Sharks' Havlat remains a playoff rainmaker

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Sharks' Havlat remains a playoff rainmaker

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS -- Todd McLellan said he saw the old San Jose Sharks he had come to know and like in the overtime periods of Game 1 of this Western Conference quarterfinal.

They were calm. They were saying all the right things, the San Jose head coach said as he basked in the temporary warmth of the Sharks 3-2 double-overtime victory over St. Louis. Nobody was fidgeting.

With one notable exception.

I always fidget, he said.

And he fidgeted for good reasons Thursday. Despite the first true repayment on the Martin Havlat trade, despite Antti Niemis first official game theft of the postseason, despite the exemplary work of the fourth, er, third, er, DesjardinsWingelsWinnik line -- despite all these things, the Sharks were backing up just as much as they were pressing forward.

And therein lies the central truth of Game 1 of this series, which the Sharks lead, 1-0. They are playing a team that will make them look overmatched for elongated stretches, and they will have to cling on tightly to the younger and faster Blues to keep the games close enough to win.

What they have, in sum, is enough experience to keep the fidgeting to a minimum. They may still lose this series, but they wont do it by being either overwhelmed or easily defeated.

And they may win this series, but they wont do it without knowing that the Blues are good and getting better.

Look, they played good, we played good, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. I thought there were stretches where we seemed to be in pretty good command.

But command isnt enough, as anyone who has just started watching hockey on Wednesday could tell. Theres the matter of finishing, and the Sharks, well, finished.

They finished because the Blues couldnt clear their zone for the games final 40 seconds, because Logan Couture, one of the Sharks de facto veterans, hit Ryane Clowe with a tape-to-tape pass and then had the wit to pick St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, because Clowe found Havlat, who had nearly cost them the game in regulation, and Havlat did what he has done with considerable regularity in his career.

He scored an important postseason goal, beating Jaroslav Halak from 30 feet with a well-aimed slap shot and sending the alleged underdogs home one to the good. The goal was Havlats second of the game, and 15th in his last 27 playoff games.

I was just trying to do my part, Havlat said, seeking the most benign way to take credit for propelling the Sharks. It was good for me, because it was a stupid penalty that I took before, a penalty I cant take.

The penalty in question was his sluefooting of Halak behind the St. Louis net at 6:31 of the third. It was well behind the play, was thoroughly unhelpful even if he had gotten away with it, and it set up Patrik Berglunds seeming go-ahead goal.

But Havlat, who missed more than half the season, is a playoff rainmaker, and has been since 2003, when he helped get the Ottawa Senators into the Stanley Cup Final.

He is part of that experience the Sharks keep talking about as though it is the antivenom to St. Louis considerable bite. Niemi is part of that experience as well, and his 40 saves, 14 of which came in the first overtime, allowed Havlat to enjoy his evening. So was Coutures pick of Shattenkirk, a veteran ploy in a veterans game.

But there was also just enough youth, shown most clearly by Desjardins, Wingels and Winnik. They started the evening as the fourth line, had seven fewer shifts than the putative third line centered by Dominic Moore, but they played important minutes in the third period and the overtime, and it was their speed and persistence that created the game-tying goal 5:16 from last call.

In sum, the Sharks raised their game just enough, and held service just enough, to have enough of a cushion for Havlat to earn his bones, and give themselves a reason to believe that St. Louis may lose a bit of their belief. The Blues swept San Jose in the regular season, and it means zero this morning.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

DALLAS – In just two-and-a-half weeks, the Sharks will have the opportunity to defend their Western Conference title when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.

(Take a deep breath. They won’t fall out of playoff position.)

Still, it’s a terrible time for them to be playing their worst hockey of the season, and going through the foulest stretch of coach Pete DeBoer’s two-year tenure.

The Sharks were flat-out embarrassed by the Stars on Friday night in their fifth straight regulation defeat, 6-1 in Dallas, showing no signs of life for the duration. Not even a verbal tongue-lashing from their normally reserved head coach in full view of the cameras in the second period got their motors going.

How do you explain this one, Joe Pavelski?

“I don’t know, good question,” said the captain. “There’s a commitment that needs to be there to win in this league right now consistently. Right now, we’re searching for that.”

DeBoer, too, was puzzled.

“You have a handful of those a year where nothing goes right and nobody’s got any kind of legs or energy,” he said. “It was one of those nights. I don’t have an explanation for it. I felt we prepared the right way the last couple days. I thought we felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the puck dropped and everything went bad.”

It was evident early that the Sharks were off, as they couldn’t figure out a way to get the puck through the neutral zone for the first several shifts and didn’t register a shot on goal until 7:17 into the first period. The first of three Adam Cracknell goals – yes, Adam Cracknell – had them trailing 1-0 after the opening frame.

Traditionally, the Sharks would have found a way to jolt themselves to life at the intermission, as it was so plainly obvious that they didn’t seem focused or driven over the first 20 minutes.

This was a game, too, in which they were healthier, getting Jannik Hansen back in the lineup, and more rested than the Stars, who were playing their second game in as many nights while San Jose was coming off a rare two-day break. Furthermore, the Sharks have seen a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division evaporate to just two points headed into Friday’s action. Motivation should have been easy against a team that shut them out on Monday, to boot.

