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For Sharks, it’s power play or perish

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Joel Ward and St. Louis Blues center Paul Stastny battle for the puck during Game 2. The Sharks have relied on their power play scoring to stay alive in these playoffs. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
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SAN JOSE — When Peter DeBoer took over as coach in San Jose one of the
first tasks he wanted to complete was making sure the Sharks were more
than just a power-play team.

Improved depth and 5-on-5 play helped get San Jose back to the
postseason after missing it a year ago, but come playoff time that
power play has served as an impressive weapon and a barometer for the
team’s success.

One game after getting shut out on the man advantage, the Sharks
struck twice following St. Louis penalties in a 4-0 win Tuesday night
that tied the series at one game apiece heading into Game 3 on
Thursday in San Jose.

“It creates momentum for us,” DeBoer said Wednesday. “I think that’s
what you’re looking to do with your special teams both ways, is create
momentum. I think when our power play scores, that creates momentum. I
think when we kill penalties like we did last night, like that
four-minute penalty, I think that creates momentum the other way for
us. That’s what you’re looking to do as a coach, is get momentum out
of your special teams. I think that does that for us.”

The Sharks lead the NHL with 15 power-play goals this postseason and
their 30 percent success rate is tops among all teams that have played
more than one round. San Jose is 13-for-32 on the power play in nine
playoff wins, compared to 2-for-18 in its five losses.

With a five-man top unit that has years of experience together, San
Jose is a finely tuned unit. Joe Thornton is the playmaker, spending
most of his time along the half-boards or behind the net. He has
plenty of options.

Brent Burns scored both power-play goals in Game 2 off one-timers that
St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott had little chance to save. Captain Joe
Pavelski led the team with 12 power-play goals in the regular season,
with many coming on deflections in front of the net or rebounds. Logan
Couture and Patrick Marleau bring versatility with the ability to
create plays for teammates or score on big shots of their own.

“Our power play’s pretty free-flowing,” Thornton said. “Really just
can’t key on one guy. We got five guys that can hurt you. I think for
us it’s just the way you move around, it’s really hard to defend.”

The Blues managed to neutralize the Sharks in Game 1 when they killed
all three power plays in a 2-1 victory. They were short-handed five
times in Game 2, including a slash behind the play by Troy Brouwer
that led to the Sharks’ second goal of the game and an interference
call on Steve Ott for hitting Pavelski from behind when the puck was
not in the area.

“The penalties you don’t like at this time of year are reactionary
penalties,” coach Ken Hitchcock. ‘We had two reactionary penalties
yesterday, one in the first game. Those are the ones you don’t like.
Doesn’t matter who takes them, veterans, rookies. That’s a sign that
the other team has a little bit of an advantage, they’re making you
react to anything happening on the ice. Those are the ones you don’t
like.”

The other big difference in Game 2 was that the Blues failed to take
advantage of their power-play chances. After getting a man-advantage
goal from captain David Backes to open the scoring in Game 1, St.
Louis went 0-for-6 on the power play Tuesday night, including a weak
four-minute chance early in the third period when Marleau was called
for a high-sticking penalty and the Sharks lead was only 2-0.

San Jose used 13 of its 18 skaters for more than a minute of
penalty-killing time with top defensive pair Marc-Edouard Vlasic and
Justin Braun each spending more than 5 minutes on the ice with the
Sharks short-handed.

The Blues managed 12 shots on the power play but were unable to beat
Martin Jones as the Sharks did a good job controlling rebounds and
keeping St. Louis to the outside.

“You want to use the power play to get momentum,” forward Robby Fabbri
said. “Last night we didn’t execute on any of them. Just the way some
games go. We got to stay confident and go with our next chances.”

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