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Friday, April 13, 2012
Sharks' depth makes difference in Game 1

By Pierre LeBrun

ST. LOUIS -- By the end of Thursday night’s game, it was hard to tell just which unit was really the fourth line for the Sharks.

Andrew Desjardins’ line with Daniel Winnik and Tommy Wingels had another solid night, and it’s getting to the point that maybe it’s wrong to call them a fourth line.

They not only tied the game at 14:44 of the third period on Desjardins' goal, but the line had an effective night overall.

"The 13-14 minutes they played for us was very valuable,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "They played hard and they played smart."

What it’s done of late is allow McLellan to roll four units without doubt. That’s so important at this time of year in order to avoid overtaxing your top players.

"We tried to get those four lines rolling, and I think that will be an important facet in this series," McLellan said.

Hitchcock's message

The Blues can’t lose sight of the fact that they played a solid game despite losing. That’s going to be part of the message from coach Ken Hitchcock to his young players over the next few days leading into Game 2 on Saturday night.

"We have to build on a lot of the good things we did tonight and then just get a bit more from a few other people," Hitchcock said.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk led the Blues with a whopping 11 shots on goal. He looked a little jumpy early on but, like most of his young teammates, settled down as the game went on.

What the Blues will need to do in Game 2, in my opinion, is generate more second-chance opportunities around the Sharks' net. San Jose did a decent job of keeping the Blues away from the blue paint for the most part.

Line matchups

With the last line change, it’s clear the Blues wanted David Backes’ top line against Joe Thornton’s top line, as well as Patrik Berglund’s No. 2 line versus Logan Couture’s No. 2 line.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan didn’t shy away from it and allowed the matchups to happen.

"We were OK with it,” McLellan said. "One of the things they have going for them is that their top two offensive lines are probably also their top two defensive lines as well. So if you try to get Jumbo away from a guy like Backes, he falls into Berglund’s lap. And they’re capable of doing that, too. So you can go through hoops to get away from it, and it takes your team out of rhythm. At this point, we’re just going to play head to head. Our guys can play there and have played there before."

Transition game

One of the things the Blues did so well in their four regular-season wins over the Sharks was pin them in their own zone and get all over San Jose’s blue-line corps.

A priority for the Sharks in this series is to be quicker in getting the puck out in transition and prevent the Blues from setting up shop on the cycle.

They did a pretty good job of it Thursday night.

"That’s the best I’ve seen San Jose move the puck out of their zone all year long," an NHL scout told ESPN.com during the game Thursday night. "Smart chips. It’s out of there in a hurry. That makes such a difference in their game. I’m really surprised after what I saw most of the year."

That’s exactly why McLellan chose to dress puck-mover Jason Demers over the rugged Colin White for his third defense pairing, wanting to have as many puck-movers as possible on his back end.