The contest was a blowout, and Tyson Nash was on the loose. An incendiary combination, putting it mildly.
Nash, a St. Louis Blues rookie left wing who revels in his status as one of the biggest annoyances in the NHL, found time to score the first playoff goal of his career in yesterday's 6-2 clubbing of the Sharks. But he made a bigger stir by taking runs at anyone wearing a San Jose jersey when the teams were playing out the string, eventually getting into fights with defenseman Jeff Norton and winger Ron Stern.
Things were so out of control in the third period that at one point, the Sharks had four players -- Todd Harvey, Owen Nolan, Vincent Damphousse and Norton -- in the penalty box. And it was Nash who created all the rock and roil.
"A player like that, he tries to get under your skin," said Stern. "It was an opportunity for us to vent a little bit. Those aren't the guys you want to punish, you take what you can get."
Though an experienced pugilist, Stern doesn't go out looking for fights very much any more. But that changed with Nash, and after their one-sided bout was over, Stern taunted Nash for covering up instead of trying to punch back. That Norton, hardly an abrasive sort, would drop his gloves and go after Nash shows the enmity the fellow stirred up.
"I've never seen a guy turtle like that in my life," said Norton. "Sooner or later, he"s going to get it. He's got to eventually step up to the plate and be a man. I'm no tough guy, but if you're going to run around like that. . . . he should play roller hockey."
The funny thing is, Nash set up his own goal with a rather cunning play. Deep in the Sharks' end, he set a pick on San Jose defenseman Gary Suter, freeing winger Jamal Mayers to take the puck behind the net and throw it out in front. After Marty Reasoner couldn't control it, Nash was there to fire the puck in.
"You can't worry about him," said Sharks left wing Jeff Friesen. "He can be a pest if you let him, he's not a factor. Key on (defenseman Chris) Pronger, not Nash."
Of course. Still, Nash has a way of getting attention.
A STRUGGLE FOR SHIELDS: Asked if he was a sharp as he could be, Sharks goalie Steve Shields said, "No. I've had better games."
Shields couldn't have been more off-key yesterday. He surrendered six goals on 14 shots, before being yanked for Evgeni Nabokov after two periods. Things were so bad that after Shields allowed his fourth goal in four shots in the second, the usually tolerant San Jose Arena crowd gave him a sarcastic cheer when he turned aside a harmless puck the Blues had sent into the zone.
"I know when I let in soft goals, I don't think I let in any," Shields said. "It was one of those (days) when things didn't go well."
Things weren't so good for Shields in terms of getting help, either.
Said Norton, "As a competitor, he'd like to have some of those goals back. As competitors in front of him, we'd like to have some of those back. There's never any finger pointing in this room."
MISCELLANY: Stern was in action after being a healthy scratch for the first five games, with Alexander Korolyuk sitting out. "For me, it was like Game 1, for everybody else it was Game 6," Stern said. "I wanted to keep it simple and get my legs going." Stern played on the fourth line with fellow veteran pluggers Ron Sutter and Tony Granato. . . . Nolan and Damphousse, two- thirds of San Jose's top line, were each minus-3. . . . With the game a laugher, Blues coach Joel Quenneville was able to give top defensemen Pronger and Al MacInnis some rest. Pronger played 24 minutes, 44 seconds while MacInnis checked in at 24:42. That's compared to Game 4, when Pronger played 33 minutes, 50 seconds and MacInnis a minute less. . . . Despite the Blues' five-goal onslaught in the middle period, they were 0-6 on the power play. . . . Not only do Mayers and Blues center Mike Eastwood often team with Nash to form the Blues' "crash" line, both played collegiately at Western Michigan University, albeit several years apart. . . . Nabokov stopped all three shots he faced in the third period.