Cam Tucker

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks controls the puck against Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Hitch: Tarasenko is ‘learning hard lessons’ as Blues struggle to score

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The St. Louis Blues haven’t scored a goal in the last 150 minutes and 45 seconds of this Western Conference Final. They’ve been shut out in consecutive games and now trail the series 2-1 to the San Jose Sharks.

As a team, the Blues have gone into a funk.

Among those struggling to produce is 24-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a 40-goal regular season and has seven goals and 13 points in these playoffs but hasn’t recorded a point in three games of this series.

“The thing that could help him, we can’t give him, which is more experience. Can’t give it to him,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters following Thursday’s defeat. “He’s learning hard lessons, like any young player.

“As you experience this as a younger player, you’re going to have to learn to fight through a lot if you expect to score. We would like him to learn that lesson a day from now, but we’re not sure on the time frame.

“Some guys never learn it. Some guys can’t do it. Some guys learn that lesson and they really become accomplished players, especially scoring players. But he’s going to have to fight through everything if he expects to score a goal and contribute offensively.”

So far in this series, Sharks goalie Martin Jones hasn’t faced more than 26 shots in a single game. He stopped 22 shots in Game 3.

On Thursday, Hitchcock pulled Brian Elliott after he allowed three goals on 14 shots, bringing in Jake Allen to finish off the remainder of the game.

With Game 4 on Saturday, the Blues bench boss admits he may be facing another decision on who his starting goalie will be for that contest.

“Yeah, I’m going to think about that one,” he said. “Got two good goalies. Pretty good choice. Can’t lose on either one.”
     

Video: ‘It’s a pretty easy job,’ says Thornton of playing with Pavelski, Hertl

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  (2nd R) Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with Justin Braun #61, Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44, Joe Pavelski #8 and Joe Thornton #19 after his second goal in game three of the Western Conference Finals against the St. Louis Blues during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins have the HBK Line. The San Jose Sharks have a line with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl.

That trio provided more problems for the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday. They combined for six points, with Hertl scoring twice, including the winner in the first period, as San Jose recorded a 3-0 win to take a 2-1 series lead.

Apparently, the veteran Thornton has the easy part in this partnership.

“Well, the line played exactly how they played all year for us, which has led the way with how we want to play, the identity of our team,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters.

“When your best players are your best forecheckers, the best back-checkers, the first guys to block shots, stop and defend in your own end, that bleeds through the rest of the group.”

Meanwhile, the Sharks have now won six games in a row on home ice in these playoffs. That includes back-to-back shutouts dating back to their second-round series with the Predators. The Sharks’ home record ranked 23rd in the entire league during the regular season.

Sharks stifle the Blues, take series lead with Game 3 victory

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Following a 4-0 loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock opined that his team was fortunate this series was tied at a game apiece.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to hear his assessment of his team after a 3-0 Game 3 loss in San Jose, which has given the Sharks a 2-1 lead in this series and put them two wins away from an appearance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Brian Elliott was pulled in the third period, after allowing three goals on 14 shots. Tomas Hertl scored twice for San Jose, his second of the night chasing Elliott from the crease and essentially dashing any hopes the Blues may have had of a third-period comeback.

Hitchcock again pulled the goalie — this time Jake Allen — for the extra attacker with 5:31 remaining in the final period, desperate for a goal. Scoring has become a problem for the Blues in this round.

His team hasn’t scored since the 9:15 mark of the second period of Game 1 — that’s 150:45 without a goal — and it wasn’t as if the Blues really threatened San Jose goalie Martin Jones on Thursday.

Jones stopped all 22 shots he faced for his second consecutive shutout.

The Sharks played a stifling game and were opportunistic, taking advantage of St. Louis turnovers.

Game 4 is Saturday. The Sharks can take a stranglehold of the series.

 

Sharks chase Elliott from Blues net

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The San Jose Sharks chased goalie Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues net before the midway point of the third period in Game 3 on Thursday.

The Sharks, looking to take the lead in the Western Conference Final, grabbed a 3-0 lead in Game 3, with Tomas Hertl ending Elliott’s night at 6:09 of the third period. Hertl opened the scoring as well, on a perfect slap shot to the top corner, beating Elliott glove side.

