We all knew the St. Louis Blues were going to enter Game 4 with some serious motivation. The only question was if it would be a positive or negative in how it played out.
By now, everyone knows how Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals played out and the officiating mistake that cost the Blues a 2-1 series lead. So, given the comments of the players and the things we heard from the coach and about the general manager, we knew the Blues had a lot of motivation for Game 4. The only thing left to wonder about as the puck dropped was whether the Blues would take that emotion out on the game, as they needed to, or on the Sharks, which would have given them more problems than solutions.
Well, the Blues put the fears of fans to rest rather early. It took just over 30 seconds for St. Louis to score the first goal of the game. It was just what the doctor ordered to get the monkey off the back so early and be able to settle into the game properly.
The Blues dominated much of the first period and go their rewards due to it. The Blues kept up the pressure for the majority of the opening frame and put the Sharks on their heels.
The Blues even drew a late penalty in the period. They won a faceoff and managed to get the puck in, not all that dissimilar to how the Sharks did for their game-tying goal a game prior. The only real difference was how it went into the net.
The Blues came out well in the second period too. They kept their feet going and did not let themselves get complacent. Sadly, it was another penalty that spoiled their momentum.
While it was equal minors on both teams, the Blues basically spent the entirety of a four-on-four killing off a penalty. The Blues were put back onto their heels during the entire two-minute stretch and they were very fortunate the Sharks could not convert.
After that, San Jose really started tightening their grip in the game. They clanged one off the crossbar late in the second and were constantly putting pressure on. The Blues never dissolved into sloppy play where they would be diving around, but they were not as strong on the puck and not as good at their zone exits. After 40 minutes were played, you had to take a deep breath in relief as opposed to the calm confidence most felt after the first period.
The Blues looked like they had calmed things down early in the third period, but that was quickly squashed. The Blues took a couple penalties in the third period that gave San Jose some good looks on their potent power play.
The Sharks just seemed to have an extra step too, wearing the Blues down a little bit. By the end, the Blues seemed to be hanging on out of spite more than skill.
Ultimately, it worked, no matter how it happened. The Blues won 2-1 and tied the series 2-2.
Pros: Getting The Early Goal
One of the biggest questions coming into this game was how the Blues were going to come out. As mentioned, they could either focus on punishing the Sharks, which would likely result in something similar to Game 1. Or, they could come out, assert themselves and find their own style early on.
What we got was definitely the latter. The Blues put on the pressure right off the opening draw and caught San Jose by surprise.
Due to this, the Sharks were caught unaware behind their own net and coughed the puck up. Then, instead of passing for a hopeful body in front, Ivan Barbashev just took the shot and got something good out of it.
The shot itself was not going go in. However, it hit the stick of the defenseman that had gone to block it and beat the goaltender to the short side.
Again, that is something fans have been begging for. St. Louis has looked for the pretty play too much and this was more proof that just putting it toward the net is a better idea more times than not.
This early tally allowed the Blues to really settle into their game and set the tone. That is not to say that might not have happened if the game remained scoreless longer, but this was the perfect scenario.
The Blues were clearly motivated, but getting this goal as early as they did was justification for all the bitter pills they had to swallow a couple nights prior. From a fan standpoint, the only worry getting that goal was whether the Blues would just try to protect it, but they did a good job of not doing that for a good chunk of the game.
Cons: Loss Of Energy By The End of 40
The worrying thing for the Blues, despite having a 2-0 lead going into the second intermission was how the period ended. Though the Blues were never killing off a penalty in the latter half of the second period, you might not have known that if you only paid the game a passing glance.
As mentioned in the opening, the Blues got matching minors with San Jose after Marc Vlasic put his stick in on Jordan Binnington after the whistle. Fortunately, the referee huddle paid off this time, because the initial call was only going to be against the Blues. Perhaps it would have been better if it had.
