The St. Louis Blues took down the San Jose Sharks on Monday night in the third game of the 2012 playoffs, defeating their Western Conference rival 4-3. The Sharks scored two goals in the final 4:58 of regulation but came up just short, as the Blues won their first road playoff game in their last nine attempts and regained home-ice advantage in the opening-round series.
After San Jose won a rousing Game 1 in the second overtime frame last week, it seemed as if they had the talent necessary to orchestrate an upset over St. Louis—arguably the best team in the NHL. While there still remains an opportunity for the Sharks to overthrow the vaunted Blues, their outlook appears far more bleak than it did a short time ago.
With the series now tilted 2-1 in St. Louis' favor, Game 4 has become a must-win for San Jose. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at some of the key points from Monday's contest:
Balanced scoring aiding St. Louis
The Blues are a team that lacks a superstar forward, and receiving offensive production from many different players is vital to their success. If Game 3 was any indication, St. Louis has the depth required to make the absence of a high-profile player nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
Four different Blues found twine on Monday, while Andy McDonald and Carlo Colaiacovo each racked up three points.
Patrik Berglund rising to the occasion
In addition to their spread-out attack, St. Louis has seen Patrik Berglund evolve into a highly productive center in the quarterfinal round. After potting just 19 goals in the regular season, Berglund has lit the lamp three times in the playoffs, including the opening goal on Monday.
With many capable role players in tow and a breakout candidate in Berglund, the Blues' offense—which was average at best in the regular season—should be just fine.
Brian Elliott continues to be stellar
Having a strong backup goaltender is often an important asset in the NHL, and it's hard to ask for a better Plan B (or "Plan 1A" as Hitchcock likes to say) than Elliott. After leading the league in goals-against average, the Ontario native has seen his regular season success spill over to the first round of the playoffs, giving the Blues the netminding they require to succeed moving forward.
Elliott, 27, has won his first two postseason contests this spring, allowing just three goals thus far. At this point, it seems as if Hitchcock will run with Elliott between the pipes until he's given a reason to put Halak back in.
Blues' power-play stepping up
When Hitchcock took over St. Louis, they were last in the league in power-play percentage, converting only 7.5 percent of their opportunities on the man advantage. The PP system the Blues ran on Monday, however, was a far cry from the one they displayed in the early portion of 2011-12. They were energetic, focused and consistently skated circles around San Jose.
After scoring in only two of their first nine chances on the power play in this series, the Blues went 3-for-4 on the man advantage on Monday, propelling them to victory.
Niemi wasn't good enough for San Jose
If it wasn't clear before, it is now apparent that Antti Niemi isn't talented enough to put an entire team on his back during the postseason. While the 2010 Stanley Cup champion stole Game 1 for the Sharks, he cannot be expected to string together similar performances over the span of a best-of-seven series.
The Finnish netminder stopped just 23 of 27 shots on goal on Monday and has gotten progressively worse since the playoffs began.
Sharks' poor penalty kill has become their Achilles' heel
The Sharks had the second-worst penalty kill during the regular season, and their dismal shorthanded play continued in Game 3.
San Jose surrendered three power-play goals on Monday, the third proving to be the game-winner. Had the Sharks been able to contain the relatively pedestrian St. Louis power play, they would have had the strong chance to emerge victorious.
To put the Sharks' penalty killing woes in perspective, no team has made the playoffs with a worse PK since the Rangers pulled it off in 1997. If Todd McLellan's team is to have any shot at contending for the Cup, this deficiency must be corrected.
Joe Thornton didn't disappoint
Despite being vehemently criticized for his inadequate postseason production, Thornton was the Sharks' best player on Monday, collecting three assists in 19:28 of ice time. While he has yet to score a goal during this year's playoffs, the former Boston Bruin distributed the puck with ease through the Blues' stingy defense, helping his team get on the board early and remain competitive in the waning minutes of the game.
His last two helpers came just 2:45 apart in the third period.
Resiliency a positive for San Jose
The Sharks may have been conspicuously outplayed throughout the majority of the game, but they deserve credit for never giving up. Down three goals with less than four minutes remaining in the third period, San Jose notched two goals in the closing moments of regulation and created a quality scoring chance in the final seconds.
Had the Sharks laid down and fallen 4-1, it would have given the Blues even more momentum heading into Wednesday. While San Jose's odds are still bleak, their ability to fight tooth and nail until the final buzzer bodes well for them as the series progresses.
Andrew Hirsh is a credentialed NHL writer and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewhirsh
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