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Blues get defensive to take 3-1 series lead over Sharks

The SportsXchange

SAN JOSE -- The St. Louis Blues showed Thursday night that they could win with more than a potent power play.

St. Louis showed off its superior special teams by turning to the penalty kill to spark a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks, who are now on the verge of playoff elimination.

The Blues, looking to win a playoff series for the first time since 2002, lead the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals 3-1. The series moves to the Gateway City for a potential clincher in Game 5 on Saturday.

"We know the next game is going to be the hardest, so we have to be prepared for that," said Blues center Andy McDonald, the series' leading scorer. His power-play goal 12 minutes into the final period stood up as the game-winner.

San Jose's Joe Thornton snapped Brian Elliott's shutout bid with a goal at 18:53 on the Sharks' 25th and final shot. It came with an extra attacker on the ice after goalie Antti Niemi was pulled. San Jose did not get a good look at tying it thereafter.

After consecutive trips to the conference finals each of the last two years, the Sharks now must win three straight to avoid getting eliminated in the opening round.

"I think there's going to be a team that comes back from 3-1 in this playoff season, and it might as well be us," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "Let's go there, play and see what happens. If we play this type of game, we have a chance of coming out ahead."

The story of the night was St. Louis' efficient penalty kill, which thwarted the Sharks on all four of their man-advantage chances. San Jose is only 2-for-15 on the power play in through the first four games of the series.

"Penalty kill did a great job, and we did a good job of staying out of the box," Elliott said. "Our discipline was good. That's something we talked about before the game. ... For the most part, we kept them to the outside. They only had a few shots, so we did a good job overall."

San Jose saw each of its final two power plays cut short by penalties. One minute and 18 seconds after Patrick Marleau was sent off for interfering with Blues defenseman Kris Russell, McDonald scored his third goal of the series. Niemi had vacated his crease while making a save on Patrik Berglund's tip of a point shot by David Perron.

McDonald has figured in on the scoring of all six of the Blues' power-play goals in the series.

"We'd prefer not to take those, especially on the power play," McLellan said of San Jose's ill-timed minors. "There's no ill intent ... to take those penalties, but we took them."

St. Louis' first-period goal stood as the only score of the opening 40 minutes. The Blues' ability to stymie the Sharks' offense was key, especially in the middle 20 minutes, when San Jose enjoyed a couple of flurries of extended zone time and two power plays.

San Jose produced six shots during 5:23 of man-advantage time during the first two periods, but Elliott stood tall. He denied Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture in close and watched as a Thornton cross-ice feed went under the stick of Marleau early in San Jose's second power play.

Pavelski had a shot and Thornton a follow at 15:20 during even strength, and Elliott stopped Couture on the doorstep moments later to enable the Blues would nurse their one-goal edge into the final period.

The Sharks were supposed to be the desperate team at the outset, but the Blues owned the first 20 minutes, scoring the period's only goal and dictating the play throughout.

B.J. Crombeen beat Niemi with a shot from between the circles at 7:12. Berglund went behind the San Jose net to elude Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and fed Crombeen for his first goal of the series. The goal, which slipped between Niemi's catching glove and left pad, capped a long cycle by St. Louis.

"I just tried to get it past the defenseman and get it on net," Crombeen said. "It was nice to contribute, and we're going to enjoy it for a few minutes, but we have to get ready because it's going to be a real battle on Saturday."

Whether it was damage control or McLellan was being sincere, the Sharks coach said he liked what he saw from his team in Game 4.

"We didn't get what we wanted, yet I thought it was our best 60-minute effort in the series," McLellan said. "When you look at it that way, you can take consolation in having a good game."

NOTES: Scoreless in the first three games of the series, Marleau found himself off the first line, moving from left wing to centering the No. 2 unit. McLellan's thinking was to better utilize Marleau's size and speed in the middle of the ice. Marleau approved of the move. "You're moving a lot more as opposed to standing at the boards," he said. "I like it that way. You definitely feel like you're in the play the whole time." ... Forwards Michal Handzus and Brad Winchester replaced Dominic Moore and TJ Galiardi in the San Jose lineup. ... The Blues dressed the same lineup that was a winner in Game 3. Jake Allen continues to back up Elliott, as Jaroslav Halak remains sidelined due to an ankle injury.
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