The San Jose Sharks, who entered the 2011-12 campaign with a lot of promise of being one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup are now only one loss away from seeing this season fade away into the abyss of another failed campaign. The Sharks in Game 4 versus the St Louis Blues did many thing right but were not able to do enough things to win as the Blues took a 2-1 decision over team teal putting the Sharks officially on the brink of elimination. With the loss, the Sharks now face the monumental task of having to win three straight games against a team that has clearly dominated them through the season in addition to these playoffs. Of those three straight wins they will need, two of those will have to come in St Louis where they have only scored in one of the four overall games played there. The Blues leave the Shark Tank taking both Games’ Three and Four to seize a 3-1 series lead and head home in complete command with a chance to close this round out in the Gateway City Saturday Night.
The Blues Brian Elliott was again superior in goal making 24 saves and only Joe Thornton’s too little too late goal with 1:07 remaining in the game was the only blemish on his efforts for the evening. The Blues again showed a defense that may be good enough to carry them long into the post season as they kept the Sharks frustrated for much of this game in not allowing too many sustained entries into their defensive zone over the first two periods. The Sharks were able to get better pressure on the Blues late in the second and for much of the third period, but again it simply would not be good enough. Failure was not really an option for team teal in this game, yet failure was still the end result.
Recapping Game 4:
An Even 1st Period, Except For 20 Seconds- Both teams came out onto the ice ready to do battle and the Sharks had a noticeable spring in their step. The Blues meanwhile had the same spring in their step, which would turn out to be as much of the problem for team teal as anything else. For the entire period outside of a 20 second window, both teams had seven shots on goal apiece with Elliott as well as Sharks goalie Antti Niemi making some saves early and throughout the opening stanza. Martin Havlat had a point blank chance on Elliott however was stoned by the Blues net minder as he fell into the net with the puck secured in his glove. Later Logan Couture had a breakaway on Elliott however was also denied as the Blues net minder made the pad save as Couture could not get any lift on the puck. Elliott’s best save of the period was late when he stopped a point blank shot on goal from Daniel Winnik.
As for the 20 seconds mentioned earlier, those were 20 seconds where the Blues controlled the puck in the Sharks zone. If you didn’t know better you would have thought just for moment you were watching the hockey version of the Globetrotters against the Washington Generals. The Blues here did what they have done for much of the series, effectively cycle the puck without having much in the way of resistance from the Sharks. BJ Crombeen, a name that doesn’t exactly come to mind when you think of goal scoring threats, drilled a wrister past Niemi after taking a feed from Patrick Berglund with some help from David Perron. The Blues goal came with 12:48 remaining in the first period. The Sharks certainly had plenty of time and showed some spurts of energy even after this setback. However as has been the story throughout this playoff series nothing much would come of it.
Second Period Stalemate- Both the Sharks and Blues came out into the second period again exchanging blows and scoring chances with both the Blues’ Elliott and the Sharks’ Niemi holding up their respective forts not letting any pucks into the net. Niemi probably had one of his best periods since Game One where he stood on his head almost the entire game. However, Niemi’s efforts as good as it was (as it turned out) were only good enough to keep team teal in the game. Elliott meanwhile seemed very comfortable in his crease and despite the Sharks best efforts would continue his seasons mastery of team teal from between the pipes. Both teams had nine shots on goal for the period. Joe Pavelski had his best chance at a goal for these playoffs after Elliott was temporarily out of position following a rebound of a Couture shot on goal. This may have in many way summed up the evening and even this series for the Sharks as Elliott still made the save even while slightly out of position.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Sharks did successfully kill two St Louis power plays. On the red ink side of the ledger, the Sharks had two power play opportunities that went by the boards as so many others have in this series. Coming out of this game the Sharks would again go 0 for 4 with the man advantage not only failing to score, but to even get some sustained momentum from these opportunities. The Sharks overall in this series are just 2 for 15 on the power play through four games.
All or Nothing Time- I tweeted just before the third period started that the Sharks had played a decent 40 minutes overall. However I also added they would need to be prepared to play their best 20 minutes of the season if they had any aspirations of drawing even in this series. The third period was not a terrible period by the Sharks, it was just a period where again they had no “puck luck” to speak of. The Sharks did get more pressure in the Blues defensive zone and created more scoring chances. The Sharks did a number of things here, but again they failed to do the some of the most important things, namely score a goal or two and stay out of the penalty box at critical moments.
Early in the period Havlat again had a good chance one on one with Elliott however was again denied at the gate. Later in the period the Sharks would have a power play chance when the Blues Barret Jackman was whistled for a crosschecking penalty. The Sharks however again did not do anything with this chance either. In addition, to add insult to injury the power play chance would be cut short when Patrick Marleau was whistled for an interference penalty from behind the Blues goal. The Blues would soon assume a power play chance of their own and made the most of it when Andy McDonald was again at the right place at the right time for St Louis. McDonald was at the goal crease and cleaned up a rebound of a blocked shot by Berglund to give the Blues a 2-0 lead with exactly eight minutes remaining.
The Sharks as they did in Game Three would make a late push as they pulled Niemi with two minutes remaining. Thornton would break up Elliott’s shut out bid with just 67 seconds remaining to play as he drilled a wrister that beat Elliott. This would be as close as team teal would get as the Sharks could not generate anymore scoring chances. The Blues left the Shark Tank with the two game advantage in this series. Meanwhile the Sharks are left with the very real possibility that the next meaningful game they’ll play at the Tank will be in October.
Game Analysis- The Sharks truthfully did turn in their best effort of this playoff series in this game despite the end result. The fact that this best effort came in a loss is more of a credit to how strong of a team the St Louis Blues are and have become. You have to give the Blues a ton of credit as playing strong on the road as it appears to be something that thrive on. The Blues are as good as advertised and I would not be the least bit surprised if they were to get to the Stanley Cup final. If the Blues get there, they will certainly have earned the trip. They are playing great hockey when it matters the most and that’s a good sign for a true cup contender.
The Sharks did everything short of throwing the kitchen sink at the Blues. Sometimes though you have to come to the reality that even the best of efforts as exhibited tonight are not good enough because your team is no longer good enough. The Blues finished as the number two seed in the Western Conference this year for a reason and soon could even be the top team once the second round of these playoffs begin. The Sharks are just not as fast or as deep at the Blues, and apparently not as good as the Blues either. This is not the fault of the coaches or players, this is just something that can happen in any professional sport. The Sharks barely made this post season thanks to a swoon that took up all of February and a good portion of March. The Blues have exposed a lot of the Sharks weakness on defense and special teams. The Blues have also shown they have one of the best defensive and goalie tandems in the league. Both Elliott and Halak combined have out dueled Niemi. As for Niemi, he has done all he can however it’s tough to win without any goal scoring support.
The Sharks effort was good, but not good enough. The Sharks as a team are a good team. However it is becoming overwhelmingly obvious they simply are not good enough anymore. Not this year, not this time. The Sharks are one loss from checking out of this post season and don’t be too surprised when it happens, and that likely will be Saturday baring something really crazy or unforeseeable. The fact the Sharks are on the brink of elimination is not because of the players abilities or skill levels, they are just collectively as a group not as good or as deep as previous Sharks teams over the past several seasons. This team for all of it’s talents have frankly become stale. The Sharks may very well be on the decline. Eventually some hard decisions are going to have to be made by both management and maybe even by the ownership group once the dust here settles. These won’t be easy decisions either. As a fan of this team, I call this tough love and a tougher reality.
As for Game Five this Saturday, I feel Jamie Baker said it best when he mentioned on the team’s post game radio show that the Sharks need to focus on just winning one game Saturday Night and do not think about anything else. That’s good advise. That’s also about all the Sharks can do at this point…
GO SHARKS!!! JUST FOCUS ON WINNING ONE GAME SATURDAY!!! GOOD LUCK IN ST LOUIS!!!
The King Shark
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