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.