Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sharks eliminate Blues from playoffs with 5-2 win

San Jose earns first-ever trip to Stanley Cup Final, 
prevents St. Louis from competing in first final since 1970

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Unlike the past four seasons under Ken Hitchcock, the Blues were close to competing for the Stanley Cup, they could taste it.

Unfortunately like the last four seasons, including the past three, a season came to a close in eerily similar fashion. This time, the San Jose Sharks were the culprits, and it's the Sharks, residents of Silicon Valley, who advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Patrik Berglund (21) battles for a puck with Sharks defenseman
Roman Polak in Game 6 on Wednesday at SAP Center.

And the fact that the Blues were so close, made the locker room afterwards so somber, so disappointing and so numb.

The Sharks finished off the Blues in the Western Conference Final, winning 5-2 in Game 6 to win the series 4-2 on Wedesday at SAP Center.

And thus, it ends the Blues' first quest for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final since 1970 searching for that elusive first title in franchise history.

The Blues were hoping to bring this series back to Scottrade Center, despite their poor 4-6 record there this postseason, for a Game 7 on Friday, but the Sharks, who will face either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning beginning Monday, had other ideas.

San Jose got a quick goal to lead 1-0 in the first four minutes of the game, they scored again in the second before delivering the knockout blow in the third with two goals in a 5 minute 10-second span to lead 4-0 before Vladimir Tarasenko, who had been invisible throughout this series, scored his first two goals (and points) of the series to make it interesting late. 

"I felt like we had a nervous energy early, but then started to find our way a little bit," left wing Alexander Steen said. "The first one's a tough one to give up and then obviously the third one is tough to give up as well."

The Blues escaped the first period lucky to be down 1-0.

The Sharks were all over the puck, and the top defensive pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester were caught up ice, giving Tomas Hertl a chance to throw a backhand puck through the middle of the ice, and Thornton skated past Pietrangelo, fired wide on the breakaway, but Joe Pavelski collected a puck behind the net and stuffed a backhand past Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who made the first save, at 3:57 of the first period.

"The first period we were fine," Hitchcock said. "We managed the game, knew what we were in for and we did a great job. Managed it well. We knew we were in for a big push. We watched them play in other games when it was closeout time. I thought we managed it well."

The Blues had chances to score in the period, but Steen couldn't beat Jones from the high slot before the Pavelski goal, Steen had a chance in the waning seconds on a backhand that was high and wide, and Tarasenko, with a glorious chance in the slot, fired a wrist shot wide of the net early in the period that could have gotten his confidence going.

The Blues had a bit of a better second period, outshooting the Sharks 11-10 but the home team built a two-goal lead when Joel Ward tipped Brent Burns' right point wrist shot, the first of two goals, past Elliott 5:02 into the period.

"I thought the first period was as expected," Hitchcock said. "When we didn't score on the three or four chances we had in the second when it was 2-0 gave them a little bit of a gap. We had the push at the end of the second, but I thought the third goal allowed them to play with five back and then we had to take some risks. To me, the third goal was the killer."

That killer goal came from Ward, who redirected Logan Couture's centering pass 3:01 into the third and the Sharks could literally smell blood.

"They put pucks in deep on us and they forechecked the hell out of us," right wing Troy Brouwer said of the Sharks. "It was tough for us to get out of our zone clean. It's a tough way to start a game where you need to win, but I thought the guys played hard, hung in there and it's a disappointing end.

"Just disappointment in here right now. We thought we had a team, we do have a team that’s a championship caliber team. We fell short. There’s a lot of guys in our room that have waited a long time to have an opportunity like this. When you don’t finish celebrating with champagne and hoisting a Cup, it’s disappointing."

Joonas Donskoi made it 4-0 8:11 into the third period to make the score 4-0, but Tarasenko broke the shutout with 8:21 remaining on a wrister from the slot and he scored again from below the goal line.; they were his first points of the series.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Alexander Steen (20) looks to move past Sharks left wing
Patrick Marleau in Game 6 on Wednesday.

The loss was the Blues' seventh in a row in Game 6s dating to April 23, 2001,  2-1 in against these San Jose Sharks) and have been outscored 29-13; they're lost Game 6 faced with elimination the past four seasons now by a combined 16-5.

"We had a little bit of a push back," right wing Troy Brouwer, a pending unrestricted free agent on July 1. "We were just playing a really good hockey team. They played the score and the time of the games really well. We tried to get good pushes. I thought guys competed real hard. It’s just frustrating. We feel like we could have had a great opportunity to hoist (a Cup)."

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