own pucks to the net and finishing the game off.
Although St. Louis was not able to get the win, they were able to make a statement to the Sharks that they can control the flow of the game whenever they choose to. Yes, their defense is that good. It fuels their forecheck and contributes to adding energy to their offense, a part of St. Louis' game that got a wake-up call on Thursday night.
For the most part, the Sharks' penalty kill looked great against the Blues, as compared to what we had seen earlier this season. The first penalty kill of Game 1 for the Sharks saw the team not allow a single noticeable shot on net in the two minutes.
However, if they are to succeed against the Blues, that part of their game will need to be consistent enough to rely upon.
The Blues went one for three on the power play on Thursday night, but it showed that the San Jose penalty kill continues to be a weakness the Blues can feed on.
If there is one thing we found out in Thursday night's game, it is that this will be as gritty and low-scoring a series as you will find in any of these first-round matchups.
The Blues' defense controls the pace of play, and the pace of play is hard-nosed with not many daunting shots thrown at the nets.
It will be a battle of goaltenders and the defense in front, when it really comes down to it. Both goalies seemed to be up to the challenge on Thursday, and we can expect many of the same sort of games to ensue in this series.
From what we saw on Thursday night, the Blues' defense is as good as advertised. So when the Sharks get opportunities to put shots on net, they better make them count.
San Jose managed just 23 shots on net through the first three periods on Thursday—definitely not the style of hockey they are accustomed to playing. They only tacked on 11 more in the two overtime periods combined.
The Sharks were able to come through on one of their power play opportunities, but seemed out of rhythm on the other two. It would appear to be a growing concern for the team heading forward.
If the Sharks can take advantage of St. Louis penalties and put pucks in the Blues' net while having the main advantage, then we should see San Jose be able to pull the upset in this series. However, if they let the Blues' defense continually bully them both on special teams and full strength, then the Sharks will have a big hill to climb in this series.
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