It’s hard to believe that a large quantity of American sports fans can’t or won’t get interested in the sport of hockey. The opening game of the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks first round series was drama at its finest.
There were goals at even strength, goals on the power play and a goal in overtime. There were goalies making save after save. Near misses were cleared out of harm’s way just in the nick of time.
If NHL playoff overtime doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat, what will? It has the speed, physicality, intensity and drama of an NFL game but on severe fast-forward.
Instead of it taking 10 minutes for each team to get a scoring chance, it takes 10 seconds in hockey. To quote the popular hockey movie D3 Mighty Ducks, “How long does it take to score a goal? Less than a second!”
The drama in St. Louis for game one finally came to a conclusion at the 3:34 mark of the second overtime period when first year Shark Martin Havlat one timed home a wobbly puck on a feed from Logan Couture. The goal, Havlat’s second on the night, came from well out but the Sharks winger got plenty on the shot as the puck whizzed by Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak.
With the win the Sharks will now take back home ice advantage in the series back with them to San Jose for game three no matter the outcome of Saturday’s game two.
While Havlat was the final hero of the night, his first of the evening was also an important tally. In fact, it was the “all important” first goal of the game.
Touched on it in my preview piece for the series, but teams who score first win games at an unusually high rate.
And while San Jose’s lead would last less than a period, it still got them off to a comfortable start, a notion that can’t be denied. Playing with the lead in hockey is much more beneficial than other sports because it allows teams to dictate the flow.
Havlat’s first tally came on the power-play mid-way through the second period. Dan Boyle waited patiently in the high slot before firing a wrist shot that Havlat was able to redirect past Halak.
San Jose would carry that lead into the third period where it quickly evaporated. Blues forward Patrik Berglund would beat Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the front of the net where he was able to redirect a point shot up and over Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi just 54 seconds in.
Less than seven minutes later, with Havlat in the penalty box for interfering with Halak, (say Havlat, Halak, Havlat three times fast), Berglund would capitalize again. With San Jose penalty killers caught up the ice, Berglund finished off an odd man rush by shooting back against the grain from the high slot.
With the lead and momentum, the defensive minded St. Louis squad looked to have the game under control until San Jose’s “fourth” forward line earned a steal and tied up the game. The two San Jose rookies would team up as Tommy Wingels drove wide before backhanding a pass right to the tape of Andrew Desjardins who quickly one timed it home with less than six minutes remaining.
In fact, while Havlat was the two goal hero, it was the Wingels, Desjardins and Daniel Winnik combination that was arguably the most effective trio for the Sharks.
The three gritty forwards are all above average skaters and each one of them has proven the ability to play on one of San Jose’s top two scoring lines this season.
Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that the three have found a chemistry playing together down the stretch of the regular season and into game one.
Not only are all three of them defensively responsible forwards but like they showed on Thursday night, they can also provide an offensive punch.
If the Sharks are able to seize momentum from this thrilling victory in game one and go onto win the series, you can bet on San Jose’s “fourth best” trio to be a huge reason why.
Antti Niemi made a handful of difficult saves in the win, turning away 40 of 42 shots… With two assists in the win, Dan Boyle now has a ridiculous 33 points in 35 playoff games as Shark… Ryane Clowe also tallied two assists.