Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

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.

NEWS: Lineup tweaks for Sharks

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.

Sharks 'competed our asses off' in rewarding win over Kings

Sharks 'competed our asses off' in rewarding win over Kings

LOS ANGELES – It’s only mid-January, but the Sharks have already concluded the five-game season series with their biggest rival. That could be a good thing, as Sharks-Kings games are rarely for the faint of heart. 

“I’m glad to be done with them. If we don’t see them again, I’ll be alright with that,” Pete DeBoer quipped.

On the other hand, Wednesday’s latest and final head-to-head matchup resulted in perhaps the Sharks’ most rewarding win of the season, 3-2 at Staples Center. 

San Jose got contributions from up and down its lineup. Despite being without several key players (including Logan Couture, who missed the game due to illness), the Sharks worked hard and smart all over the ice and put some distance between themselves and Los Angeles, which is fighting to remain in playoff position.

“It was a good feeling in this [dressing] room when we came in here [after the game],” said Joe Pavelski, who scored one of the Sharks’ three goals. “Just felt like you put a complete effort out there.”

DeBoer said: “A little bit of a thin lineup, and I thought we competed our asses off. Played hard. This isn’t an easy building to win in. They play a physical game. We stood in there, and I thought played a real complete game.”

Special teams was key, as the Sharks got a power play goal from Pavelski and held the Kings to no goals and just one power play shot on four chances. Martin Jones was his typical solid self, even throwing in a highlight reel save on Dwight King in the third period to preserve the one-goal. Brent Burns continued to dominate, getting yet another goal in the first period (his 19th), and Joe Thornton notched a pair of assists.

And, the fourth line got in on the action, too. Micheal Haley was one of the team’s best forwards of the evening, beautifully setting up Tommy Wingels on a two-on-one, who gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish with less than five minutes to go in the first period.

“Just tried to make an early pass so [Wingels] had enough time to have a good look, and he made a great shot,” Haley said.

DeBoer said: “Big goal from those guys.”

Defensively, Los Angeles was held to just 24 shots, as the Sharks kept the Kings’ stars at bay. That includes Jeff Carter, who was the best player on the ice in the most recent meeting on Jan. 3, and has been far and away Los Angeles’ most valuable player this season.

“He’s a world class player and he’s having a world class season,” DeBoer said of Carter. “He’s dangerous every time he’s on the ice.”

The Sharks played a committed and detailed game in their own end, though, not giving Carter or anyone else much room to operate in their offensive zone. Los Angeles’ scoring chances were few and far between.

Last week, the Sharks failed to put some distance between themselves and another division rival nipping on their heels, the Flames. They didn’t want that to happen again with the Kings, who could have pulled to within four points of San Jose with a regulation win.

Instead, the Kings are now eight points back of San Jose after losing three of the five meetings. And they don’t have any more of those four-point games left on the schedule.

“You always want to win a season series,” Pavelski said. “It was just important because I think we all know it was pretty tight in the standings. It goes [to] four or eight [points], you know?”

Haley said: “We want to make that distance farther and farther. They’re always in the back of our head.”

Instant Replay: Complete effort helps Sharks take down rival Kings

Instant Replay: Complete effort helps Sharks take down rival Kings

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES – Brent Burns, Tommy Wingels and Joe Pavelski scored goals, and a brilliant performance by the penalty killers keyed a Sharks win over the Kings on Wednesday at Staples Center, 3-2.

The Sharks finished the season 3-1-1 against the Kings, and have won four of their last six overall (4-2-0). Los Angeles concluded a seven-game homestand with a 3-4-0 mark, dropping eight points behind San Jose in the Pacific Division.

After trading early scores, San Jose scored twice to jump out to a 3-1 lead.

Wingels gave the Sharks their second lead of the night at 15:42 of the first period, burying a Micheal Haley pass on a two-on-one rush.

Then, on a second period power play, Joel Ward redirected a Joe Thornton shot wide, but Pavelski grabbed it off of the end boards and bounced it in off of Peter Budaj at the 10-minute mark.

Los Angeles got one back at 15:19. Kyle Clifford stepped out of the penalty box making it a three-on-two, and after Martin Jones stopped Clifford try from the slot, the puck squirted to Marian Gaborik who easily directed it into the open net.

The Kings’ nearly tied it with about 14:20 to go, but Jones made a brilliant stop on Dwight King’s rebound try, lunging at the shot with his right pad.

Los Angeles failed on four power play chances, getting just one shot in nearly eight minutes.

The Sharks were without Logan Couture for the first time this season. According to coach Pete DeBoer, Couture remained in San Jose due to an illness. Patrick Marleau centered the second line, while Melker Karlsson took Marleau’s place on the Thornton-Pavelski line.

The teams traded first period goals. Burns’ wrister from high in the zone deflected off of Anze Kopitar’s stick and high over Budaj at 3:31, but Los Angeles responded on Tanner Pearson’s redirection of Derek Forbort’s floater at 5:46.

According to Elias, Burns is the first defenseman to have at least 19 goals through the first 45 games of the season since Paul Coffey had 22 in 1985-86.

Thornton notched two assists, moving into 24th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with 1,370 points, passing Johnny Bucyk.

Special teams

In a game that featured an abundance of questionable calls, the Sharks went 1-for-4 while remaining perfect on the PK. San Jose has one power play goal in three of its last four games (3-for-13).

The Kings had one power play goal in each of the first four head-to-head meetings before Wednesday.

In goal

Jones improved to 6-2-2 against his former team, making 22 stops. He was starting for the eighth time in the last nine.

Budaj allowed three goals on 27 shots. He continues to get the bulk of the work with Jonathan Quick still out from a groin injury suffered on opening night in San Jose.

Lineup

In Couture’s place, Ryan Carpenter played for the first time since Nov. 30, when he scored his first NHL goal at Staples Center. Barclay Goodrow and Tim Heed, recalled on Tuesday, were scratched.

Kopitar played for the Kings after missing Monday’s game with an illness.

Up next

The Sharks will battle the Lightning at home in the second of two meetings on Thursday. On Nov. 12, San Jose beat Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena, 3-1. In the second of back-to-backs, the Sharks are 4-3-0 this season.