Commentary

Bad blood boils over in St. Louis

Updated: April 15, 2012, 11:12 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- Oh, it's on, all right.

We've got ourselves a tied series and a full-fledged dislike in this best-of-seven, first-round tilt between the Sharks and Blues.

Where do we start?

• The Blues were angry with T.J. Galiardi's hit on Andy McDonald.

• The Sharks were angry with what they felt was a slew-foot by McDonald on Logan Couture.

• Dan Boyle lost it when he felt he was elbowed by Alexander Steen and then dropped the gloves on the Blues winger to show his displeasure.

• Brent Burns either punched or elbowed Scott Nichol in the head, depending on your vantage point.

• Then there was the melee at the buzzer, when Vladimir Sobotka of the Blues engaged Dominic Moore in a fight the Sharks center wanted no part of, and Blues blueliner Roman Polak destroyed Sharks defenseman Justin Braun in another fight.

Make that 132 total penalty minutes on the night, 88 of them at the third-period buzzer.

Oh, and the Blues won 3-0.

"I don't know what set it off, but if that's going to happen, there's going to be pushback," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said afterward. "If they want to talk about the Galiardi hit, we can talk about when McDonald slew-footed Cooch [Logan Couture]. At the end, when we had four and they had five ... [St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock] had guys who wanted to do that stuff. I would have loved to have been in there at the end."

The unhappiness flowed out of each dressing room. McDonald, who has a long history of concussions, invited reporters to check out his cracked helmet that he says is a result of Galiardi's charging penalty on him.

"The evidence kind of speaks for itself; he came in and elbowed me in the head and cracked my helmet," said a peeved McDonald, holding his helmet for reporters to see. "I think they'll probably look at it. It's just a play they're trying to take out of hockey. It's an elbow to the head."

The fact that McDonald had his head down looking for the loose puck on the play gives Galiardi somewhat of a defense, but it was still charging, no question.

"If it's a check, it's a check, that's fine but if you make contact with the head, isn't that a head shot?" asked McDonald. "It's pretty clear on the replay that his elbow comes up and hits me in the face. I'm sitting here with a cracked helmet."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan tried to compose himself in his postgame address. He was livid at what he felt was a sucker punch by Sobotka on Moore in their late-game altercation, one which the coach says left his center with a broken nose.

So when asked about the game's nastiness, he almost lost it.

"It depends what you're talking about, if you're talking about the instigator, the sucker punch, the blow to the head, the broken nose, what do you think I thought of it?" McLellan said. "It's everything we're trying to get rid of. The rest of it in the corner? The men that looked at each other and got at it? That's part of playoff hockey. But the sucker punch is unacceptable."

His counterpart, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, said he hadn't yet seen the Sobotka incident. But speaking generally when asked about the game's fireworks, he shrugged.

"This is how it is at this time of year," he said. "I've seen a lot of this, I spent five years in the Edmonton and Dallas series. So I've seen this before."

"Boys will be boys," Hitchcock later added. "You found out, don't open the Roman Polak door. Don't ever open that door. Whoa."

Perhaps lost in the ode to "Slap Shot" was that the Blues delivered a terrific effort in tying the series. The Sharks took it to the Blues in the opening period, but the home side responded with a huge second period.

"They're an experienced team," Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "They wanted to test our resolve, and they tested it big-time in the first period. And I was proud of our team that we fought back. Because if we didn't, this was going to be a short series."

The Blues really raised their physical game and the Sharks on this night didn't respond well enough.

"They took it up a notch and we never got back to the level we established in the first period," said McLellan. "They were harder and stronger along the boards, won more battles in those areas. You can't lose that many to this team. That gives them an opportunity to be successful and we just weren't good enough in those areas."

Somewhat fittingly, the NHL's stingiest team got a combined shutout effort from its standout goalie tandem, Brian Elliott coming on in relief 49 seconds into the second period after starter Jaroslav Halak was injured on a collision with teammate Barret Jackman.

Halak appeared to be favoring his left knee as he walked down the tunnel, although all Hitchcock would say officially was that it was a lower-body injury. The Blues coach said Halak would make the trip to San Jose and be evaluated Sunday.

No big deal on this team. Whether it's Elliott or Halak, the Blues are rock solid in goal.

The only question now is where this series goes next after Saturday's emotional rock'em, sock'em.

"It's just two teams playing hard," said Blues blueliner Jackman, who tussled with Douglas Murray at the buzzer. "They're coming to the net hard, we're going to their net hard. A lot of scrums. Just a little mix-up at the end. That's the way the playoffs are."