The St. Louis Blues finally solved San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, beating him four times in 30 minutes to level the Western Conference final with a 6-3 victory. The Blues played their best game of the series in Game 4 and have a chance to take the series lead at home Monday.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock must have had his team watching Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final ahead of St. Louis’ Game 4 outing against the San Jose Sharks. Just as the Bolts did one night earlier, the Blues came out of the gate flying, broke through early and got out to an early lead. The only difference between the Lightning and the Blues was that St. Louis snuffed out their opponent when they had the chance.
Similar to the Lightning, Game 4 was a revelation of sorts for the Blues. After failing to score for the past seven periods of the series, Troy Brouwer broke through on an early power play for St. Louis. Brouwer’s tally marked the first Blues goal since Jori Lehtera scored midway through Game 1, and it was the start of a long night for the Sharks defensively.
Brouwer’s goal was followed less than four minutes later by a marker from Lehtera, and St. Louis skated to the dressing room with their first two-goal lead of the series. In the second, the Blues would pull away for good as Kyle Brodziak had what could possibly be considered the best period in maybe the best game of his career. First, Brodziak netted a shorthanded goal six minutes into the frame, and almost exactly four minutes later, he buried his second of the post-season.
Brodziak’s pair, which marked his first two-goal playoff game of his 10-year career, were enough to bury the Sharks and end San Jose netminder Martin Jones’ night earlier than most would have expected. The Blues made the victory more emphatic with two goals in the third frame to seal a 6-3 victory, which evened the Western Conference final at two games apiece.
St. Louis dominated play for the majority of the contest before the ice started to tilt as the Blues defended their three-goal lead. But Jake Allen, starting his first game of the post-season, was equal to the task on all but three of the 31 shots he faced Saturday night. Though the second goal against — one that went in off of Allen’s body from behind the net — is the kind of goal the Blues didn’t want to see him allow, Allen was stellar for much of the game after Hitchcock put his trust in the 25-year-old. The Sharks’ first goal of the evening came on a picture-perfect feed from Joe Thornton to Joe Pavelski, and San Jose’s third tally only eluded Allen because St. Louis defenseman Joel Edmundson swatted it home.
Whether or not Allen had any impact on the game in the facets Hitchcock was hoping for, such as moving the puck up ice and speeding up the breakout, is debatable. What can’t be debated is that whether it was the change of netminders or simply the desperation of the Blues attempting to fend off a 3-1 series deficit, St. Louis played their best game of the series and they will almost assuredly be going with Allen again come Game 5.
The convincing victory wasn’t without its bumps and bruises, though. Some were minor, such as Brouwer leaving the bench for a short while for repairs, but an injury to David Backes may have an impact going forward. Backes wasn’t credited with a single second of ice time beyond the second period. In fact, he didn’t take a single shift beyond the final five minutes of the first period. He did remain on the bench, however, for the rest of the contest.
Backes has been a force throughout the post-season with seven goals and 13 points through 17 games, and he’s an all-situations player for St. Louis. On the power play, he’s a net-front presence. Shorthanded, he’s often out against the opposition’s top unit. And 5-on-5, Backes has enough of a scoring touch to find the back of the net and his physical presence makes him a nightmare on the forecheck. If he’s out for Game 5 or beyond, losing their captain would be a serious blow for the Blues.
With or without Backes, though, St. Louis will need to repeat Saturday’s effort. They were fast, punishing on the forecheck and, most importantly, finally able to solve Jones. That they’ve been able to find holes in the Sharks netminders’ armor and find time and space to operate against San Jose’s defense proves that this series isn’t quite as lopsided as Games 2 and 3 might have led one to believe. More of the same from the Blues Monday night in Game 5 and it could be the Sharks who face elimination first.