Sharks-Blues Preview

No team in the playoffs is deeper at goalie than the St. Louis

Blues. It’s a big reason they are one win away from their first

playoff series triumph in a decade.

Brian Elliott is more of a 1A than Jaroslav Halak’s backup.

Elliott led the NHL with a 1.56 goals-against average, including

nine shutouts. He’s been carrying the load since Halak was

sidelined by a lower-body injury early in their first-round series

against the San Jose Sharks.

Elliott, who wasn’t assured of a job in training camp, was just

1:07 shy of a shutout in Game 4. The 2-1 victory gave St. Louis a

3-1 series lead coming back home for Game 5 on Saturday night. He

was far from satisfied after allowing Joe Thornton’s late goal

Thursday night.

”That makes me mad, spitting a rebound out like that late in

the game,” Elliott said. ”Luckily we scored two and they only had

one.”

Luck has had little to do with the series so far. The Blues

swept the Sharks in the regular season, with Elliott and Halak each

posting a shutout, and San Jose has scored only seven goals thus

far.

The Blues can wrap it up in Game 5 on Saturday night in St.

Louis, almost certainly with Elliott in goal given Halak was

wearing a walking boot prior to Game 4. They were the NHL’s best

team at home during the regular season with franchise-record 30

victories and just six regulation losses.

After dropping Game 1 at home in double-overtime, they silenced

the Shark Tank with a pair of victories.

”They’re not going quietly,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. ”We

recognize how close these games are and how hard the next one’s

going to be. But this is a new experience for us. I think dealing

with the pressure of winning and closing a team out, we’re going to

have to work through it.”

Teams holding a 3-1 lead have won 228 of 252 NHL series,

according to Stats LLC, although the underdogs have prevailed more

frequently in recent years. The list of 24 teams that have scaled

that mountain includes the Lightning last year over the Penguins,

the Flyers over the Bruins and Canadiens over Capitals in 2010.

Defenseman Barret Jackman is the lone holdover from the Blues’

2003 team that blew a 3-1 lead against Vancouver in the first

round.

Obviously, there’s more pressure on the Sharks, who made it to

the Western Conference final the last two seasons. They can’t worry

about the hole they’re in, just concentrate on Game 5.

Coach Todd McLellan liked most everything about Game 4 except

the score.

”I think there’s going to be a team that comes back from 3-1

down in this playoff series and there are a number of us at it and

it may as well be us,” McLellan said. ”Let’s go there and play

and see what happens. I think if we get this kind of effort again

and this type of game we have a chance of coming out ahead.”

The Blues’ last playoff win was over the Blackhawks in the first

round in 2002, but they’ve hardly looked like postseason neophytes,

standing up to the Sharks’ physical tactics early in the series and

playing with the lead with scoring coming from everywhere. The

speedy Andy McDonald has been a standout with three goals and four

assists, but checking forward B.J. Crombeen, who scored the first

goal in Game 4, had only one in the regular season.

The Blues have been disciplined, too, waiting for the Sharks to

slip up and covering for their own mistakes with airtight penalty

killing. They’ve held the Sharks’ power play to 2 for 15 and are a

decisive 6 for 16 with the man advantage in the series.

Yet to fully surface for the Sharks is the playoff-tested team

that closed fast in the regular season to earn the seventh seed in

the Western Conference. After taking Game 1, San Jose had won 46

playoff games since the Blues beat them once in a five-game series

in 2004.

Goalie Antti Niemi won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010

and has played well enough with a .912 save percentage. Joe

Thornton and Logan Couture each has a goal and three assists, but

Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski are scoreless.

”They have to find a way to get on the score sheet, and they’ve

got a game to do that,” McLellan said Friday. ”For us to have

success, our go-to players have to find a way.”

The Sharks won a couple of must games last year in the playoffs.

If they can take Game 5, some of the pressure shifts to the

Blues.

”I don’t think anybody believes we’re going to do it, which is

fine,” forward Dan Boyle said. ”It’s going to be a tough task. We

all know that. It’s going to be a very difficult task, but it can

be done. It’s not impossible.”