But the mental mistakes to start the second were even worse. Brett Ritchie was left alone by Brenden Dillon for a goal just 1:58 into the middle frame, and at 5:19, Brent Burns was caught staring at the puck off of a faceoff as Jamie Benn got free in front of the net to push the Dallas lead to 3-0. DeBoer's timeout and screaming session after that third goal did nothing, as Dallas got two more goals off of the rush and another on a breakaway by Cracknell after a gift turnover by goalie Aaron Dell before the night was through.

“That’s a month worth of mistakes in one night, so hopefully we get it out of the system,” DeBoer said.

The defensive miscues should be easily correctable, according to Dillon.

“If you look at a good chunk of those goals, we kind of know whether it was d-zone coverage, or off the rush, or just communicating with one another,” he said. “Stuff that’s not like us. I think if we watched the other 70 games this year, those kind of things don’t happen.”

Of course, the defensive errors become all the more glaring when a team isn’t scoring, either. The Sharks managed just one Joe Thornton power play goal, and have just five total goals in their last five games.

That part of their game wasn’t any better against Dallas than their defense, as Kari Lehtonen had a relatively tranquil evening.

“We have a lot of guys that are going through some tough times right now and struggling to get on the scoresheet,” Logan Couture said. “We're going to need all of those guys to bring more. That's from our top guys, including myself and on down. We need to do more offensively. Score goals, and do more defensively, as well.”

They have just eight more games to figure it all out.

“It’s not ideal, by any means,” Dillon said. “I think it’s maybe a bit of a wakeup call for us. … You can’t take a night off and you have to be emotionally invested. You’ve got to take every shift as hard as you possibly can.”

* * *

DeBoer had no update on Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who didn't play in the third period. The defenseman was seen leaving the dressing room under his own power, but looked to be walking a bit gingerly.

Instant Replay: Sharks allow six to Stars, losing streak now at five

Instant Replay: Sharks allow six to Stars, losing streak now at five

BOX SCORE

DALLAS – Entering the game with their longest regulation losing streak of the season, and playing against what should have been a tired opponent that is already out of playoff contention, the Sharks were obliterated by the Stars on Friday at American Airlines Center, 6-1.
 
From the drop of the puck, the Sharks looked like they had no interest in competing against a Dallas team that had played in Chicago on Thursday night, and had already beaten San Jose earlier in the week.

The loss stretched the Sharks’ losing streak to five, and it is the longest in more than six years when they dropped six in a row in regulation from Jan. 3-13, 2011. After enjoying a nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division on March 14, the Ducks tied San Jose in points with 91 by beating the Jets at home on Friday night.
 
Adam Cracknell, who paced the Dallas offense with a hat trick, opened the scoring with his first of three goals. He drove the puck to the net while fighting off Brenden Dillon, and Micheal Haley inadvertently kicked the loose puck through Aaron Dell at 8:30 of the first period.
 
Prior to that score, it took the Sharks more than seven minutes to register their first shot.
 
San Jose escaped down just 1-0 at the first intermission, but it quickly got worse. Brett Ritchie was left open by Dillon and whipped in a pass from Tyler Seguin at 1:58, and then Dallas’ third goal really set off coach Pete DeBoer.
 
Joe Pavelski lost a defensive zone draw, and Brent Burns inexplicably vacated the front of the net, where Jamie Benn was wide open. Benn had all kinds of time to freeze Aaron Dell and slip through his 25th goal at 5:19.
 
DeBoer called timeout at that point, and was as visibly upset at his bench as he has been in his two seasons as head coach, barking away at the stunned Sharks skaters.
 
It didn’t help. Cracknell made it 4-0 off of a rush less than two minutes after the timeout, and although Joe Thornton got one back on the power play, the Stars scored two more times in the third period. 
 
Dell misplayed a puck on a Sharks power play, sliding it right to Cracknell for a breakaway in which he finished off a hat trick at 4:59. Just 21 seconds later, John Klingberg converted a two-on-one with Jason Spezza – who had three assists on the night – to make it a 6-1 Dallas lead.
 
The five-game winless streak is their worst since they went 0-6-1 from Dec. 1-12 last season.
 
San Jose has just five goals in its last five games.
 
The Sharks had Jannik Hansen back for the game, after the recent addition had missed the last two games with a head injury. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, though, was not able to finish the game, for reasons that were not immediately clear.
 
Special teams 
 
Thornton’s goal was his first on the power play all season, as the Sharks went 1-for-2. Dallas was 0-for-2.
 
Cracknell’s shorthanded goal was the fourth the Sharks have allowed this season.
 
In goal
 
Dell suffered his worst game of the season, and his NHL career, allowing six goals on 29 shots. He played all three games against Dallas, stopping 48 of 50 shots in the first two.
 
Kari Lehtonen, who shut out the Sharks with 30 saves on Monday in a 1-0 win, made 20 saves on Friday. He has played in 10 straight games.
 
Lineup
 
Timo Meier came out of the lineup for Hansen, while Danny O’Regan was reassigned to the Barracuda earlier in the day.
 
Burns snapped out of his seven-game scoreless streak with an assist on Thornton’s goal, but still has no goals in his last 15 games.
 
Dallas’ Tyler Seguin was skating in his 500th career NHL game.
 
Up next
 
The Sharks conclude their road trip Saturday in Nashville, their only appearance there in the regular season. In the first two games of the season series in San Jose, the Sharks won on Oct. 29, 4-1, but dropped a 3-1 decision on March 11.