Nobody really wants to give San Jose a power play, but the Blues might have been more focused. San Jose was whipping pucks around so quickly that the Blues ended up in PK mode anyway. The Sharks ended up in the Blues zone for a good 90 seconds or more out of that two-minute stretch.
The Sharks managed to translate that into a lot of zone time in the offensive end and the Blues failed to recover before the end of the period. St. Louis did manage a chance or two down the ice once they finally got some fresh legs on, but it was worrying how much possession St. Louis was allowing the Sharks to have.
Making matters worse, it was some of the most dangerous guys on the ice having the puck in dangerous spots. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns were allowed to skate in from the blue line and start bombing away.
The only good thing was Binnington was either up to the task or St. Louis got some good blocks in.
Pros: Suddenly Resurgent Power Play
Similarly to the play that led to the first goal, the Blues second goal was because they fired the puck on net. If we have said it once, we have said it a thousand times, the Blues needed to get more pucks on net, especially on the power play.
The second goal took on added significance because it was a power play goal. Not only was it a power play goal, but it was the second power play goal in as many games. Before David Perron‘s goal in Game 3, the Blues had gone 0-18 their last five games.
This time, it was Tyler Bozak collecting the honors with the power play goal. It would be an even bigger score in the end, as this goal would be the game winner, but regardless of that, it was important to get more momentum on the man advantage to help rid themselves of that unconfident taste.
The interesting thing about the sudden success is it has come from little things the Blues needed to be doing at even strength and the power play. They won faceoffs and took shots.
In this play, they won the faceoff quickly and Vladimir Tarasenko snapped a quick shot from the point. The puck bounced around and Bozak was able to get enough of a stick on it to slide it through a scrambling Martin Jones.
St. Louis finished the game 1-4, which is not good enough given how bad their second power play was. Nevertheless, given how bad they have been in the playoffs, you will take two goals in two games no matter how they came.
Cons: Our Hearts
These are the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nobody ever said it is for the feint of heart.
That said, this team is a cardiac arrest waiting to happen, even for those of us that are healthy. They simply cannot make it easy on themselves or their fanbase at the end of games.
For the second game in a row, the Blues just fail over and over and over to actually skate the puck out. We all get it. The opponent has an extra man.
It is just gut wrenching to see everything work against the Blues because they lose all their skill in those final moments. You can put your best defenders out and your best skaters and suddenly they appear slow and clueless, even if that is not the actual case.
For the second game in a row, the Blues took a late icing too. It was difficult to tell if they were going for the net or not, but it would have been the end of several cell phones, televisions and drywall across the city if the Blues failed to hold on.
Thankfully they did. It would just be better for all our health if they could find some way, any way, to get an empty net goal instead of defending for two or more minutes.
The funny thing is this game started exactly as I thought it might. The Blues had a point to prove and they did it with an exclamation point.
The problem is the second half of the game gives me pause for the next one. Who knows, maybe it was poetic justice.
St. Louis was the better team for the majority of Game 3 and did not win. San Jose was the better team for the latter half of Game 4 and did not win. The Blues will have to focus even more if they do not want the Sharks to get Game 5 momentum the way the Blues did from their prior game.
The main worry is the Blues just looked like they spent it all during those first 30 minutes. There were plenty of ways they shot themselves in the foot, but the Blues looked tired for the first time since their overtime win against Dallas in Game 7.
Perhaps going on the road will be good for them. Things are more regimented, so you can focus more on rest and the game.
The Blues will have to find some gas though because they did not have much of it at the end.
Regardless, they did the most important thing and got the win. It was an emotional win and a much tighter one than it looked like it might be the way the Blues put the screws to San Jose early on.
At least they got one of the best games of the series and maybe the playoffs, overall, out of Vladimir Tarasenko. Both his offense and defense helped this team pick up a huge win.
That is what this team needs to focus on now. Everyone is tired on both sides. You just have to realize you are two wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup.
It’s a best of three series now.