Things can change quickly in the playoffs – very quickly.
Forty-eight hours ago, the Sharks were the dominant team in the Western Conference Finals, having shut out the Blues in back-to-back games and on the verge of taking command of the series.
Now, they’re the ones left searching for answers after a 6-3 defeat to the Blues in Game 4 at SAP Center to even up the series at two games apiece.
Head coach Peter DeBoer said:
“We didn’t execute tonight. We got burnt. We got what we deserved because of our execution.”
Jones had been unstoppable, not allowing a goal since the second period of Game 1. But in the dramatic turnaround that saw the Blues snatch home-ice advantage back in dominant fashion, St. Louis beat Jones four times in a 31-minute span.
The goals, though, were more the result of turnovers and defensive breakdowns than they were Jones’ fault. Tommy Wingels said:
“We hung him out to dry tonight. He made some big saves. He gave us a chance. We kept giving them more opportunities, odd-man rushes. That’s certainly not on Jones at all.”
The Sharks missed a chance to gain momentum early in the second period. Down by two goals and after killing off a 5-on-3 power play, the Sharks were rewarded shortly thereafter with a power play of their own.
But it was discombobulated, to say the least. Joe Thornton’s cross-ice pass to no one in particular in the offensive zone led to an odd-man rush for the Blues, and Kyle Brodziak finished off the break to put St. Louis up 3-0 and suck the energy out of SAP Center. The Sharks finished 0-for-5 on the power play on the night.[envira-gallery id=”185191″]
Broadziak struck again four minutes later. The Sharks just watched as Dmitrij Jaskin grabbed his own rebound, took the puck around the net and fed a wide-open Broadziak, who deposited it past Jones top shelf.
The goal epitomized the night for the Sharks, who fell behind early as the Blues came out energized. Six minutes into the game, Troy Brouwer scored on a power play, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play from Robby Fabbri and Paul Stastny.
The goal ended a save streak of 62 shots by Jones, and it was the Blues’ first goal in nearly two hours of game action. It was also the first time the Sharks hadn’t jumped out to a first period lead since Game 1.
That was no excuse to fall flat, remarked Joe Pavelski:
“If you get one early, it definitely helps. You get a little bit of confidence and gets you rolling. It would’ve been nice, but … if it doesn’t happen, you just can’t let it get away the way it did.”
And it got away, big time.
The Blues kept the pressure on and had the Sharks in scramble mode in the defensive zone. Four minutes later, the Blues capitalized on a turnover by Paul Martin in his own end to double their lead. Jones made a tremendous sliding stick save on Fabbri, who had intercepted Martin’s backhand pass, but with Jones out of position, Lehtera punched in the rebound from point-blank.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic described the inauspicious start:
“They had a lot of opportunities in our net, forechecking better than they did in the previous two games, and we weren’t breaking out as clean. A combination of all that resulted in two goals right away.”
The Sharks trailed 2-0 after one period, and it could have been worse as the Blues played their strongest period of the series. Perhaps they were motivated by the goaltender switch from Brian Elliot to backup Jake Allen, a ploy by head coach Ken Hitchcock to wake the team up after back-to-back shutouts.
It was the first start of the postseason for Allen, who is a more mobile goaltender than Elliot. He fared well, enjoying the benefit of revitalized skaters in front of him. The Sharks made a push in the third period, getting goals from Pavelski, Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson and had fleeting hopes of a comeback.
But Brouwer tallied again for the Blues in the third and Alex Pietrangelo added an empty-netter to wrap up the win.
“I don’t know how much there is to take out of this game that’s positive. Hopefully we can just bring a better work ethic next game.’
Before the game, DeBoer told reporters that the team had prepared for both Elliot and Allen.
But the way the Sharks played, it wouldn’t matter. By the time the final buzzer sounded, it was DeBoer’s team with a backup goaltender in net and on the hot seat to respond in Game 5 on Monday in St. Louis with the series tied at 2-2.
Several Sharks said they believed the mistakes on Saturday were fixable, and cited the team’s resilience after tough losses in the first two rounds. DeBoer concurred:
“We’ve had some nights like this in the playoffs and we’ve responded the right way after it. We’ve got a real honest group. They know where their game’s at, what’s good enough and what isn’t, and we’ll get it fixed.”