Sharks jump on Blues early, win opening game of Western Conference final

By Lou Korac
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Mistakes, mistakes, and more mistakes.

The Blues made them, the Sharks cashed in on them and made the Blues look rather pedestrian in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

The Blues looked listless and sloppy, and San Jose pounced on seemingly every casual mistake made and took Game 1, 6-3, on Saturday at SAP Center.

The Blues, who trail the best-of-7 series 1-0 with Game 2 set for Monday at 8 p.m. here, made mistakes that were reminiscent of those made in Game 4 at Dallas in the second round.

But there were more of them here and much worse.

A team that thrives off solid puck management, one that got timely saves when needed and one that prided itself on playing the kind of hockey necessary to win, had none of that tonight.

It started early in the game with Alex Pietrangelo, and filtered throughout the rest of the defensive unit, in particular.

“Yeah, it just seemed like every opportunity that they were getting in tight, it was finding a way to get in the back of the net,” Pietrangelo said. “We gave them a lot of their opportunities. We were a lot better there in the third, a lot tighter.”

The Blues have had games when their gaps are too big, and their five-man game is too spread out, but Jordan Binnington would be there to bail out some of those deficiencies. That wasn’t the case tonight. He didn’t bail his teammates out and allowed five goals on 24 shots.

“Far from the issue,” Pietrangelo said. “I’ve said that before. Those goals that were going in aren’t on him, those are on us.”

Asked if he considered pulling Binnington after the second just to give Binnington a reprieve and give Jake Allen some time, Blues interim coach Craig Berube said, “No. None.”

The Sharks line of Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Gustav Nyquist were the biggest beneficiaries of the Blues’ gifts with four goals, four assists.

“I think they just capitalized on their chances tonight,” defenseman Joel Edmundson said. “It could be a different game Monday. Dallas guys, they had their games too. Like I said, we’ll put this in the past and we’re looking forward to Monday.

“… Stuff happens. They were the better team tonight. We’ll give them that. I guarantee you we’ll be the better team Monday.”

Couture put the Sharks on top 1-0 off an Pietrangelo lost puck. He didn’t play a puck immediately, and with his back to the offensive zone, got pushed down by Meier creating a 2-on-1. Nyquist fed Couture for a one-timer at 3:31 of the first period, Couture’s 10th of the playoffs.

Edmundson tied it 1-1 with his first of the playoffs at 9:13 when Brayden Schenn started a breakout, Vladimir Tarasenko dropped it to Jaden Schwartz in the o-zone, and Schwartz’s shot caromed off Edmundson and beat Martin Jones five-hole with Edmundson driving the middle lane.

But Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead at 11:24, scoring on a 5-on-3 with Jay Bouwmeester (interference) and Colton Parayko (slashing) in the box. The Sharks had a 5-on-3 for 1:03 and the Blues nearly got out of it, but Pavelski followed up his own rebound after Binnington made a solid right pad save with 12 seconds left in the two-man advantage.

The Bouwmeester penalty was the Blues’ first since the first period of Game 6 against Dallas, and they set an NHL playoff record for consecutive minutes without a penalty at 136:20.

“They’re penalties,” Berube said. “Tough one on Bouwmeester a little bit, but a lot of that goes on both ways. We got called for it and Parayko breaks a guy’s stick. He’s going to call that to make it a 5-on-3.”

The Blues were down one after one period, but it wasn’t a poor period by any means.

A bad puck decision by Pietrangelo cost the Blues the first goal, and being put in a two-man disadvantage cost them another.

The Sharks hemmed the Blues in on a couple zone exits, but St. Louis had ample, quality scoring chances and zone time.

“In the first period, it was OK,” Berube said. “I thought it was a pretty good first period other than the penalties.”

The second period was the final nail, and it wasn’t good.

Edmundson’s giveaway on a flipped puck in the neutral zone turned into Kevin LaBanc’s goal at 7:41 to make it 3-1, but O’Reilly got that one back 1:17 later when he collected a loose puck off a David Perron shot, curled around Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Sharks goalie Martin Jones and tucked it inside the near post, O’Reilly’s first goal in nine games to make it 3-2.

But disaster didn’t stop there.

Parayko mismanaged the puck skating out of his own zone, got it poked away by Couture and Meier picked it up and blew past Bouwmeester before pulling it back to his backhand and beating Binnington to make it 4-2 at 10:24.

Meier’s second of the game, after Pietrangelo missed on a cross-ice pass at the red line, came on a puck off Vince Dunn’s skate at 17:34 to make it 5-2.

Game. Set. Match.

“We didn’t manage the puck very well, especially in the second period,” Berube said. “They check well, they’re a good team without the puck. They check well, they’ve got a good neutral zone. We’ve got to do a better job through the neutral zone with the puck. … Second period, we just got caught in that three-quarter ice game by them. They did a good job of checking, forcing things on us and we got caught in some turnovers and they capitalized on them.

“We were too spread out. In playoff time, you’ve got to have numbers around the puck and you’ve got to have puck support everywhere and we didn’t have enough support. We couldn’t make enough 10-foot passes.”

The Blues did some things well in the third period, but it’s easy to play better when you’re playing losing hockey and the opposition is laying back. But Tyler Bozak made it 5-3 at 13:01 by cashing in on another rebound by Jones, who made 28 saves.

The Bozak, Pat Maroon and Robert Thomas line got things going with the forecheck in the third period but too little, too late.

“I think as a line we had a better third period than our first two and we still got more to give,” Thomas said. “I think as a line we’ve got to be better.

“I wouldn’t throw it all on the ‘D’ tonight. When the ‘D’ don’t have any options, it’s hard for them to make a play. I think for us forwards we need to find better lanes and give them more outs with the puck.”

The Blues pressured when they pulled Binnington with under five minutes left, and without any results, Couture ended it with an empty-netter at 17:39.

“You keep trying to build, keep trying to push,” Pietrangelo said. “Six-on-five, you’re trying to score, everyone’s pushing. Even to get that opportunity was a good thing.”

The Blues outhit the Sharks 41-35, and for the third straight game, Sammy Blais led them with seven. And as physical as the game was, Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson threw some fire into when asked about it.
“Yeah, I think that we played hockey tonight and they worried about a few other things and we won the game,” Karlsson said.

Well, that was a shot fired, but the best thing the Blues can do is forget this game and refocus, because Monday will be massive for them.

“There’s a few too many mistakes out there, but whenever there was, they capitalized on the chances they got,” Edmundson said. “I think that was the biggest difference of tonight’s game. Overall they were just the better team and we’ll be ready for Monday.”

* NOTES — Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson did not play and was replaced by Robert Bortuzzo. Gunnarsson has a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day after injuring himself in Game 7 against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports
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