Blues down Sharks to even Western Conference finals series
San Jose, Calif. — Changing goaltenders gave the St. Louis Blues a spark. Changing their style of play helped them even up the Western Conference final at two games apiece.
Troy Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak each scored twice, Jake Allen stopped 31 shots in his first start of the postseason and the Blues bounced back from consecutive shutout losses to beat the San Jose Sharks 6-3 in Game 4 on Saturday night.
"I thought we went back to our roots, what made us successful all throughout the regular season the first two rounds of the playoffs," Brouwer said. "We were able to get pucks deep, we were able to create chances from below the goal line rather than trying to create stuff off the rush."
Coach Ken Hitchcock hoped the change in goalie from Brian Elliott would help his dormant offense and the move paid off as the Blues controlled the play from the start of Game 4.
Brouwer and Jori Lehtera scored in the first period and the Blues rolled after getting dominated the previous two games when they were outscored 7-0. Alex Pietrangelo added an empty-netter to seal it.
"He gave us exactly what we needed," Hitchcock said about Allen. "He's a competitive son of a gun. We needed a battler in there. We needed somebody to really help us play better defense. We played with more passion in front of him in our own zone because I made the goalie change. I had to make that decision."
Now it will be up to San Jose to reverse the momentum in Game 5 on Monday night in St. Louis.
Martin Jones, who became the first Sharks goalie with consecutive playoff shutouts, was pulled midway through the second period after allowing four goals on 19 shots. James Reimer allowed one goal on seven shots in his first action of the playoffs.
Joe Pavelski set a San Jose franchise record with his 10th goal of the postseason. Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson also scored in the third for the Sharks, but it wasn't enough as San Jose went 0 for 5 on the power play and allowed a short-handed goal.
"We weren't as sharp as we could have been early," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "We created a few chances, but we don't get enough off it. We just really need to be sharp."
St. Louis took control early in the second period after it seemed like San Jose had gained momentum from killing a two-man advantage and then drawing a penalty from the Blues.
But the power play that looked so lethal for most of the playoffs was not clicking this game. The Sharks struggled to set up in the offensive zone and gave up a pair of two-on-one chances the other way. The second of those came after an errant pass from Joe Thornton and St. Louis capitalized when Brodziak took a pass from Jaden Schwartz and beat Jones to make it 3-0.
Brodziak struck again a few minutes later off a pass from Dmitrij Jaskin to end Jones' night.
"We hung him out to dry tonight," Sharks forward Tommy Wingels said. "He made some big saves there and he gave us a chance. But we kept giving them more opportunities. Odd-man rushes and open guys around the net and that's certainly not on Jonesy at all. It's on every guy in front of him."
The Blues then cruised to the win that has them the closest they have been to the Stanley Cup final since losing a seven-game conference final to Calgary in 1986.
The Sharks played with a series lead in the conference final for the first time ever but now find themselves tied after four games, just as they were in their first trip in 2004 when they lost to Calgary in six.
Along with giving Allen the start, Hitchcock put the struggling Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko on the same line with Lehtera and put defenseman Joel Edmundson back in the lineup after benching him in Game 3.
The changes paid dividends as the Blues got off to a fast start. They hemmed the Sharks in their own zone with a strong forecheck and took a 2-0 lead after one, ending a scoreless drought of 156:59 dating back to the second period of Game 1.
"He's got combinations in his head for a long time and the beauty of our team is that we can go a number of different ways with it," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think that's why we're able to adjust on the fly and handle it."