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Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: April 20, 3:05 AM ET
Sharks press, but Blues never wilt

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Their defensemen pinched. Their forwards buzzed.

The San Jose Sharks pressed and pressed and pressed for the opening 10 minutes of the third period, looking for the equalizer. It was the most pressure delivered in the entire series by the men in teal.

But the St. Louis Blues never wilted.

In what has been the story of a closely played series in which goals have been at a premium, it was the Blues once again Thursday night who got just a little more from their five-on-five play and another power-play goal to deal a crushing 2-1 blow to the Sharks, taking a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series.

Hard to believe there's any chance the Sharks can bring this series back home for a sixth game, the way each game keeps playing out.

If there was ever a time the Sharks were finally going to figure it out offensively in this series, it felt like the opening half of the third period when they were all over the Blues.

"You could see the intensity they came out with in the third period," Blues winger Andy McDonald said. "They were playing for their lives. They took it to us a bit. But Ells [Brian Elliott] made some great saves. We knew it would be like that in [this] building. They've got a great team over there."

Instead of the Sharks finally finding the tying goal, the game changed when Patrick Marleau, he of the zero points in four games this playoff season, took an ill-advised interference penalty in the Blues' zone near the end of a Sharks power play. This led to McDonald's power-play tally for the Blues on a rebound.

The back-breaker. And maybe the series decider.

Talk about wearing goat horns. Marleau is far from the only reason the Sharks are down 3-1 in this series, but Thursday night didn't help his case.

"I don't think I bumped him that hard," Marleau said of his penalty. "If you go into the boards like that, you hope that they see it was just a little bump. But they probably don't have any choice but to call it. You never know."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan didn't argue the penalty after the game, saying the referee made the right call. Talk about class under the most trying conditions.

His team is one loss from elimination and still can't score.

Take away two late-game, garbage-time goals in Game 3, and the Sharks have scored two meaningful goals in the three games since stealing Game 1 in double overtime. We'll give them Joe Thornton's late tally Thursday night because at 2-0 the game was still in reach.

Counting their four regular-season games against the Blues, the Sharks have been limited to 10 goals in eight games.

If that's not defensive dominance over a team, I don't know what is.

"We're not burying the chances that we do have," Sharks blueliner Dan Boyle said.

"You have to cash in on those four to five chances you get against that team, or else you end up with the result we had tonight," added McLellan.

Looking for an offensive spark, he revamped his lineup, dropping Marleau from a first-line winger role to center on the second line with Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat. The unit had some productive shifts.

Logan Couture moved up to play wing on Thornton's top line with Joe Pavelski; that line had its moments, too. You wonder how the game might have changed if Couture could have scored on his breakaway 4 1/2 minutes into the first period.

But he was thwarted by Elliott, whose rebound control on this night was unreal. With Jaroslav Halak still nursing an injured ankle, Elliott has come in and proved it really doesn't matter who's in net for the Blues between their two goaltenders.

At this point, the Blues have an answer for everything the Sharks are throwing at them. The NHL's best defensive team in the regular season has kicked it up another notch in that department in the postseason, if that was even possible.

There is no free ice around the Blues' blue paint. Any Shark who ventures near the slot or the net with the puck is quickly separated from that aforementioned round disc.

This is a defensive clinic, folks.

And it's a young hockey club continuing to mature in these playoffs.

"That's exactly it," McDonald said. "Game 1 was an eye-opener for a lot of guys. I thought their team played hard in a lot of areas that we didn't. It's been a learning process for us. But I think now we're getting those efforts. We're rolling four lines. Guys are blocking shots, winning one-on-one battles. We need to continue to do that."

After losing Game 1, the Blues have reeled off three straight wins, including both road games at San Jose.

"I would have never thought that in a million years," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of sweeping both road games. "This has been such a graveyard for most teams in the playoffs. We're learning a lot."