SAN JOSE -- Kevin Labanc said the day before the Western Conference final opener that he and his Sharks teammates expected a physical series from the opposing Blues.
And after being outhit by St. Louis 41-35 on Saturday night on SAP Center, the San Jose winger doubled down on that statement.
"We were ready for that," Labanc said after the Sharks' 6-3 win to start the best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series. "They came out hard, and they were heavy -- and we know that's not the end."
St. Louis' physicality only increased as the game went on and San Jose took a more commanding lead, and it dissolved into all-out fighting toward the end. The Sharks know the big hits only will continue as the series progresses, with Game 2 scheduled for Monday night at SAP.
The best thing San Jose can do is not let its response to St. Louis' hits turn into trips to the penalty box.
"We just have to really stay composed and not take stupid penalties after the whistle," Labanc said. "It's a good start to the new series for us."
He isn't wrong. Despite being knocked around quite a bit by the Blues, the Sharks only had one penalty -- a second-period delay-of-game call on Melker Karlsson -- until the final few minutes of the game. St. Louis tried engaging San Jose several times but didn't get much of a reaction until Brenden Dillon and Barclay Goodrow hopped into a scuffle with Oskar Sundqvist and Robert Bortuzzo with 2:05 left to play.
The choice to not engage is wise, given that the Sharks averaged 11:31 penalty minutes per game in 15 playoff contests and only got their penalty kill squared away part way through their second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters after the game that his team isn't looking to engage in any type of extracurriculars that could give momentum back to the Blues.
"We're going to play whistle to whistle the whole series," DeBoer said. "If they want to take penalties like that, or penalties like at the end of the game, we'll let the refs take care of that. They told us they will, and we expect that they will."