Sunday, 22 May 2016

Blues bite back with Game 4 win over Sharks

SAN JOSE, CALIF. • Whatever it was, turning to goaltender Jake Allen or switching up the line combinations, it worked for the Blues in Game 4.

A club that had been dominated by San Jose in Games 2 and 3, shut out in both, woke up with a 6-3 win over the Sharks at SAP Center Saturday.

The best-of-seven series looked like it was on the verge of being busted wide open, but suddenly it’s tied at two games apiece and headed back to St. Louis for Game 5 Monday.

There was some doubt back home about whether fans had seen the last of a team that looked capable of hoisting the Stanley Cup, but with their backs against the boards, they responded with their sixth road win of the playoffs in a game that had a must-win feel.

“There was (some doubt)?” Blues forward Alexander Steen asked. “We’ve dealt with this for a long time, it’s nothing new to us. What’s important is what we can control inside the boards and in this room. We faced a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. We had a good meeting yesterday and talked about the adjustments we want to make and came out and made them.”

The Blues broke out with six goals, tripling their offensive output in the first three games of the series. They had two goals in each period Saturday, with Troy Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak accounting for two apiece and Jori Lehtera and Alex Pietrangelo adding the others in a game in which San Jose goalie Martin Jones was sent to the showers early.

But the story going into Game 4 was in the other net, where a controversial coaching move put Allen in the crease in place of Brian Elliott and seemed to get the Blues’ attention. Allen finished with 31 saves Saturday, losing his shutout in the third period when the Sharks struck for all three of their goals.

“Great, he’s very composed, poised, played great for us,” Steen said. “Our goaltending has been so solid throughout the year. No difference here in the playoffs, they’ve been tremendous, both guys.”

The Blues may or may not have a debate on their hands of whether to come back with Elliott — Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he’d make that announcement Sunday. But that question will be put on hold as a more important availability issue surrounds the status of forwards David Backes and Robby Fabbri.

Backes took his final shift of the game late in the first period, then sat on the bench for approximately the final 45 minutes. There were two potential causes for him being kept out of the game: perhaps a head issue after contact with San Jose’s Brent Burns just before the Blues’ second goal, or a leg injury that might have occurred while losing an edge skating into the corner. Fabbri was moving slow after a hit from San Jose’s Tommy Wingels and was held out of the end of the game.

“We’ll let you know in a couple of days on both guys,” Hitchcock said. “They should be good to go.”

The Blues had a 2-0 lead when Backes took a seat, and it would grow to 4-0 before San Jose would get on the board on Joe Pavelski’s third-period goal.

Who saw this coming?

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A Blues offense that had been blanked in back-to-back playoff games for the first time in franchise history snapped its scoring drought at 156:59 just seven minutes into the game on the first of Brouwer’s two power-play goals. It ended a stretch of seven straight goals by the Sharks in the series and was the first in 63 shots against Jones, who had shutouts in three of his last four games.

“I thought we went back to our roots, what made us successful in the regular season and in playoffs,” Brouwer said. “We were able to create chances from below the goal line rather than off the rush. Collectively and individually, guys really brought a great game tonight.”

The Blues made adjustments for Game 4; just don’t ask what they were.

“Yeah, our new plan,” Steen said. “It’s up to you guys to dissect it.”

They worked.

Lehtera added to the Blues’ lead midway through the first period. After Jones made a sensational save on Fabbri, Lehtera put the rebound back in for his third goal of the postseason.

The Blues blew a chance to add to the lead when they went on a five-on-three power play for 48 seconds early in the second period, but made up for it with a short-handed goal.

With San Jose on a power play later, a turnover by Joe Thornton led to Brodziak’s fourth shorty of the season. He and teammate Jaden Schwartz went on a two-on-one after the turnover and Brodziak finished it off.

Brodziak then followed with his second goal in a span of 4:02 for a 4-0 lead with 9:49 remaining in the second period. This time he took a behind-the-net feed from linemate Dmitrij Jaskin and pumped it past Jones.

That was the end of the night for the Sharks’ netminder, who was replaced by backup James Reimer.

There were five goals scored in the third period, as a game that the Blues led by four see-sawed back and forth as the teams traded goals, from 4-1 to 5-1 to 5-2 to 6-2 to 6-3.

Now the series will see-saw back to St. Louis for Game 5.

“This is a big step,” Hitchcock said. “This is catching our game again. We came here to win a hockey game. We did it.”

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