St. Louis takes Game 1, feel it will be better moving forward against top opponent
ST. LOUIS -- It wasn't a Picasso, but the Blues continue to find ways.
And in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, the Blues found a way.
Goalie Brian Elliott -- as usual -- and the specialty teams were key in a 2-1 win against the Sharks at Scottrade Center on Sunday night.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (left) made 31 saves in a 2-1 win against the San
Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday.
Jori Lehtera's go-ahead goal midway through the second period proved to be the difference, Elliott made 31 saves and the Blues scored a power play goal by David Backes while the Blues' penalty kill thwarting San Jose's potent power play, holding it to 0-for-3.
Game 2 is in St. Louis on Tuesday (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM)
The Blues are 4-4 at home in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but coach Ken Hitchcock thinks his team needs more to compete in a completely different series than what they saw against the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars.
"We haven't played a team like this," Hitchcock said. "The other two series [against the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars] were similar. This series and this team that we're playing against is completely different. This is no different than playing Los Angeles. They're a heavy, hard team, strong on the puck, a lot of wall battles. We haven't had a series like this.
"It took us two periods just to get close to the emotional level on the compete side to get going. We'll be a lot better in Game 2.
Tomas Hertl scored his first goal in seven games for the Sharks, who lost their fourth straight on the road in the postseason. Martin Jones made 21 saves.
"I think we were a little tentative to start the game," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "I thought the first period was a little feeling out. We talked between the first and second, started to play our game in the second period and really I thought in the second period ... the tragedy of the second period was we spent the whole period in their end and lost the period 1-0. That was basically the game."
The Sharks had the better of the play in the second period, outshooting the Blues 16-5, but Lehtera put the Blues ahead 2-1 at 9:15 after picking off a Brent Burns pass in the neutral zone, skating in and taking a slap shot from the top of the left circle that beat Jones.
"I just got the puck, then I closed my eyes and shoot it," Lehtera joked before getting a laugh from Backes and Elliott. "That's about it. ... We just kind of keep it simple."
Jones was frustrated a puck he felt he should have saved decided the game.
"Not much to it, just a found a hole ... it (stinks) that it decided the game but nothing really to panic over," Jones said. "I'll make that safe next time."
Elliott made his best save of the period on Joe Pavelski's one-timer from the slot off a Joe Thornton pass at 10:46.
"He's obviously a good player, a guy that leads their team" Elliott said of Pavelski. "It's really nothing more than just trying to stop every puck. It's not who's shooting it that really matters. It's trying to get in the way.
"When a guy like Jori goes down and gets you the lead, you just want to keep it, limit their chances they have, try to cover some pucks and let the guys do the rest. You don't really think about who's shooting it."
The Blues caught a break with 1:14 left in the second when a quick whistle negated a Sharks goal that would’ve tied it 2-2. Melker Karlsson's dump-in was blown dead after Elliott appeared to control the puck, but the Blues goalie never had control of it and kicked it into his net.
"The whistle blows and everyone stops," Backes said. "'Ells' just keeps momentum to where that loose puck is. Three guys notice it, but the whistle's already blown."
Patrik Berglund thought he put the Blues ahead 1-0 at 11:35 of the first period when he tipped Jay Bouwmeester's shot and it was inadvertently put in by Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The goal was waved off, though, because Berglund made incidental contact with Jones. The Blues challenged the call on the ice, but it was confirmed by video review.
"Well it was varying information so it seemed like the right thing to do," Hitchcock said on the challenge. "When I looked at 'Bergy', I saw 'Bergy' absorb the puck and he's looking back on it and he might have been a little deep. The League's looking for goals so I was just trying to help them out."
Backes put St. Louis ahead 1-0 when he tipped Kevin Shattenkirk's shot from the point past Jones at 15:04 of the first, but Hertl answered 34 seconds later. Pavelski initially redirected Burns' shot from the right point, then the puck hit off Hertl’s right skate and got past Elliott.
"One thing I never have to worry about is (Backes) being in front of the net when I shoot it," Shattenkirk said. "For me to get that shot off, have it deflect before it gets to him and him still get a piece of it is amazing. That's where he's so valuable."
Jones' best save of the game came with a little less than 12 minutes remaining in the game when he denied Paul Stastny in the slot off a slick feed from Robby Fabbri.
The Blues penalty kill was 3-for-3. The Sharks were 13-for-42 (30.9 percent) on the power play coming into the series.
"Our special teams were excellent," Hitchcock said. "Our PP was excellent and our PK was even better. They were both good. They were the reason for the victory."
Backes said on Saturday that when the Blues make mistakes, Elliott would be there to back them up. That was the case, especially the second period.
"That was a great example of it," Backes said. "When your goalie's your best player, it gives you a great chance of winning and that was the case tonight. It's been that way for the first two rounds. Nothing's changed here in Game 1 of the third round. Hoped to limit some of the quality chances and even when we didn't, Thornton finds Pavelski there in the second and Moose just gets a leg over there and finds a toe and he's able to stop it and some other key times. Without that, we could have gone the other way in a hurry. But you get that key save, (Lehtera) gets a chance and lets one rip and finds the back of the net and then we were able to clamp her down after that."
It's evident that it will be a 'Big Boy' series, a term used often by Los Angeles King coach Darryl Sutter, and judging by big boys Backes and Sharks center Joe Thornton both tugging at each other's playoff beards in the first period, it's only beginning.
"Just seeing who's is real and making sure that they were glued on well," Backes joked. "It seemed like both checked out and we moved on with life. We love the competition and get the emotions running high. Both guys are trying to establish themselves in this series and here's a couple big bodies going at it and you love that competition."
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues captain David Backes (right) hugs teammate Jaden Schwartz after
scoring a power play goal in the first period on Sunday.
When the Sharks pulled the goalie with 2:29 remaining, they created all sorts of traffic in front of Elliott, who stood tall.
Backes told Elliott to "do a Jori answer," and Elliott's first response was, "Yeah, I closed my eyes.
"... It really has a lot to do with the guys in front of you and how they're playing," Elliott added. "What lanes they're taking away and kind of staying patient. I thought we did a really good job not chasing in that last little bit."