SAN JOSE, Calif. – If the Sharks’ big guns don’t start scoring soon, San Jose might have a quick stay in the Stanley Cup playoffs after making it to the Western Conference finals for two straight years.
The St. Louis Blues have throttled the top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.
The high-powered trio that combined for 79 goals in the regular season has none this series or in four regular-season games against the Blues. Logan Couture, one of San Jose’s three 30-goal scorers along with Marleau and Pavelski, got his first in seven games this season against St. Louis with 17 seconds remaining in a 4-3 loss in Game 3. But it was too late to make a difference.
“We’re getting the chances. We just have to stick with it and keep going,” Marleau said Tuesday. “There’s tweaks here and there that we do between games and during games. It’s up to us to go out there and execute that and make sure we get the job done.”
The top players have not been doing that. Thornton did chip in three assists in the loss on Monday night, but two came in the final 3:02 when the game had essentially been decided.
The Sharks have been held to six goals this series, with only Couture’s coming from the team’s top five scorers in the regular season.
San Jose has struggled even to set up in the offensive zone against a tenacious St. Louis defence and has not generated enough quality scoring chances against either Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott.
“It’s a team where you’re not getting a whole lot against them regardless,” Pavelski said. “When we get our chances we’ve got to find ways to score. We’ve been close, but we have to find ways to get the lead early. When we have had the lead it’s a different game.”
The Blues have done a good job all season limiting scoring chances, setting an NHL record by allowing 155 goals in an 82-game season. It hasn’t mattered whether Halak or Elliott has been in net as both players have been sharp against the Sharks.
That was also the case in the regular season when St. Louis swept all four games, getting shutouts from each goalie.
“We all know what kind of team they are,” defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo said. “They have guys who are known for playing at this time of year and a team that’s built for this time of year. They have some skilled weapons who have scored some big goals for them. We’re aware of that.
“Obviously, we want to make it as tough as we can on them, keep them on the other side and limit their shots and scoring chances. For the most part we’ve been able to do that.”
With two days off before Game 4 on Thursday in San Jose, both teams took it easy on Tuesday. The Blues cancelled practice, giving the players a day off the ice.
“They felt like getting away would re-energize everybody,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “At this time of the year you’re in a partnership with the players. After talking to them after the game we agree with them and took a break.”
Halak, who missed Game 3 because of an undisclosed lower body injury, got on the ice to test his injury but won’t play on Thursday.
The Sharks held meetings and an optional skate that most of the top-line players chose to skip.
“We can do some things in all areas of our game to get better,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “We can look at the line combinations, the potential lineup changes. There’s a lot of things we can do. It’s 2-1. We’ve been here many times. We’ve conducted ourselves appropriately and come back and won series.
“The way you asked that question, it’s like we’re out of it. We’re not. We’re in a spot where we can win a game and keep going.”
The situation the Sharks face is somewhat similar to the predicament they found themselves in two years ago when they fell behind 2-1 in the first round to Colorado, with the top line failing to score, before rallying to win the final three games.
The biggest difference from that series is that the Sharks were the better team early in the series against the Avalanche but fell behind because of a few bad bounces. The Blues have mostly controlled the first three games, trailing for less than 15 of the more than 203 minutes in the series.
“There’s no right or wrong way to win a series,” Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said. “There’s going to be times you get behind. There’s teams that have gotten behind early in the series and won Stanley Cups. Look at Boston last year, they were down 2-0 (to Montreal and Vancouver). It’s game by game. If we win the next game they probably will be asking St. Louis questions about what they need to fix. That’s just how it goes.”
The Blues have little experience to draw on at this time of year. Before winning Game 2, they had not won a playoff game since 2004. The Game 3 win was their first on the road in the post-season in nine years.
With each win, the Blues are looking more and more like a seasoned playoff team that has the ability to make a deep run.
“The win in St. Louis eased the burden on everybody,” Hitchcock said. “I think there’s a level of confidence starting to grow.”