Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

April 12, 2012, 5:26 pm
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ST. LOUIS For the first time in his coaching career, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan is preparing his team for Round 1, Game 1 away from HP Pavilion. The seventh-seeded Sharks open up in St. Louis tonight against the Blues.

Will playing at the Scottrade Center be a benefit or an inconvenience? McLellan doesnt know. But, he does feel different than in years past.

Opening up on the road is new to us, and I think its something we need to take advantage of. That may sound strange, but the pressures that go with being a one or a two team are different than the pressures of being a seven or an eight team, McLellan said. We can spin that any way we want. We can say its coaches playing mind games and all that kinds of stuff, but its real. As a coach, I feel that playoff intensity, but I feel different now than I have in some of the other series.

That might be a really good thing for our team, and it might be a bad thing. Thats why we have to play it.

Dan Boyle has experienced just about everything in his long career, and said that the Sharks need to try to turn the rabid home crowd against its team early.

Sometimes when you start at home and you dont start out the right way, the fans get on you pretty quickly, Boyle said. In this case, the pressure is kind of on them to have a good start. Hopefully we can have a good start of our own, and the fans can sort of turn on them a little bit.

When you go on the road, it would be nice to take tonight just to get an early lead on them and really put the pressure on, Joe Thornton said. Is it different? I dont know. Its playoffs, every game is so important, and its important to get a lead in games. Its strange, but it is a good thing I think.

Incidentally, the last time San Jose opened a first round series on the road was in 2007 in Nashville. The fifth-seeded Sharks beat the fourth-seeded Preds, four games to one.

The first 10: The Sharks expect a strong push from the Blues early on, and a tie score through the first half of the opening frame would be an accomplishment for the road team.

Getting a lead would be even better, as the Blues just won half of their games when surrendering the first goal of the game (15-23-7). The Sharks were 34-8-3 when taking a 1-0 lead.

It will be a good test for us. If we can get a goal early and have a little push back, thats what well look to do, Ryane Clowe said.

I think the first 10 minutes of the playoffs as whole is the hardest 10 minutes, Boyle said. Everybody is just insane, and so excited and amp'ed up. The first 10 minutes of Game 1 has been, for me, in my experience, the craziest 10 minutes of the whole playoffs, really.

In the crease: Jaroslav Halak will start for the Blues, opposing Antti Niemi.

Halak was 2-0 against the Sharks with one shutout this season, posting a 0.50 goals-against average and .977 save percentage in the process. Niemi was 0-3 with a 2.04 GAA and .923 SP in three games against the Blues this season.

Brian Elliott, who was nursing an upper-body injury, will back up Halak tonight.

Lineup look: As Ray Ratto reported, Colin White will likely be the odd man odd on the Sharks blue line, meaning Jason Demers and Justin Braun will comprise the third defense pair.

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Torrey Mitchell, who missed the season finale against the Kings, will also play. Mitchell will likely be slotted on the wing next to Dominic Moore and TJ Galiardi, while Michal Handzus will come back out of the lineup.

Clowe, who took a couple days off from practice at the beginning of the week before returning yesterday, is also good to go.

It was nice to get a couple day break, we havent had that in awhile, he said. Im gearing to go now. I feel great, ready to go, and healthy.

St. Louis, like the Sharks, is healthy.

Former Sharks give insight: The Blues' roster features a pair of former Sharks in Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins. It was reported earlier in the week that coach Ken Hitchcock had them address the Blues regarding how to play against San Jose.

Nichol elaborated a bit on that after the Blues morning skate.

I think any little tidbit will help. When I played there we had two long seasons in the Western Conference Finals, so you know how guys react in playoffs, and how they can elevate their game. And, they have, he said.

Theyve been in playoff mode for the last three weeks and they are probably one of the few teams that can turn it on and off. For sure, theyve got it on right now.

Hitchcock, himself, is also familiar with several of the Sharks top players, as he was an assistant coach on Canadas Olympic team in 2010.

I know the players in San Jose. I know a lot of them. Ive coached with and against them in very elite competition, Hitchcock said. I know what they can do and I know how well they can play. Wherever theyve been to get here, they know how to play when theyre here.

Odds and ends: The Sharks were 0-4 against the Blues in the regular season, including getting shut out twice here in St. Louis. Patrick Marleau had five points in the Sharks last four games (2g, 3a), as did Joe Pavelski (2g, 3a) and Marty Havlat (1g, 4a). David Perron scored in five of the last six games for the Blues. David Backes and TJ Oshie tied for the Blues team lead in scoring with 54 points each.