Elliott stopped 11 of 14 shots faced. Jake Allen entered the game in relief.

Meanwhile, the Blues haven’t scored a goal since the 9:15 mark of the second period of Game 1.

Penguins’ HBK Line has ‘given us a lot of momentum,’ says Crosby

TAMPA, FL - MAY 18:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates a goal by Carl Hagelin #62 against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Amalie Arena on May 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. The Penguins defeated the Lightning 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Few NHL teams have the quickness, speed, skill and depth to overwhelm the Tampa Bay Lightning, which the Pittsburgh Penguins have done through three games of the Eastern Conference finals.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a talented supporting cast that includes the sizzling line of Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino have outplayed the speedy Lightning for significant stretches of each game to gain a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven matchup.

Game 4 is Friday night at Amalie Arena, and the Penguins are looking to turn up the pressure even more.

“When you’re playing such good teams at this point, you know you can’t afford to look past the game in front of you,” said Crosby, who’s scored the past two games after going eight straight without a goal.

Related: Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise

Malkin assisted on Crosby’s power-play goal that proved to be the winner in Game 3 on Wednesday night, Malkin’s first point since Game 2 of Pittsburgh’s second-round victory over Washington.

While the Penguins’ biggest stars were trying to get back on track, Kessel, Hagelin and Bonino heated up at precisely the right time.

The trio had a huge impact Wednesday night, as well, with Kessel delivering his team-leading seventh goal of the playoffs off a nifty pass from Bonino after earlier setting up Hagelin’s goal that snapped a scoreless tie.

“You don’t win consistently without (depth). That line’s been great all playoffs long,” Crosby said. “You look at the way Phil’s playing … he creates so much. Haggy’s got a ton of speed. And Bones is a really smart player. He works really well with those two guys. They’ve given us a lot of momentum.”

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper acknowledged line has been tough matchup for a team that’s accustomed to wearing opponents down with its own deep roster.

“You look at their team, Phil Kessel probably doesn’t get near the respect he deserves. I mean, he’s scored a ton of goals in this league. Bonino’s kind of one of those underrated players. … You look at the teams he’s playing, and there’s always been named stars ahead of him. Hagelin’s won everywhere he’s gone, the teams he’s played on. But they get overshadowed by the big name guys,” Cooper said.

“When you can go three and four lines deep – and something we’ve been able to do – it’s a tough matchup for teams,” the coach added. “They’re just another case – and plus they’re feeling it, too. They’re in one of those playoff runs where they’re feeling it, and when you are going like that, good things are going to happen for you.”

The Penguins have outshot Tampa Bay 124-70, a trend the Lightning can’t allow to continue if they expect to win the series.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has filled in admirably since replacing the injured goalie Ben Bishop during Tampa Bay’s victory in Game 1. In addition to generating more scoring chances, Cooper stressed the Lightning also have to play better in front of Vasilevskiy, who faced 41 shots in Game 2 and 48 Wednesday night.

“That’s unacceptable. I just feel bad for the kid that he’s keeping us in there and we’re not finding a way to bail him out,” Cooper said. “The way things have gone these (last) two games, it doesn’t matter who’s in net. You know, we could have Bish and Vasi both playing at the same time, and they might have squeaked a couple in.”

Tampa Bay won all three regular seasons meetings between the teams before taking Game 1 of this series on the road, so coaches and players say there’s no need to panic.

Cooper reunited the “triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat during the third period of Game 3, and the trio that was instrumental to Tampa Bay’s run to the Stanley Cup final a year ago produced two late goals.

Bishop practiced Thursday and said he remains hopeful he’ll return at some point in the series. Cooper said he doesn’t expect it to be for Game 4.

With Vasilevskiy playing as well as he has, and Tampa Bay’s track record as a resilient team, the coach remains confident this still will be a “long, tough” series.

“It’s not something where we’re sitting here saying: `Oh, we can’t beat this team.’ We couldn’t beat them in the last two games, and that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Cooper said.

“But in saying that, Pittsburgh’s put us in a position to be like that,” the coach added “Now it’s we served, they volleyed back. Now it’s our turn to send it back to them.”