ST. LOUIS – Here’s the recipe on how to win playoff hockey games on the road this time of year: get contributions from depth players, kill penalties, get responsible goaltending, and clamp down on the opposition when you have a third period lead.
The Sharks did all of them in St. Louis on Tuesday in securing a 4-0 win at Scottrade Center, evening their Western Conference Final series with the Blues at one game each. It’s now a best of five, and the Sharks get to return home where they have won five in a row at SAP Center.
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer was quick to point out that the depth players came through in Game 2. San Jose’s fourth line of Tommy Wingels, Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling was all over the Blues in the first period, highlighted by Wingels’ score just 2:07 into the game, opening the scoring.
That was especially pleasing to the coach, who was peppered by questions the last few days about the Blues’ perceived advantage in the depth department.
“I think our forward group answered that question tonight,” DeBoer said.
Wingels, who scored his first goal in a manned net, said: “We talk as a line and as a team how as a fourth line can we be effective. Most nights it's creating energy, it's punishing the defensemen in the offensive zone. It's forechecking hard, winning battles, playing well defensively. That all being said, we have the confidence as a line that we can score.”
The first of two Brent Burns power play goals in the second period increased the Sharks’ lead to 2-0, when the key moment in the game came early in the third. Patrick Marleau was sent to the box for four minutes for high-sticking Carl Gunnarsson in the first minute of the final frame, giving St. Louis a golden opportunity to cut into the Sharks’ lead and perhaps even tie it up.
Instead, the Blues’ power play was a mess. It was partially a reflection of their sloppy game up to that point, but they had trouble dealing with the Sharks’ penalty kill, too, and only got a good look on Troy Brouwer’s chance in front just before Marleau stepped out of the box.
“We did a great job. Everyone that went over the boards, we kept our shifts short,” Logan Couture said of that vital penalty kill, which finished 6-for-6 overall. “That was the big thing, get a clear and get off. Guys didn’t extend, guys weren’t looking for offense, we were clearing pucks well and [Martin] Jones made the saves when we had [breakdowns]."
Jones answered the bell on Brouwer’s power play chance, but had other highlights, as well, in his second shutout of the playoffs. His biggest stop came early just before Wingels opened the scoring, when he denied Vladimir Tarasenko on his open shot between the circles after the Blues forward took the puck away from Paul Martin.
The goalie’s play has keyed a particular strength of the Sharks’ game all season, and that’s closing out games in which they have the late lead. San Jose is now 6-0 in the playoffs when leading after two periods, after going a stunning 28-0-2 in the regular season when up after 40 minutes.
“We know how we want to play with the lead,” DeBoer said. “There's a trust with our goaltender that he's going to make big saves, and he did when we needed him to. We’ve got a lot of veterans [here], guys that have been in [these] situations before, and really play with a lot of composure.”
While Jones shouldered a large portion of the blame for a Game 1 loss, allowing a stoppable shot by Jori Lehtera to get through for what turned out to be the game-winner, he quickly put that behind him and was as good as he’s been so far in the playoffs in Game 2.
“You don't like to lose on a goal like that, but I thought I played well other than that,” Jones said about Game 1. “I wasn't about to change anything.”
That's no surprise to Wingels, who said: “You can see the poise in his game. Seems like he never has an elevated heart rate.”
The Sharks have played some of their best games of the playoffs immediately after losses. Against Nashville in the second round, their most dominating performances came late in the series after dropping games four and six. They captured games five and seven by a combined score of 10-1.
That trend continued on Tuesday.
“You lose that first game and you really want to get that split,” Joe Pavelski said. “Guys came out with a good sense of urgency and got after it. It was a great job by everybody.”