SAN JOSE, Calif. - Although Ryane Clowe already had saved the San Jose Sharks twice with tying goals, the tap on his shoulder from coach Todd McLellan still came as a surprise in the fourth round of the shootout.
Clowe couldn't miss against the Blues, and San Jose still can't be beaten at the Shark Tank. Clowe followed up his two clutch third-period scores with the winning shootout goal, and the NHL-leading Sharks improved to 8-0 at home with a wild 5-4 victory over St. Louis on Thursday night.
San Jose's gritty left wing finished with a bloody cut over his right eye, thanks to a face-plant into the glass, and a remarkable scoring performance. He twice answered go-ahead goals by the Blues in the final period, sending it to overtime on an exceptional give-and-go score with defenceman Brad Lukowich during 4-on-4 play with 1:39 left.
And after Dan Boyle scored in the third round to tie the shootout, McLellan went to his hot hand.
"That was surprising," Clowe said. "A lot of times I like to deke to my backhand, but he's a big goalie with long legs, so I thought I would have to move him, open him up."
Clowe did just that, putting the puck past six-foot-seven Ben Bishop to end San Jose's sixth consecutive win.
Evgeni Nabokov made 25 saves and stopped three consecutive Blues to end the shootout, but the goalie left the ice gingerly after stretching to stop Patrik Berglund on the final shootout attempt. Rob Blake scored his first goal of the season for San Jose, and Joe Thornton also scored before Clowe took over with his exceptional third-period effort, giving him eight goals in the Sharks' last eight games.
The Sharks were the NHL's third-least penalized team entering the game, but they were surprisingly undisciplined at times. San Jose's occasional lapses in defensive intensity also hurt, with St. Louis getting two quick early scores and two more rapid goals in the third.
"We've proved to ourselves if we try to cheat or take shortcuts, it will not work out for us one bit," McLellan said. "The puck was bouncing around a lot out there. It was more like a basketball than a puck. Skilled players want it smooth and fluid. We seemed to be knocking it down a lot. It was a difficult night that way."
Lee Stempniak had a goal and two assists for the Blues, who lost for the sixth time in seven games despite never trailing in regulation. Keith Tkachuk got his ninth goal of the season early on, but Clowe countered goals by Andy McDonald and David Backes, who adroitly batted a puck out of the air for just his second goal of the season.
"They are such a fast team that you have to be on your toes the whole game," Backes said. "Against the Thornton unit, they are such tough guys, and they can turn it up so quick. They were shooting pucks from everywhere. When we get that lead against a good team, we really need to clamp down and get those two points."
Bishop made 38 saves as the Blues came agonizingly close to winning without leading scorer Paul Kariya, sidelined by a lower-body injury. The NHL's sixth-leading scorer left St. Louis' 5-2 loss at Anaheim on Wednesday night during the second period after apparently getting hit by a puck.
Thanks to some curious scheduling, St. Louis must return to Southern California after two days in the Bay Area to meet the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night in the third stop of their five-game road trip.
After McDonald and Clowe scored early in the third, Backes batted home an airborne puck off Nabokov's pads for his second goal of the season with 9:22 left. But Clowe scored on a fine setup by Lukowich, receiving a pass down low and putting the puck in an unguarded net while Devin Setoguchi set up a screen in front of Bishop.
"I had gone to make a save, and they really hemmed me," Bishop said. "I couldn't even turn to get back in. It might have been interference. There were two guys right there. I couldn't even spin out of it."
Notes: Backes broke a pane of glass in the second period, swinging his stick in frustration to earn a 10-minute misconduct. He apologized afterward. ... LW David Koci, claimed by the Blues on waivers from Tampa Bay last month, made his St. Louis debut after sitting out the club's last six games. ... Kariya led the Blues with 15 points in their first 11 games. ... G Manny Legace, who has an injured hip, might be ready to return to the Blues' lineup in Los Angeles.