By Ray Ratto in St. Louis
Experience isn't the story of this series, if you ask Joe Thornton. Experiences are, and the experiences of Game 1 of Sharks-Blues matchup are exactly like those of the regular season, with one dramatic exception.
"It's still hockey," the San Jose captain said during a highly optional (meaning almost nobody actually did) skate between Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference quarter-final. "It was exactly the same games we played against them in the regular season, except that we scored goals."
Goals, the Sharks needed to be reminded, are those things that cause red lights to illuminate and people to rise in glee or slump down in impotent rage. The Sharks had three of them in four regular-season games against St. Louis, but got that many in Game 1 Thursday night, including the first goal and the last one from second-line winger Martin Havlat in a 3-2 double overtime win.
"That's the difference," Thornton said. "We had how many goals in the regular season? (three, remember, including zero in this building) Well, we did what we do, and they did what they do. We play one-goal, tight-checking games, they play one-goal, tight-checking games. Only this time we got some pucks to go in."
But the pucks they got to go in were, well, decidedly enormous. Havlat broke protocol in the second with a deft little tip of a Dan Boyle drive, and wedged just enough space to take enough of a rolling pass from Ryane Clowe in the second overtime to first break San Jose's scoring slump and then its losing streak.
And now, the Blues have to show a response that does not belie either their youth or lack of playoff pedigree. They were the better team for a greater portion of Thursday's game, but that and $2.15 billion US gets you a baseball team.
"They'll be better than they were last night, we know," head coach Todd McLellan said. "And we have to be better."
But the Blues will be the same, and the Sharks will be the same. Because that's just how it goes.
"We made a few little adjustments that you probably wouldn't even notice with the naked eye," McLellan said. "Playing behind the net, thing with their forecheck, clearing the puck, guaranteeing it out, things like that. And they made adjustments. And we'll both make more. But we're not reinventing the game in four days."
And even if there was, those reinventions would be performed with the same players they've had all year, or at least since the trade deadline. San Jose will need even more of the good works they got from fourth liners Andrew Desjardins, Tommy Wingels and Daniel Winnik. The Blues will need a bit more fortification on the subtle plays off the boards. And luck is always welcome this time of year.
But experience? Experience is shift to shift, and the Blues aren't virgins any more. They got a lot smarter in 83 minutes and 34 seconds. That's how time is measured now.
Expected Line Combinations
Patrick Marleau/Joe Thornton/Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe/Logan Couture/Martin Havlat
T.J. Galiardi/Dominic Moore/Torrey Mitchell
Daniel Winnik/Andrew Desjardins/Tommy Wingels
Marc-Edouard Vlasic/Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray/Brent Burns
Jason Demers/Justin Braun
David Perron/David Backes/T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen/Patrik Berglund/Andy McDonald
Vladimir Sobotka/Jason Arnott/Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner/Scott Nichol/Ryan Reaves
Kent Huskins/Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman/Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell/Roman Polak
Ray Ratto reports for CSNBayArea.com. Follow him on Twitter @RattoCSN
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