ST. LOUIS One of goaltender Antti Niemis trademarks is that the more action he gets, the stronger he becomes.
That may be true not just in terms starting consecutive games. Niemi got better as Game 1 of the Sharks playoff series against the Blues progressed, culminating with a dominant and game-saving 14 stops in the first overtime that allowed his team to win it in the second extra session.
Niemi, who ended with 40 saves on 42 shots, improved to 8-2 all-time in the playoffs in overtime.
Nemo was great, especially in that first overtime, Dan Boyle said. That was our worst period. He came up with some big saves.
Niemi couldnt be faulted on either of the Blues third period goals, both by Patrik Berglund. The Blues winger tipped a Kevin Shattenkirk shot in the first minute tying the game, and then gave his team the lead when he was left wide open in the slot on an odd-man power play rush.
In fact, Niemi looked like he battled some playoff jitters early in the game, when he struggled with his rebound control in the first seven or eight minutes. Fortunately, the group in front of him cleared the puck from dangerous areas of the ice and it remained 0-0 at the first intermission.
I felt good all the way, and a couple goals in the third I wanted to get back, but I felt good overall, Niemi said.
Second line steps up: The Sharks couldnt keep playing the second overtime the way they had in the first. Ryane Clowe knew it, and so did his linemates, Logan Couture and Marty Havlat.
So, they decided to do something about it.
I think it was pretty obvious we knew what had to be done. It wasnt like anyone was leading the charge. We needed a line to step up, Clowe said. All the guys kind of took it upon themselves after the first overtime.
Just a conversation about how we can defend for another overtime if we want, or we can go play a little bit, play some offense and test this goalie a bit more. Luckily, we ended it quick.
It ended, of course, with Havlats one timer, with assists from Clowe and Couture.
We didnt have a good first overtime, and as a line we didnt, Couture said. We wanted to be better, and its just nice Marty was able to get that one.
Rookies produce key goal: The Sharks fourth line once again became their third line before Game 1 was complete.
The scoresheet shows that Andrew Desjardins, Tommy Wingels and Daniel Winnik saw less ice time than the Dominic Moore-Torrey Mitchell-TJ Galiardi trio, but after getting the game-tying goal in the third period, their playing time gradually increased.
For a team that boasts so much playoff experience, it was a couple of guys with a combined three postseason games coming in (all by Desjardins) that teamed up to tie the game late in the third when Wingels set up his centerman in the slot at 14:44.
It was Desjardins second career playoff goal.
We can talk about the goal, but the 13 or 14 minutes that they played for us was very valuable, McLellan said. Played hard, played smart, Desi was very good in the faceoff circle. Tommy got some power play time, and played an important role on that line.
When you get those two young guys playing together and a veteran like Daniel Winnik, you have a fourth line, or a third line, that you can trust whatever they might be.
Desjardins won six of his seven faceoffs.
The Sharks were able to roll four lines for the duration.
The reward was in the fourth or fifth period. It wasnt necessarily in the second or third period. It was in the fifth period, McLellan said. We did try to get those four lines rolling, and I think it will be an important facet moving forward in this series.