Joe Pavelski knocks the puck out of the air in the first period to give the San Jose Sharks a 2-1 lead in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals. (Associated Press photo)
San Jose, CA – The Western Conference Final opened Saturday night in San Jose with the St. Louis Blues taking on the Sharks where the winner of the series will punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Blues left themselves vulnerable with turnovers and penalties and the Sharks capitalized with a 6-3 win to take game one. Timo Meier and Logan Couture each scored twice for the Sharks. Joel Edmundson, Ryan O’Reilly, and Tyler Bozak scored the St. Louis goals.
San Jose drew first blood when Gustav Nyquist knocked Alex Pietrangelo down at center ice and stole the puck from him. Logan Couture raced up the other side and created a 2-on-1 break with Joel Edmundson back on defense. Nyquist held the puck long enough to freeze Jordan Binnington, then passed across the ice where Couture finished the play into a wide-open net. The goal came at the 3:31 mark to put San Jose up 1-0.
The Blues answered at the 9:13 mark when a Jaden Schwartz shot deflected in off the leg of Edmundson tying the score at 1-1.
Twenty-three seconds later, on a faceoff in the St. Louis offensive zone, Jay Bouwmeester was called for interference on Joe Pavelski to put San Jose on the power play. Less than a minute into the man advantage, Colton Parayko slashed Evander Kane to give the Sharks a 5-on-3 advantage. The slash completely broke Kane’s stick in two pieces. It would have been hard for the refs to overlook.
San Jose’s captain, Joe Pavelski put the Sharks back on top with his 4th goal of the playoffs less than a minute later. Jordan Binnington made a nice save with his right pad on the initial shot, but the rebound was swatted out of the air by Pavelski for the goal.
A St. Louis turnover at center ice once again led to another opportunity for the Sharks. This time it was Kevin Labanc with the goal. Joe Thornton collected the puck after the Blues turnover and pushed it forward to Labanc who maneuvered to the slot in traffic and beat Binnington to give the Sharks a 3-1 lead at the 7:41 mark.
Unfortunately, the Blues seemed doom to lose this game and added to the repeating storyline with another turnover a couple of minutes later in their zone. Parayko was trying to exit the zone and lost the puck. Meier gathered it up and put a highlight-reel goal in the net past a sprawling Binnington.
Meier added another goal with 2:26 left in the middle period. This time it was just a lucky bounce. A shot that went wide of the net was backhanded by Meier from behind the goal. The puck hit the skate of Vince Dunn and deflected into the net to give San Jose a 5-2 lead.
St. Louis seemed to have a little more energy to start the third period but couldn’t get to their game of puck control and a strong forecheck. It took 13 minutes to cut into the lead when Tyler Bozak scored and made it 5-3.
With nothing to lose, Craig Berube pulled Binnington with more than 4 minutes to go in favor of the extra attacker. His team managed quite a bit of sustained pressure and got some chances before Couture got the empty net goal for the final of 6-3.
The score looks terrible, but it wasn’t due to the Sharks outplaying the Blues. St. Louis wasn’t sharp, and San Jose capitalized on the mistakes. Three goals for the Sharks came after turnovers by the Blues, a power-play goal, with your shut-down pair of defensemen both in the penalty box, and an empty-net goal was the difference in this game.
I didn’t think goaltender Martin Jones looked unbeatable. The Blues 3 goals were all scored during 5-on-5 play. If the Blues can keep it even, they can score on the Sharks and Jones.
They also will have to cut down on their mistakes. San Jose was opportunistic. Don’t give them those chances and it’s a different game.
When you get to this point in the post-season, everyone is hungry. Everyone is capable. You’re going to win some. You’re going to lose some. We have to win one more than them. I look for the Blues to even up the series Monday night. Let’s go Blues!