The St. Louis Blues imposed their physical will on the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, out-hitting San Jose by a two-to-one ratio. That dominating physicality limited the Sharks’ high-octane offense and led the Blues to a 2-1 victory Sunday night at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Home ice has been anything but an advantage for the Blues in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Game 1 win drawing them back to .500 (4-4) at Scottrade Center this spring. In comparison, St. Louis is 5-2 on the road in these playoffs.
The Blues appeared to have struck first offensively less than 12 minutes into the first period when a slap shot from the point by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester found its way past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones. Bouwmeester’s shot hit teammate Patrik Berglund in the torso, then the puck dropped to the ice and trickled past Jones as Berglund backed into the goaltender. The goal was waved off due to goaltender interference. St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock initiated a coach’s challenge on the play, but the initial call would stand.
Less than three minutes later, with San Jose center Logan Couture in the penalty box for tripping, St. Louis’ power play got the disallowed goal back when captain David Backes tipped a point shot from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. There was a brief review to make sure Backes didn’t deflect the puck with a high stick, but the call would end up in the Blues’ favor to give the club a 1-0 lead.
St. Louis’ early lead was short-lived. Thirty-four seconds after Backes drew first blood, a point shot by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns was double-deflected – first by Joe Pavelski’s stick, then by Tomas Hertl’s skate – to beat St. Louis netminder Brian Elliott.
The first period had a little bit of everything, including two amusing sequences involving Sharks center Joe Thornton: the puck getting lost in his pants as well as a beard-tugging exchange with Backes.
Midway through the second period, Blues center Jori Lehtera intercepted a neutral zone pass by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, then stepped over the blueline and fired a slap shot that squeaked past Jones under his glove arm to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead.
With just over a minute to go in the second period, Sharks winger Joel Ward chased a loose puck to the Blues crease. Elliott attempted to freeze the puck with his glove, but it came loose and Ward bumped it in as he crashed the net. An official had already blown the play dead, assuming Elliott had control of the puck, disallowing the goal.
The significance of Lehtera’s lone goal in the second period along with the quick whistle late in the frame would be further amplified by the fact San Jose outshot St. Louis 16-5 in the frame, yet the Sharks found themselves trailing heading into the third period.
A hooking penalty to Blues center Paul Stastny with 11 minutes left in the third period gave San Jose a prime opportunity to tie the game, but the Blues killed it off successfully with two quality scoring chances of their own turned away by Jones. Midway through the man advantage, Thornton had an excellent look with the puck on his stick wide open in front of Elliott, but the Sharks center elected to pass to teammate Patrick Marleau, who lost the puck in his skates.
Seconds after the Stastny penalty expired, Hertl was sent to the box for tripping Blues defenseman Colton Parayko while rounding the St. Louis net. Jones made two big stops on the penalty kill to keep it a one-goal game.
Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic had the best chance to tie the game late. With two-and-a-half minutes remaining, Vlasic’s point shot hit the post, then bounced off Elliott’s back and dropped just wide of the net.
The Sharks pulled Jones with more than two minutes remaining and controlled the play until the buzzer, putting six shots on goal in the final two-and-a-half minutes, but couldn’t find the game-tying goal.
Thirty-one saves by Elliott and 11 hits by Backes were difference makers for St. Louis in the win. Jones stopped 21 shots and captain Joe Pavelski had seven shots on goal for the Sharks in defeat.
Game 2 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis at 8 p.m.