SAN JOSE – Oh, how the tables can quickly turn in an NHL playoff series.
Fighting for their lives after making what some might consider a panic move in changing their starting goaltender, the St. Louis Blues were the much more aggressive, desperate and clean team in pounding the Sharks on Saturday night at SAP Center, 6-3.
The Blues’ victory evens the Western Conference Final at two games each, with Game 5 set for Monday in St. Louis.
The Sharks claimed 4-0 and 3-0 wins in Games 2 and 3, respectively, by forcing the Blues into mistakes with an aggressive forecheck, especially. The reverse happened in Game 4.
“They were doing what we did to them tonight,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
Troy Brouwer’s power play goal after Brent Burns tripped Jaden Schwartz in the corner of the Sharks’ defensive zone put the Blues ahead six minutes into the game. A few minutes later, Paul Martin succumbed to pressure by Robby Fabbri with a soft turnover, eventually resulting in a Jori Lehtera score.
“They were more aggressive getting to pucks, maybe a little quicker than we were,” Vlasic said. “We weren’t breaking out as clean, had a couple turnovers there. They had a couple Grade-A chances in the first period.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Blues batter Sharks 6-3, even series 2-2]
More mistakes came in the second.
A shorthanded Kyle Brodziak goal in the second period off of an unforced error by Joe Thornton upped the Blues’ lead to 3-0, and midway through the frame, Roman Polak handed the puck to Magnus Paajarvi moments before Brodziak tallied his second of the evening.
“We didn't execute tonight,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “We got burnt. We got what we deserved because of our execution.”
Martin said: “They were bringing two [forecheckers] early and we had a couple costly turnovers, especially right away. But we’re better than that. We need to make better plays.”
The primary storyline headed into the game was Blues coach Ken Hitchcock tabbing Jake Allen as his goalie rather than Brian Elliott, who had started all 17 games before Thursday. The move raised some eyebrows in that it was the Blues’ offense that was stagnant, going more than 150 minutes without a goal headed into Game 4. Elliott, who stole Game 1, wasn't the issue.
But it worked. Allen had to a make some early saves while the game was still scoreless, as the Sharks had a number odd-man rushes thanks in part to St. Louis’ aggressiveness. Had Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi or Joe Pavelski converted on their chances, perhaps that would have changed the tide of the game.
Instead, the Sharks didn’t capitalize, and failed to sustain any offense pressure until the third period when they were already buried, 4-0.
“I had a chance, Donskoi had a chance – just rolled off his stick,” Couture said. “You can create them, but you’ve got to score on them, though.”
Pavelski said: “If we get one early it definitely helps. … It would have been nice, but it didn’t happen. And when it doesn’t happen, you just can’t let [the game] get away like that.”
On the other end, Martin Jones was pulled after St. Louis’ fourth goal. While Jones wasn’t the reason the Sharks lost, he wasn’t any better than any of his teammates had been to that point, either.
DeBoer’s biggest error of the night – and that includes a failed offside challenge in the first period – was not getting Jones out after the third Blues goal, when the Sharks were noticeably on their heels and needed a jolt.
While the third period was better for San Jose, including three goals, the Sharks never really threatened St. Louis. Their best chance to at least make it interesting was on a power play down 5-2, but Donskoi misfired on what looked to be open net.
Now, it’s the Sharks’ turn to regroup, which is something they’ve done well through the first two-and-a-half rounds.
“Every game is different, but we’ve responded throughout these playoffs to our poor games and played well,” Couture said. “We’re going to have to do it again.”
Tommy Wingels said: “We’re in a dogfight here. It’s 2-2 and it’s a best of three now, and that’s fine.”