By Lou Korac
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Blues came into Game 2 of the Western Conference Final against San Jose knowing what needed to change and knowing what needed to be fixed in order to come out on the right side.
What they perhaps didn’t foresee or know would happen — but are certainly happy it did — was for Robert Bortuzzo to factor in the outcome.
But he did, and Bortuzzo helped the Blues gain a road split and bring the series back to St. Louis even.
Bortuzzo scored the go-ahead goal and had a key third-period blocked shot with the Blues holding a one-goal lead, and the Blues rebounded well with a 4-2 win over the Sharks on Monday before 17,562 at SAP Center.
The best-of-7 series now moves to Enterprise Center for Game 3 on Wednesday tied 1-1.
After the Sharks, who won Game 1 6-3, stripped the Blues of the momentum with a pair of Logan Couture goals, stemmed by a bad power-play that led to a shorthanded goal and ensuing goal scored 1:59 later to erase a 2-0 lead, Bortuzzo scored a sweet, nifty backhand goal from the slot with 3 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the second period to give the Blues a 3-2 lead, and they held the lead the rest of the way.
Tyler Bozak, Joel Edmundson and Bortuzzo worked a quick-passing play that put Bortuzzo in behind Sharks veteran center Joe Thornton.
“It was a good chance for us to get in the o-zone,” Bortuzzo said. “I think that’s where we do our best work. We were kind of encouraging our ‘D’ to get a little movement. Made a play to ‘Bozie’ and jumped to a hole and ‘Eddy’ found me. Fortunately, we were able to put it home.”
It was Bortuzzo’s first-ever NHL playoff goal in his 31st game and first playoff of any kind since March 23, 2007 with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. His coach? Sharks coach Pete DeBoer, and Bortuzzo did not remember it at all when asked by a reporter.
“In all of hockey? Umm ..”
When reminded it was 2007, he said, “Kitchener Rangers.
“I don’t (remember). You want to remind me who it was against?
“I don’t know if you have people that can dig that stuff up, but it was a while, I’m sure.”
Yes it was a while, but it was one that zapped the momentum away from the Sharks and their feeding-frenzy home crowd, and one the Blues deperately needed.
“He’s a gamer,” Edmundson said of Bortuzzo. “I’ve seen his hands before, so it didn’t really catch me by surprise. It was a nice play, pass it ‘Bozie’ and he got open. He was wide open for me to get it to him and just his patience down low and he tucked it in underneath the bar. It’s good to see a defenseman that doesn’t usually score get a goal.”
Blues interim coach Craig Berube was equally impressed.
“That was a helluva backhand,” Berube said. “Like I said, Borts, he finds a way to get open in the offensive zone. He does some real good things in there and jumping in at the right time. He doesn’t obviously have the touch to produce all the time, but he scored a big one tonight for us.
“… Borts, actually he does a lot of good things in the offensive zone when we’re cycling the puck and stuff. He’s got a pretty good head for jumping in for the right time and he did. And ended up making a real nice play and scoring.”
Oskar Sundqvist scored with 3:08 remaining in the game to put the game away and help the Blues gain a much-needed road split in the series.
“We had a pretty solid game tonight,” said Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, who made 24 saves to improve to 4-2 in the playoffs after a loss. “We had a good start, we were disciplined and when they tied it up, we stayed composed and that’s important this time of year especially. I think we enjoyed the moment and we competed right until the end.”
The Blues got the quick start this time, getting a goal from Jaden Schwartz, his team-leading ninth in the playoffs, and Vince Dunn scored in the second to build a 2-0 lead.
But the Blues’ woeful power play, which is now 1-for-26 the past eight games after going 0-for-5 Monday, allowed Couture’s shorthanded goal at 4:55 of the second to make it 2-1, and Couture scored again at 6:54 to tie the game.
“I was on the ice, but I’m guessing some of the boys stepped up, the leaders on this team,” Binnington said. “I’m sure they were telling the boys to stay composed and stick with the game and trust the process and I think it worked out in the end.”
The Blues wanted to come out quick and got the early lead when Schwartz scored at 2:34.
Vladimir Tarasenko’s centering pass caromed off San Jose’s Gustav Nyquist to Schwartz inside the top of the left circle and he had time to step in and wrist a shot high glove side on Martin Jones for a 1-0 Blues lead.
“It’s definitely the funnest time of the year,” said Schwartz, who had just 11 regular-season goals but has nine in 15 postseason games. “I had some struggles earlier that I hadn’t had before, but once playoffs starts, I don’t know, just embrace the games, have fun with it. I don’t really try to think too much about it. Just approach each game the same way, try help the team any way I can and that’s kind of what I’m focused on.”
Instead of the Blues perhaps taking control of the game with a third goal, Couture scored shorthanded after an Alex Pietrangelo turnover, Couture reading his cross-ice pass and taking off on a breakaway to make it 2-1 at 4:55.
Couture scored 1:59 later to tie it 2-2 when the Blues lost possession of the puck at the San Jose blue line, Timo Meier sent Couture in along the left side and he slapped one between Binnington’s pads.
The Blues finally flipped personnel, switched up their defensive partners and got some good zone time and regained the lead on Bortuzzo’s goal, and it came on Pat Maroon’s saving play when he negated what would have been an icing call on Pietrangelo had Maroon not hustled to beat Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to the puck behind the San Jose goal.
Edmundson said assistant coach Mike Van Ryn deserved the credit for mixing up the defensemen, putting Edmundson with Bortuzzo, Jay Bouwmeester with Pietrangelo and Dunn with Colton Parayko.
“I think ‘Ryno’ did a good job there of just reading off of how we were feeling,” Edmundson said. “All six of us, we’re comfortable playing with each other. When he put me and ‘Bobbo’ together, we kind of got excited. We like playing together. It was nice to get out there with ‘Bobbo’ again, especially getting that goal and helping our team out. I think ‘Ryno’ did a good job there.”
Sundqvist’s goal came on a deserved goal by the fourth line.
The goal came after Ivan Barbashev intercepted a Tomas Hertl pass in the offensive zone, the Blues transitioned to the offensive zone, and after Pietrangelo fed Steen, he spun and fed Sundqvist in the slot for a backhand shot past Jones.
“I think we probably should have scored a couple more goals tonight,” Sundqvist said. “We had pretty good chances all through the game, I think. But our line, we stuck with it, we didn’t panic. We just kept calm. We pushed forward and we got that goal.”
* NOTES — On Dunn’s assist, O’Reilly (three goals, five assists) established a Blues record for most consecutive games (seven) with a road point, surpassing the six games by Wayne Gretzky (1996, one goal, eight assists), Brett Hull (1990, five goals, four assists), Doug Gilmour (1986, seven goals, six assists) and Bernie Federko (1986, two goals, 10 assists).
The six road wins ties a single postseason record tied with the 2016 Blues team.
Pietrangelo tied the Blues record for points by a defenseman in one postseason with 12 (two goals, 10 assists) with an assist on Sundqvist’s goal. He tied Joe Micheletti, 1981; Jeff Brown, 1990 and 1991 and Al MacInnis, 1999).
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (lower-body injury) did not dress, but Berube said he’s close to being ready to play.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports