ST. LOUIS — Mike Sillinger has played for 10 teams in his 14-year NHL career, tying a league record. All that traveling and no hat tricks. Until now.
The St. Louis Blues’ late-season pickup had his first career three-goal game in a 4-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Monday night, helping a much more disciplined team work its way back into the first-round series.
“My little boys told me they wanted me to score a hat trick and my wife laughed,” Sillinger said. “She goes, ‘If he ever gets a hat trick we’ll fill the house with balloons.
“We’ll be filling the house with balloons when I get back and see them in Phoenix, and hopefully it won’t be for a while.”
The Sharks lead the series 2-1, heading into Game 4 Tuesday night in St. Louis.
“It was kind of funny to read that the series was over,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We won two home games and now they’ve come back. Now they’ll have something to think about tonight and come better prepared tomorrow.”
Sillinger, acquired March 4 from the Coyotes, seemed to be a low-key pickup at the time. But he provided an immediate boost for a team that qualified for the playoffs on the 81st game, getting four goals and five assists in 16 games.
He gave the Blues, who have rallied to win a series after trailing 2-0 only once in 13 tries, yet another boost in Game 3.
Sillinger was elevated to the first line with Keith Tkachuk and Pavol Demitra, switching places with Petr Cajanek. He helped the Blues finally get to Evgeni Nabokov.
“They’ve been working pretty hard and you have to give them credit,” Nabokov said. “They got two breaks but they deserved those breaks.”
Nabokov set a franchise record with nine regular-season shutouts and nearly had two in the first two games of the series, stopping 52 of 53 shots in 1-0 and 3-1 victories. His dominant run ended in the second period when Dallas Drake blocked a shot from the point by Tom Preissing just as Sillinger’s penalty for elbowing was expiring.
Drake deflected the puck off his skate to a streaking Sillinger, who outraced Preissing to the net and beat Nabokov with a shot between the pads to give the Blues their first lead in the series.
“Best pass I could give him, I’ll tell you,” Drake said. “Better than my stick right now.”
Drake made it 2-0 at 17:24 when he deflected an innocent-looking wrist shot from the point by Eric Weinrich past Nabokov. Jonathan Cheechoo scored his first career playoff goal for the Sharks early in the third to slice the gap to one, reawakening the Blues.
Again, Drake made unusual contact with the puck.
“It hit me in the shaft,” Drake said. “Like I said, keep it away from my stick blade and I’ll be all right. I got a piece of it.”
A little over two minutes later, at 7:51 of the third, Sillinger again broke loose off a backhand feed from Keith Tkachuk to make it 3-1. Then he wrapped it up with an empty-net goal, scoring from deep in the Blues’ zone, with 46.9 seconds to go.
The Blues’ defense, anchored by goalie Chris Osgood, did the rest. Osgood was pulled early in the third period of Game 2, ostensibly to shake up the team, but also had appeared to have injured his right knee earlier in that game.
He showed no signs of a physical problem in Game 3 and benefited from a defense that allowed few rebounds. Wilson faulted his team for a lack of aggressive play.
“In the second period when they pushed, we kind of sat back and didn’t push back,” Wilson said. “In the third period we did, but the deficit was too much.