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Monday, April 16, 2012

Blues and Sharks Knotted at One Game Apiece; Head to San Jose

Posted By on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 2:42 PM

The Blues will be in San Jose tonight, continuing their first round playoff series against the Sharks, with the series tied up at one game apiece. The first game took over 80 minutes to be decided, finally ending in the second overtime period when the Sharks snuck a goal past Jaroslav Halak to steal the scrum at the Scottrade Center. Game two went much more to script for the Blues, as they shut the Sharks out 3-0 behind a brilliant combined effort from Halak and Brian Elliott, who was forced into the game when Barret Jackman plowed into Jaro outside the crease in the second period. 

There has to be some mixed emotions for Ken Hitchcock's club, splitting the first two games. On one hand, they thoroughly outplayed the Sharks for most of the games here in St. Louis, and really should have come away with a 2-0 series lead. On the other hand, they don't have that 2-0 series lead, and are in for even more of a dogfight heading out west than it has already been. I'm half expecting Michael Vick to show up in the stands. (Are Michael Vick jokes still relevant? It seems like everyone has kind of agreed to just pretend he never killed a bunch of dogs. Kind of weird.) 

Adding to the drama will be the battle royale that followed the final whistle Saturday night, when Roman Polak kicked the everloving crap out of Justin Braun and both teams decided they just didn't much care for the other side, don't you know. 

Oh, and speaking of that fight, I'm still a little pissed nobody kicked Doug Murray's ass. That guy could use a beating. Seriously. Somebody make it happen. 

In the first game, the Blues outplayed the Sharks for all but about five minutes of the game, but just couldn't seem to get much done against Antti Niemi. Losing in overtime in a game you so thoroughly controlled for most of the way can take the wind out of a team's sails in a hurry; luckily that doesn't look to have happened to the Blues so far. 

Game one did serve as a coming out party of sorts -- or, at least, what I hope will prove to be a coming out party -- for Patrik Berglund. He scored both of the Blues' goals in the game and played big. Like really big. Like his actual size big. Maybe being on the same ice as Joe Thornton and seeing what Jumbo Joe does with his physical presence even at his age inspired Berglund. Maybe it's just playoff hockey, and the rousing effect it seems to have on certain guys. Or, maybe Berglund is still just 23 years old and all the Blues fans who hate the guy for playing too soft should give him a little more time to turn into whatever he's going to be. (I'm including myself in that group, by the way, so don't get all pissy if you think I'm talking about you.) 

That level of play continued in game two for Berglund, who despite failing to tally a point in the contest led what was easily the most effective line for the Blues, pressuring the Sharks to an extent none of the other lines even came close to. I'm beginning to think -- or maybe just hoping -- that this series really does represent that sort of light switch moment for Berglund, and we're going to see him start fully tapping into his talent and potential from this point forward. Then again, it wouldn't be the first time Berglund has tantalized us with a flash of brilliance. 

Overall, San Jose actually played the Blues much more evenly in game two, despite the less-competitive score. Jaro stonewalled the Sharks early on, and then the defense clamped down as a whole once Brian Elliott was forced in, largely managing to protect Elliott from having to make too very many high-level saves. The first period of game two was the best of the series for the Sharks, and I was frankly worried as hell at the end of that period. Blues already down 1-0 in the series, outplayed early in the second game; if not for an own-goal things would have been dead even. 

From the opening of the second period on, though, the Blues actually played their game, and San Jose could never climb back into it. The Sharks did make a furious, if brief, push in the third period -- and you have to give them some credit for that; it was an intense game and they dug deep -- but even then the Note largely kept the Sharks from putting together many real scoring chances. 

Going out west, now, the Blues really need to win game three tonight. Obviously it isn't a must-win, by any means; the only must-win games are the games you have to go home after if you lose. Even so, the Sharks have home ice advantage now thanks to stealing a game in St. Louis, and giving them another series lead with two games left to play in San Jose would be a very, very bad thing. 

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