Friday, May 20, 2016

Sharks follow Game 2 recipe, blank Blues for second straight game

San Jose takes 2-1 series lead with 3-0 
victory, frustrating St. Louis a second game in a row

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- They got off to the start they wanted, getting pucks in deep, getting the proper support. It looked like the Blues were finding their game.

But then came the dreaded turnover, the Sharks pounced and for the first time since losing Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round, the Blues trail in a playoff series.

San Jose got two goals from Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi scored off another turnover, and the futile Blues offense was blanked again in a 3-0 loss in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday at SAP Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Kyle Brodziak (right) battles for a puck with San Jose's Tomas
Hertl on Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday. 

The Blues, who now trail the best-of-7 series 2-1, were shut out in back-to-back Stanley Cup Playoff games for the first time in franchise history; their goalless streak against Sharks goalie Martin Jones has reached 150:45, with Jori Lehtera's marker at the 9:15 point in the second period of Game 1 the last time they've been able to score.

And on top of now starting at what could be the biggest game of the year in Game 4 on Saturday at 6:15 p.m., coach Ken Hitchcock may have a goalie decision on his hands after pulling Brian Elliott in the third period after allowing Hertl's second goal of the game 6 minutes 9 seconds in on San Jose's 14th shot.

The Blues claimed they'd play better and it started out that way. But mistakes were costly again and San Jose was opportunistic, their top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Hertl combined for six points and the Sharks smothered the Blues into oblivion for the second game in a row.

Things were playing out OK despite the lack of offense, but the Sharks pounced on the first mistake from Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, who tried a pass from along the wall in his zone that was knocked down near center ice, and Hertl ripped a slap shot top shelf over Elliott after Joe Pavelski's pass with 4:07 remaining in the first period for a 1-0 San Jose lead.

"They pressure us into a neutral zone turn turnover there and they get the transition," Blues captain David Backes said. "One from the ladies tees there, we just can't give up with (four) minutes left in the period. It's been a pretty decent period and we've fought our way back into playing right alongside them."

Said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: "We started the way we wanted to. For some reason, we took our foot of the gas the second half of the first. They had a little bit of a momentum swing, couldn't really seem to get it back there until halfway through the third. More of what we did in the first 10 minutes and I think we'll be OK."

The second period woes continued, with the Sharks applying pressure and getting ample zone time, but Elliott kept the fort closed.

Then after what looked like a promising -- even the few they had -- odd-man rush, Robby Fabbri tried making a dangerous pass through the slot to Paul Stastny but it was broken up by Donskoi, who jumped into the play as the trailing forward, took Logan Couture's pass in the slot and fired a wrister high blocker side at 11:44 of the second for a 2-0 Sharks lead.

"When you're not scoring, you have two choices:  either be diligent and stay (with) the program, or sometimes you get forcing offense," Hitchcock said. "The second goal was an example of that. It's a 1-0 hockey game. We've got to feel comfortable playing it. We're in great shape. Then we make a mistake. We cross-ice pass it to a covered guy, it's a 2-on-1 that ends up being a 3-on-1. It's in our net. Now we're coming from behind."

And much like Game 2, the Blues entered the third period chasing a 2-0 deficit, then they have to force the offensive game and at some point, get caught when Hertl converted all alone in front that squirted through Elliott and ended his night.

"I didn't like the third goal," Hitchcock said. "I thought we needed to catch our breath. I still honestly thought if we could have got a goal, we still had a chance to come back in the game. I wanted to give us a breath. 

"I didn't like the coverage on the third goal. I didn't like the third goal at all."

Jake Allen entered the game and saw only two shots on goal.

The Blues pulled Allen with roughly five minutes remaining and had ample zone time in the Sharks zone but couldn't dent Martin Jones, who made 22 saves and became the first Sharks goalie in franchise history with back-to-back playoff shutouts.

"We didn't get back to our game until the goalie's out of the net and then we start to skate, start to pressure, start to hold onto pucks and make a few plays," Backes said. "But too little, too late at that point."

And now the Blues are trying to find offense.

"I think creating offense is really dangerous right now," Hitchcock said. "That's the wrong decision. We like to score goals. We need to score goals. I think there's steps that lead to that that we have to get a bigger buy-in. The steps are what we want to talk about.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Vladimir Tarasenko (91) and David Backes (42) battle for a
puck with former Blue and Sharks defenseman Roman Polak Thursday.

"There are things in our game that need to take place on a more consistent basis if we expect to score. That's what we're going to talk about.  If we just talk about the end result, we're going to end up in the same boat. There are things that I can see us doing. We had a lot of those things today. There was a lot of good stuff today that we can build off of. But we have to have a realistic view of how are we going to create more zone time, more pressure, more anxiety for them so that we can score goals. That's what we've got to look at, that tactic."

The Sharks have outscored the Blues 7-0 the past two games and 8-2 in the series, and some feel it could easily be a 3-0 deficit in the series for the Blues.

"They can think what they want," Pietrangelo said. "We know we've got more in here, we know we've got another level. They took it up a notch and now it's up to us to get some rest and take it up a few more notches on Saturday."

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