Back east we’ve got two fast, hard-hitting, well-rounded teams, that frankly play fairly similar games. Out west is a more intriguing clash of styles: The Blues are more defensive minded, more deliberate, more physical, while the Sharks thrive on offense, speed, puck movement, and the most exciting power play going. So it’s not really a surprise that the first two games have seen St. Louis hang tight to a close win and San Jose even things up with a straight smiting.
The best of the Sharks were on display last night, a 4-0 win marked by two power-play goals from large man Brent Burns and his frighteningly fast, frighteningly accurate slapshot.
“Best I’ve ever seen,” said Shark coach Pete DeBoer. “I think just how he can get it off from every angle, how he can get it to the net off balance, in bad spots . . . He finds a way to get it there. If it’s in the right spot, it’s going in.”
The formula for Burns’s goals (his fifth and sixth of the playoffs, and his third and fourth on the man-advantage) was deceptively basic. The Sharks love to simply rotate the puck around the perimeter, quickly and crisply, with a player or two darting around in front of the net (often Joe Pavelski circling in the slot, or Patrick Marleau coming in from the side) until someone, somewhere, finds themselves in space. That’s Burns, often as not, dashing down from the blue line to fill a gap opened up by one of his teammates’ controlled-chaotic ministrations down low. He gives a little holler, and the beast is fed.
“I always call for the puck, even when I’m not open,” Burns said, maybe only half-jokingly, but his two goals last night were his only two shots of the game.
The first benefited from some big luck: Alexander Steen broke his stick and skated to the bench, giving the Sharks a 5-on-3. But San Jose’s tic-tac passing—Marleau to Logan Couture to Pavelski—drew in every remaining Blues defender, leaving half the ice for Burns. He doesn’t miss from there very often.
The second was an even better showcase for Burns’s shot. A little puck cycling by the Sharks, but because St. Louis had to respect (fear?) Pavelski and Joe Thornton causing trouble down low, only one penalty killer came out to challenge the puck. That left Burns at the top of the circle, some distance away, but not too far away to put the puck exactly where he wanted it, a bomb on Brian Elliott’s glove side.
Logan Couture picked up a pair of assists on Burns’s goals, making him the NHL’s playoff points leader. (Burns and Pavelski are second and third.)
Ken Hitchcock took a moment to marvel at the Sharks’ speed:
“They’re a fast team. They skate fast,” Hitchock said. “They skate fast and support the puck. So they might look faster than they are, but they’ve got a lot of quick players. They’ve got a lot of aggressive-skating players. They’ve got a lot of guys that can motor. And they play a north game just like we do. We look faster than we are when we’re on top of our game, and they look faster than they are when they’re on top of their game, and right now, this is really five games in a row where they’ve been very good. It’s our job to, quite frankly, catch up.”
It does feel like the Blues have to catch up, doesn’t it? Even though the series is tied, the Sharks have controlled play for the last five periods. The series moves to San Jose with the Blues desperate for a way to slow down the game. A good start would be to never, ever take a penalty again. Good luck with that.