St. Louis -- To figure out the event that sparked the mayhem that defined the second game of this Western Conference quarterfinal is like finding the best piece of hay in a haystack. The San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues came to the rink loaded for bear, and came away with handfuls of fur.
Of the game, which St. Louis won, 3-0, to tie the series at one skin apiece, this can be said. The Sharks started, and didnt finish. They didnt finish their chances, they didnt finish their work along the wall, they didnt . . . well, anything, really.
RECAP: Sharks singing the Blues, blanked in St. Louis
But the many incidents that turned the game into a 132-minute fist-fest turned the match into a veritable triumph of physical and even dirty one-upsmanship that San Jose coach Todd McLellan said, is the stuff were trying to get out of this game.
His complaint was the brawl at games end. When asked to cover the game as a general topic, he said, That depends on what you want to talk about -- the instigation, the sucker punch, the blow to the head, the broken nose, all directed at Vladimir Sobotka, who hammered Dominic Moore.
The Blues, on the other hand, were incensed at T.J. Galiardis charge into Andy McDonald 10:10 into the third that McDonald said cracked his helmet; he even held up the damaged equipment as evidence.
Others (well, general manager Doug Wilson) thought that the broken St. Louis bench 5:11 into the game that caused a rhythm-breaking delay seemed, well, convenient.
But finding the match that lit the stick that started the fire is, as always, in the eye of the beholder. The point to be made is that two teams that had produced few enough deeds to rile each other, now have enough to light up the rest of this series.
I dont know what set it off, but if thats gonna happen, theres going to be pushback, Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said. If they want to talk about the Galiardi hit, we can talk about when McDonald slue-footed Cooch (Logan Couture). At the end, when we had four and they had five . . . he (St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock) had guys who wanted to do that stuff. I would have loved to have been in there at the end.
The end, as Clowe described what could end up being the start, saw Sobotka throttling Moore while defenseman Roman Polak pounded Justin Braun as the high (or low, as you wish) lights of the 60th-minute 83-minute smackdown.
It ended what Hitchcock called a test of wills that the Blues passed with a better grade than San Jose.
They gave us what a veteran team that knows how to win will do, Hitchcock said. They gave it to us in the first period. They tested our will, big time, in the first period. We had no choice but to respond. They pushed us hard. They have that experience of being a veteran team and knowing what its like at this time of year. They shoved us hard, and I liked the way we responded.
We grew up to the level of what it takes to win against a team that knows how to do it. That part feels good. We have some more knowledge that we need to compete at this level at this time of year. Theres a level out there. Theres a tenacity. Teams like San Jose, Chicago, Detroit they play right through you. And if you dont respond, you get pushed out the back door quick.
For statistical purposes, the game ended 91 seconds in when Marc-Edouard Vlasic knocked a loose puck shot by Sobotka into his own net. Since San Jose didnt score, the third time they havent in this building, that was the odd but deciding score.
But San Jose didnt really lose control of the game until the second period, when St. Louis started winning the smaller battles that led to the biggest one, David Backes game-sealer. T.J. Oshie essentially bullrushed his way past Jason Demers, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to find Backes alone to goalie Antti Niemis blind right side at 13:49.
And though tempers were already starting to betray the growing animosity between the teams (Kris Russell working Pavelski in the first of the main events), it headed toward hell shortly thereafter when Brent Burns popped Scott Nichol in the head 47 seconds later.
After that, well, you know. Of the 132 minutes of penalties detected by officials Marc Joannette and Brian Pochmara, only six were innocuous a hook by Torrey Mitchell, a hold by Mitchell and a delay-of-game by Nichol for shooting the puck over the glass. And 112 happened after the Backes goal.
In short, as Hitchcock put it, Boys will be boys.
And that, too, is an eye-of-the-beholder thing. Game Three is Monday in San Jose, and boys wont stand a chance.