The St. Louis Blues should have known they were in for a fight as they started the Western Conference Finals. Their first 10 minutes showed they might not have been quite ready.
You would have thought the St. Louis Blues would know what they were in for entering the Western Conference Finals. For those that were here, they were facing the same team they faced in 2016 with many of the same players and the same coach across the way. Teams change their styles a little over the years, but San Jose has been San Jose quite consistently.
Despite knowing this, the Blues came out ready for a regular season game and the Sharks were ready to take that step toward the next round already. St. Louis was not lacking energy, but they were lacking cohesion and flow and the drive necessary to come out well in a playoff game.
Due to this, the Sharks got on the board first. A bad turnover at the attacking blue line led to an odd-man rush that was calmly finished off.
The Sharks were dominating the opening minutes and the Blues seemed to be trying to find their sea legs. Fortunately, it did not take long to get back into the game.
Just before the midway point of the first, the Blues tied things up. It seemed to be heading in the right direction until two penalties gave the Sharks a five-on-three and they converted.
The Blues just kept killing themselves all night long. St. Louis was credited with 12 giveaways, which likely means they had twice as many turnovers as most people would consider them.
Every time they would climb back into the game, they would do something dumb and the Sharks would capitalize.
It is such an odd juxtaposition. 6-3 is a just final with how everything played out. It is also not fitting because the Blues could have been in it or won if they had not played so terribly in key moments.
St. Louis just seemed to play right into the Sharks’ hands too much.
Cons: Slow Start
The St. Louis Blues are notorious for slow starts, even in the playoffs. You just hoped it would not be the case in this series because there is so much more on the line.
Still, we saw the same old stuff. The Blues were on their heels as their opponent sent wave after wave. It was not quite the army of the dead attacking Winterfell, but the Sharks were ready.
The problem was not just a slower pace out of the Blues, but an overall sloppiness. Their passes were not on, their skating was a step or two slow and their zone exits were terrible.
That led to San Jose getting everything they wanted. There were several backdoor plays that did not connect. Then there was the one that did, leaving Logan Couture open on the back side for an easy finish.
The goal was bad enough. What started it was even worse.
The Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo was weak on the boards and let the puck slip over the blue line. As he attempted to retrieve it, he got shoved to the ice, allowing the odd-man rush. I get that Petro is not the most physical player out there, but you would like your captain to not look like a gust of wind blew him over.
St. Louis was also not doing a good job of closing the gaps. They allowed far too many clear shots from the point, which plays right into the Sharks’ hands of trying for deflections.
It will be an exhausting way to play, but you have to close the space every time you can. The Blues started to toward the end of the first period, but were already down 2-1 by then.
Pros: Fighting Back
For all the Blues faults, you have to give them credit. They almost never fail to find a way back as long as things are within reach.
The Blues managed to hold on for long enough to get themselves calmed down and their skates under them. Interestingly enough, the team’s first goal came after a break for the Sharks.
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Couture had a slight break down the ice on the left wing. Jaden Schwartz was with him the entire way.
Schwartz rode him all the way to the circle and then just gave him a little nudge that sent him awkwardly into the boards. That allowed the Blues to take the puck and charge down the other way.
After gaining some space in the zone, Schwartz fired it past Martin Jones. Jones should have had it, but it was more about the Blues battling.
After falling down 3-1 and failing to tie it up on a two-on-one, the Blues still did not give up. Ryan O’Reilly finally joined the scoring club by popping one in to make the score 3-2.
Unfortunately, the fight back kind of ran out in terms of production.
Cons: Bone-headed Penalties
As you go further and further in the playoffs, special teams becomes more and more a factor. Teams like Boston and San Jose will make you pay every time you go into the box.
St. Louis did themselves no favors here by taking two bad penalties in under one minute. While it looked like the Blues were doing an OK job of killing off a lame Jay Bouwmeester interference penalty, Colton Parayko managed to chop Evander Kane‘s stick in half.
That gave the Sharks 53 seconds of a two-man power play and they did not need it all. St. Louis actually stayed fairly compact and in position to start.
Once San Jose was allowed to really set things up, however, it was game over. The Blues were scrambling because the passes were so quick and then Joe Pavelski had three cracks at the puck when he eventually scored.
It looks much worse in slow motion since he had so many whacks at the puck and in real time, there was little chance to react. That said, you just cannot put yourself in that position.
Making things worse, two of your best penalty killers were the ones in the box. No offense, but you are already on the back foot when Robert Bortuzzo, who has not played in over a week, has to step up against one of the most potent power plays in the league.
Cons: Alex Pietrangelo
Those that have read my articles long enough know I try not to pick on single players because there are so many things that could have been different on any one play. It is not fair to blame goaltenders, often, so why blame anyone else.
That said, when your friggin’ team captain stinks up the joint, you have to mention it. Alex Pietrangelo was a one-man example of how bad this team was and how much they resembled the early season Blues, not the ones that battled all the way to this spot.
Through two periods of play, Pietrangelo was a minus-2. He was directly responsible for both of those goals as well.
The first one, he got pushed over like a chump, allowing an odd-man break the other way. The second one was mystifying.
After a scramble had two Sharks down on the ice in front of their own bench, Vince Dunn sent a simple cross-ice pass from the Blues bench to Pietrangelo on the near side.
Somehow, some way, Pietrangelo missed the bloody thing and then backed up and let San Jose into the zone instead of pushing up to retrieve his mistake. Yes, the way the goal happened was unholy luck, but the play never should have happened.
He was also out on the ice for two other goals. The only thing saving his plus/minus was being out there for both Blues goals. He was not directly responsible for the power play goal or the fourth goal, but he did not look like an All-Star defender either.
I don’t go for all this BS about your captain having to lead by chewing guys out and blah blah. Your captain should lead by example and the team certainly followed his lead with the nonsense he was putting out on the ice.
He was not the only one to have a bad game – far from it. You expect more from a world class player though.
Fingers crossed this was the Blues really bad game for the series. They have had one each series, including a 6-3 loss to Winnipeg and a 2-1 loss to Dallas that should have been 5-1.
Being real, not just a glass half full type, the Blues could have had this game tied and maybe even won it. They just continually shot themselves in the foot, which you cannot do at this stage of the postseason.
If you want to look at the bright side, this game should have been tied 3-3. St. Louis absolutely gifted the Sharks two goals and the Blues butchered a two-on-one with Oskar Sundqvist and Jaden Schwartz. Sunny needed to shoot the puck and Schwartz could have one-timed it.
The Blues also had enough pressure to get more than the three goals they had. If they played with even half a brain, they would have been in this game until the very end, even more than they were.
The problem was every time they got themselves back into the game, they did something stupid. St. Louis just had so many turnovers in bad areas of the ice and at the worst times of the game.
With very few exceptions, the best players on the Blues were either awful or nonexistent. The best players for the Sharks came up huge. That was the difference.
Peel away everything else and the Sharks stars showed up, the Blues stars did not and St. Louis made far too many mistakes to expect to win a playoff game, much less a Western Conference Finals game.
Nothing to do now but brush it off and go on to the next. As a fan, I almost like the fact it was a blow out because I had the entire third period to calm down. That’s just me though.