By Lou Korac
They said they were going to park the controversial ending to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final and focus on Game 4 Friday night.
The Blues really had no other choice. What else were they going to go? The result couldn’t get changed, so move on and try to even the series up.
They played like a determined team for the first 20 minutes, then had to fend off San Jose’s fury over the final 40 before holding off the Sharks, 2-1, to win Game 4 Friday at Enterprise Center to even the best-of-7 series 2-2.
Game 5 is Sunday at SAP Center in San Jose (2 p.m.; NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).
“Obviously there’s different ways to handle that situation and we did it perfect,” Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. “The atmosphere inside the locker room was good too. It’s not separate us, it’s keep us more together. What else we can do? We were down by one now and we tie. We did what we planned to and next game will be really important for us.”
Ivan Barbashev and Tyler Bozak scored first-period goals, and Jordan Binnington made 29 saves. This time, the Blues didn’t lose a one-goal lead late when the Sharks had Martin Jones on the bench, and they now have turned this into a best-of-3 series, needing to win another game in California.
“You’re down a man, 6 on 5, probably don’t have as much time as you think and you tend to just try to do whatever it takes to get it out,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said. “Sometimes it goes the distance and icing, but we found a way to win.”
They did, and setting the tone early was what the Blues needed and what they got.
Berube summoned his fourth line, or energy line, with Alexander Steen, Oskar Sundqvist and Barbashev starting the game against one of the Sharks’ top lines, and Barbashev scored 35 seconds into the game when his shot from the left circle deflected in off Gustav Nyquist’s stick past Jones.
Steen’s forecheck on Sharks defenseman Brent Burns forced Burns to turn the puck over, and Barbashev pounced for a 1-0 lead.
“They’re outstanding,” Blues center Ryan O’Reilly said. “Tonight, with the way they started, they set the tone for us and had a huge first shift, first goal and sparked us. They’re a big reason why we won tonight.
“… We wanted to come out and jump on them and respond the right way and we did. That takes a lot, but that’s what we have to do every time.”
The Blues were aggressive, they were on the hunt, they forechecked and they hit. It was the kind of start necessary after pent up energy built from losing when the Sharks won Game 3, 5-4 in overtime, on Erik Karlsson’s goal that came after what should have been an illegal hand pass that wasn’t called.
“After the third game we lost, just came in and talked,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “We just talked about you know, you’ve got to just move on. The call, you can’t change it now. It is what it is.
“I think we talked in terms like that game we had a one-goal lead we could’ve closed it out then and we didn’t. We let it go to overtime, and the only difference tonight. We closed it out, with a one-goal lead.”
And the fourth line got the ball rolling.
“They have a lot of confidence,” Berube said. “Just getting that first shift in like that is big. It gets us to our game right away. They’ve been really good in all facets of the game, not only getting some secondary scoring from them, but just put them against any line out there, they do the job. Penalty killing, checking, just all the little things.”
The Blues finally got the power play going in Game 3 by scoring on their only attempt and then got another one when Bozak was on the doorstep, getting a final touch on the puck when Tarasenko’s shot from the top of the left circle was loose in the crease after Pat Maroon got a tip, and Bozak’s fonal touch went through Jones’ legs when his teammate, Justin Braun accidentally kicked it in at 17:53 to make it 2-0.
“Good face-off win by ‘O’Ry,'” Bozak said. “We kind of were stressing we’ve got to get more pucks to the net with traffic. We were just kind of passing it around the outside a little bit too much. Great shot by Vladi. Patty made a tip and just a loose puck in front there, kind of lucky that it ended up on my stick and go in.”
The Blues then tightened up for the Blues, and the Sharks’ forecheck and zone time increased. So much to the point where, for one example, Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had a shift that lasted an astounding 3:47 when the Blues either couldn’t clear pucks, were caught running around or when they did get a momentary clear, it wasn’t down the ice far enough for him to get off the ice.
“I think they did a good job of getting the puck in our zone and just in terms of their offensive zone, they tend to find each other by rimming the puck,” Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. “And they did a good job when their forwards are down low, they find their d-men up high, rimming it. If we’re able to cut that off, it’s great. But they do a good job of it. They’re good at protecting the puck, and just getting the puck toward the net. So their d-men are good at getting pucks through and the forwards are good at getting rebounds. That’s the flow of their game. You notice they shoot the puck a lot, if it gets blocked, their forwards go to the corners and grab it. It’s good. It’s a good challenge for us, and they did a good job.”
The Blues and Binnington cracked in the third period when Tomas Hertl ended the shutout at 6:48, a power-play goal, when Binnington couldn’t squeeze Burns’ one-timer from the left circle. The puck got behind Binnington and Hertl was there to knock it in.
The Sharks continued to press. They had twice as many shot attempts as the Blues did (73-35) but San Jose missed the net 22 times and had 21 blocked. Burns had 16 attempts but only two reached Binnington.
“We were trying to keep them to the outside as much as they can,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We don’t want those guys up top shooting too. We were trying to limit the rebounds and second opportunities. I thought we did a good job of pushing their guys out.”
The final two minutes were equally as frantic as Game 3, when the Sharks tied the game with 1:01 left, then finished it with the controversial ending. San Jose banged on the door, but couldn’t knock it down this time.
“They pushed really hard in the second and third and we didn’t play in their zone enough,” Blues forward David Perron said. “The result is what matters right now.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports