April 12, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Jose Sharks right wing Martin Havlat (9) is congratulated after scoring the game winning goal against the St. Louis Blues during the second overtime period in game one of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at Scottrade Center. The Sharks defeated the Blues 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
Game 1 between the Sharks and Blues wasn't so much an intense playoff battle as it was a methodical chess match.
And sure, there was nail-biting drama with a game decided in double overtime after Logan Couture threw an excellent pick on Vladimir Sobotka to free up Martin Havlat for the winning goal, his second of the game.
But for such a high-stakes battle between Western Conference powers, the game unfolded in surprisingly methodical form. The first period saw only 11 shots on goal combined, the total after four-plus periods a modest 42-34 for the Blues.
All of which was a recipe for the Sharks to steal a road victory and home-ice advantage in the series. The Blues are the superior 5-on-5 team, but the Sharks wield a dangerous powerplay threat that they put to good use in staking a second-period lead on Havlat's first goal of the game.
Although the Blues poured it on in the second and third periods -- Patrick Berglund scoring twice, first to tie the game and then to take a 2-1 lead -- the Sharks' contained play kept the home crowd from getting too engaged and too hostile. In effect, the Sharks let the pressure fall on the home team and the series favorites, content to take what spoils remained.
As it turns out, there were spoils to be had as the Blues fell into complacency after grabbing that lead. A late goal on the rush by Andrew Desjardins forced overtime, where the Sharks lasted through the first extra frame (outshot by the Blues 14-8) and then pinned the Blues early in the second OT to steal the win.
It wasn't textbook possession hockey, but it was textbook road playoff hockey: Bend, don't break.
Behind Antti Niemi's 40 saves -- so many which came as the Blues unsuccessfully targeted his stick side -- the Sharks rode that strategy all the way to an early series lead.
After the Blues conceded the series driver's seat to the Sharks in Game 1, they'll have to push harder, wake up sooner and force the Sharks out of their conservative safety zone that serves road playoff teams so well.