ST. LOUIS –- For the first few minutes of the Sharks-Blues game on Thursday night, it was plainly obvious which team enjoyed a full practice on Wednesday and which one landed in the early morning hours from Anaheim. St. Louis had the initial territorial edge and looked primed to take a quick lead.
Martin Jones had other ideas.
The Sharks netminder made a stellar diving stop on Vladimir Tarasenko just 1:05 into the game when the Blues’ leading goal scorer found himself in front of the net all alone with the puck, and San Jose killed off the ensuing slashing minor to Justin Braun on Tarasenko. That allowed the Sharks to find their legs, and they eventually broke through for a pair of second period scores and an important 3-1 win at Scottrade Center.
Jones made 26 saves, improving to 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts. He’s allowed a total of 20 goals over that span with a .929 save percentage.
“I love his game right now and the feeling he gives our team,” Pete DeBoer said. “The composure that he’s playing with is contagious to our group. He’s doing a great job for us.”
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Matt Nieto, who scored a key insurance goal in the third period, said: “When [Jones is] playing like that, all we need is a few goals to win the game.”
Two was all they required on Thursday. Joonas Donskoi continued his consistent play of late opening the scoring at 3:55 of the middle frame, and later Joe Thornton’s 10th goal after a Sharks power play had just expired gave San Jose a two-goal cushion.
“[Joe Pavelski drew] both [defensemen] to himself, and great play to me,” said Donskoi, who has eight points (2g, 6a) in his last eight games.
St. Louis’ Jay Bouwmeester brought the home team back to within 2-1 at 16:54 of the second, on a shot that tipped off of Paul Martin’s stick and took an unfortunate bounce from the Sharks’ perspective.
That led to some momentum for the Blues to start the third, but Jones again came up huge. He denied Tarasenko on a humming wrist shot from the high slot that he saw all the way and swallowed into his midsection, not allowing a rebound in the first minute of the last period.
“I thought we did a good job all night of letting me see pucks,” Jones said.
The Sharks regrouped by the midway point of the final frame and managed to up their lead to 3-1 when Nieto charged in and crammed a loose puck into the back of the cage with 3:16 to go in regulation.
The coach was impressed with the late push.
“We talk all the time going into the third with the lead about keeping our foot on the gas, staying on the forecheck,” DeBoer said. “I think that third goal by Nieto kind of showed that. We were pushing for a goal as opposed to sitting back [and] accepting their rush coming at us. That’s been a key or us, and the guys have done a good job with it.”
“Everyone was kind of watching the scrum, and I found a way to get in behind it and make a move right in front of the goalie there,” Nieto said of the goal.
The Sharks improved to 19-0-2 when leading after the second period.
The win was vital in that the Sharks still have two tough games left on their four-game trip out of the All-Star break in Nashville and Chicago. They already dropped a 3-2 decision to Anaheim on Tuesday, so a second straight loss would have been concerning with what lies ahead.
Instead, despite landing at 4:41 a.m. on Wednesday morning according to the travel logs, they can attempt to start another point streak immediately after the Ducks terminated their 8-0-2 run.
“This is not an easy game on the schedule, coming out of Anaheim and getting in here at 5 a.m.,” DeBoer said. “I thought our backs were against the wall, and we needed the two points on this trip to kind of get things going the right direction.”
Nieto said: “Now we can get back in the win column and try to start another point streak here.”