In a series that will be dominated not by metrics and trenchant analysis but by which team can win the white-knuckle moments, score the first solid blow for the St. Louis Blues.
By winning Game 1 of the Underachievers’ Ball, 2-1, the Blues exposed a bit of the San Jose Sharks’ soft, unbearded underbelly.
Oh, Sharks fans can grouse about the goal that wasn’t allowed (and let’s face it, ref-whining is the comfort food of the losing side), but one actual goal and one missed goal still isn’t enough offense. Better for them to consider how they can fix what they didn’t do well enough.
Between the time they wasted trying to find the perfect pass on the power play, and the puck management in their own end, the Sharks can claim the hollow crown of “We had possession time and more shots but . . .”
It’s the “but,” after all, that always kills you in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
San Jose outshot St. Louis, 32-23, out-attempted them 56-42, won 57 percent of the draws and in general looked like the better team . . . but rarely the more dangerous one, because St. Louis knows how to do this game. Between Brian Elliott, the six defensemen and their Hitchcockian devotion to backchecking, the Blues kept the Sharks at the perimeter and minimized the number of times Elliott didn’t a clean look at a shot.
Elegant? Hell, no. It’s not meant to be elegant. This series, unlike Lightning-Penguins on the Eastern side of the bracket, will not be won with elegance but with persistence . . . not with adherence to finding the best pass but to finding a shot that could lead to crease-side scrums, from which good things and bruises happen.
And that was why St. Louis is 1, and San Jose is 0. It is also why they could both be at 1 when the series heads West on Thursday.
You see, between the reluctance to let chaos reign over pass-first care, struggling with entries and occasionally leaving goalie Martin Jones vulnerably while trying to clear their own zone, the Sharks’ shortcomings were both noticeable and are easily reparable, and reparable before Tuesday’s second game.
Those repairs, however, will require better work in the third period, where they essentially frittered away the advantages they’d built in the second. It was the first 15 minutes of the last period that showed the Blues at their best, and having a 2-1 lead at the time made it all the more oppressive for San Jose.
The glaring difference, Jones’ misplay of Jori Lehtera’s eminently stoppable shot in the otherwise very Sharky second period aside, was the way the Blues made the last best in-game adjustment, and the Sharks could not come up with a worthwhile response.
Now the weight shifts to Peter DeBoer and the Sharks for the first re-adjustment of the series. There are only a few adjustments that actually work in a series, and by the middle of Game 3, both teams have seen or know about everything the opponent has to show.
But as DeBoer said repeatedly, “We gotta score more than one goal.” And even if you want to rebut, “But they scored two,” he can come back with “It’s one until they say otherwise.”
And so is the series. Teams that win Game 1 win the series 69 percent of the time in all situations and more than that when the home team is the winning team in question, but numbers are not just meant to be heeded but also to be mocked when needs must be met. The Sharks have cards to play, and presumably will play them sooner rather than later if we are to get the long, grindy, white-knuckly, bruisy, overtime-laden series we were promised by the hype-ocracy.