Work in Sports
ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- The greatest season in the history of the St. Louis Blues suddenly became the most disappointing.
The Blues became only the second Presidents' Trophy winners to lose in the first round of the playoffs as the San Jose Sharks regrouped from an embarrassing loss for a stunning 3-1 victory in Game Seven of their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
St. Louis established single-season team records for wins and points but was eliminated by a team that was two games under .500 and finished 27 points behind the Blues.
"It's a big disappointment," said St. Louis center Pierre Turgeon. "A lot of good things happened throughout the year. And when you reach the playoffs, you want to go far. We're disappointed about it."
St. Louis was trying to rally from a three games to one deficit in the first round for the second straight season. The Blues had all the momentum after Sunday's 6-2 rout in San Jose, but the Sharks silenced the largest Kiel Center crowd in nearly two years with an early goal and never looked back.
The scenario was eerily similar to 1994, when San Jose lost Game Six of the conference quarterfinals, 7-1, before shocking top-seeded Detroit, 3-2, on the road in Game Seven.
"We made them think early in the series, being up 3-1. They came back, got their confidence back, but just like in Detroit, we got that first goal and then they think, 'Uh-oh,'" said defenseman Jeff Norton, the only Shark who was a member of the team in 1994. "But this team can still do a lot of damage."
Two days after surrendering six goals on 14 shots, Steve Shields was nearly perfect for San Jose. He made 21 saves and would have recorded a shutout if not for a disputed power-play goal early in the third period.
"I focused on this game, put the last game in the past," said Shields, who improved to 2-0 in seventh games. "I was embarrassed watching the game tape. I felt better because I knew what I did wrong. I was moving too much and wasn't playing with patience. It had nothing to do with my mind."
Owen Nolan scored his sixth goal of the series for the Sharks, who face the defending Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars in the West semifinals beginning Friday in Dallas.
San Jose grabbed the lead just 2:51 into the contest on Ron Stern's first playoff goal since 1995. Marcus Ragnarsson's flip shot from above the left faceoff circle caromed off the end boards. Unchecked at the right goalpost, Stern tucked the puck behind Turek.
"We like to build our style around that. We wanted to play smart defensively, so we needed that first goal," Nolan said. "They're so good defensively when they get a lead. We didn't want to let that happen."
The Sharks dominated the first half of the first period. Blues defenseman Al MacInnis was penalized for high-sticking 45 seconds after Stern's goal and rookie Brad Stuart and Vincent Damphousse fired shots off goalposts on the ensuing power play.
St. Louis went nearly six minutes before getting its first shot but began to test Shields later in the first period. Off a turnover by Norton, rookie Ladislav Nagy pushed the puck in front, but Shields smothered it. With just under two minutes remaining, he got his right pad on MacInnis' blast from the top of the right circle and gathered the rebound with his stick.
Nolan deflated the Blues when he beat Turek from the neutral zone with 10 seconds left in the period. He took a couple of strides over the red line before uncorking a shot that tipped off the bottom of Turek's glove and into the net.
Former Blue Stephane Matteau hit the crossbar off a rebound three minutes into the second period, but the Sharks extended their lead to 3-0 at 14:14.
Defenseman Marc Bergevin could not corral a loose puck at the San Jose blue line, springing Jeff Friesen and Niklas Sundstrom on a 2-on-none break. Friesen fanned on his attempt but got back the puck off a scramble and slid it under Turek's glove for his second goal of the series.
The Blues finally brought the crowd to life on the power play early in the third period. Chris Pronger's slap shot from above the left circle hit the right goalpost, but the goal light went on and the celebratory horn sounded. The Sharks froze momentarily and Scott Young was able to score his sixth of the series from the left circle at 2:09.
St. Louis had chances to get back in it. On the ensuing faceoff, Matteau drew a double-minor for high-sticking Nagy. MacInnis evened it up by taking a holding penalty at 3:43, but the Blues had a brief two-man advantage after Damphousse went to the box for high-sticking at 4:50.
Shields preserved the lead by gloving Jochen Hecht's deflection with 14:20 to play and Nagy's wrister from the top of the right circle less than four minutes later.
Making the first Game Seven appearance of his career, Turek made 16 saves but faced only two shots in the third period.