Nolan strike leaves St Louis feeling blue

Owen Nolan scored the game-winner as the San Jose Sharks completed the startling process of turning the St Louis Blues' greatest season into their most disappointing on Tuesday by winning game seven of their Western Conference quarter-final series 3-1.

The Blues became only the second Presidents' Trophy winners to lose in the first round of the National Hockey League play-offs. Nolan claimed his sixth goal of the series, to draw level with the play-offs total of Toronto's Steve Thomas. "This was my biggest game," said Thomas. "I have never got to the second round before, with Quebec or San Jose. We deserved this game, we were more intense, wanted it more and were more disciplined."

San Jose face the defending Stanley Cup champions in the West semi-finals beginning on Friday in Dallas. St Louis established single-season team record for wins and points but were eliminated by a team two games under .500 and finished 27 points behind the Blues.

Ron Stern scored for San Jose just under three minutes into the game. Nolan made it 2-0, converting a long, dipping shot with 11 seconds left in the first period. Jeff Friesen made it 3-0 in the second period before Scott Young finally put St Louis on the board with a power-play goal early in the third period.

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. "When Nolan got the second goal before the end of the first period it settled me down," Shields said. "It gave me confidence to keep working and it gave the guys the feeling they could really win the game.

"I didn't sleep much last night, but I knew we would be focused. Scoring the first goal was vital, we wanted to get the jump on them. I won a seventh game with Buffalo against Ottawa, but we were supposed to win that series, this was an upset that is huge."

Chris Pronger, the St Louis captain and defenceman, said: "We gave up the two first-period goals and that put us behind the eight-ball. They outhit us, roughed us up and the officials called more penalties on us. I lost two teeth earlier in the series, but right now I'm really down, crushed."

Joel Quenneville, the Blues coach, said: "We got no calls, but give credit to the Sharks, they outhit us. It's my fault, they came out flat, I'm supposed to have them ready. The second goal from centre ice should have been stopped, it was a real crusher."

St Louis were 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 Centre crowd in nearly two years. It was eerily similar to 1994, when San Jose lost game six of the Conference quarter-finals 7-1 before beating the favourites Detroit 3-2 on the road in game seven.

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