Blues Bounce Back, Even Series

Ryan O’Reilly battles with David Pastrnak in game four of the Stanley Cup Finals in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP photo)

In game four of the Stanley Cup Finals, St. Louis bounced back with a 4-2 win to even things up at two games apiece. The series now returns to Boston for game five and will at least go to a game six in St. Louis before the winner can be determined.

As the Blues got back to near full strength, the Bruins were heading in the opposite direction. Their team captain, Zdeno Chara, took a puck to the mouth early in the second period and did not play the rest of the game. His health and availability moving forward will be a crucial factor with the Bruins defense. They are already playing without a couple of their starters, and a loss to Chara would impact them even more.

The Blues, on the other hand, got Oskar Sundqvist back after his one-game suspension and Vince Dunn, who made his Stanley Cup Finals debut after missing six games. Dunn took a puck to the face in game three of the Western Conference Finals. Other than Robert Thomas, no one else was absent from the Blues lineup.

After a 7-2 loss in game three on home ice, St. Louis needed to get to their game quickly and boy, did they?!

Just 43 seconds into the first period, Ryan O’Reilly sent the raucous crowd at Enterprise Center into a frenzy.

FIRST PERIOD

The play developed as Dunn got a shot through traffic to the front of the net. Zach Sanford, playing in his 2nd game in the finals, deflected the shot and the puck caromed to O’Reilly behind the goal. The hard-working O’Reilly broke an eight-game goal scoring drought when his wrap-around attempt beat Tuukka Rask to the far post. The puck bounced off Rask’s skate and into the net to give the Blues a 1-0 lead inside the first minute.

The goal was O’Reilly’s 4th of the playoffs. Sanford got the primary assist, his second, and Dunn got his sixth assist. Both Sanford and Dunn made an impact on the game. Sanford’s fresh legs and his return to a familiar line with O’Reilly and David Perron seemed to be a comfortable place for him. Dunn played as if he hadn’t missed a game and was significant in the offensive zone all night.

BOSTON ANSWERS

It would take a while, but Boston answered and tied things up at the 13:14 mark of the first when Charlie Coyle got in close on Jordan Binnington and poked a rebound in after a shot by Chara at a tight angle. Both goals Binnington gave up in this game were due to a failure to control the rebounds.

St. Louis was relentless in the period and outworked the Bruins. The pressure they put on resulted in a goal by Vladimir Tarasenko not long after the Coyle goal. At the 15:30 mark, Vladi poked home his 11th goal of the playoffs.

The play started with a good zone entry by Jaden Schwartz. The puck ended up at the point on the stick of Alex Pietrangelo, who had one heck of a good game. (More on him later) Pietrangelo drug the puck into the high slot for an open shooting lane. Rask stopped his shot, but the rebound fell right to the stick of Tarasenko, and the Russian sniper wasted no time. He poked it in for a 2-1 lead.

The period ended with St. Louis outshooting the Bruins 13-9 and outhitting them 24-16.

SECOND PERIOD

The thing the Blues needed to do the most was to stay out of the penalty box. Penalties and the deadly Bruins power play were determining factors in the previous game. For the most part, the Blues played a much more disciplined game. Boston, on the other hand, was called for two infractions in the second period.

The Blues power play has been dismally bad in this series going 1 for 13 with the man advantage. To make matters worse, they gave up a short-handed goal to the Bruins while on the power play late in the period. Brandon Carlo got the goal and became the 20th player for Boston to score a goal in these playoffs.

Poor choices by the Blues led to the tying Boston goal. In their defense, Tarasenko and O’Reilly aren’t defensemen but found themselves as the last line of defense on the play.

The tying goal by Boston overshadowed the most impressive two minutes of the period. But, the Blues put on a clinic on sustained offensive pressure. For two solid minutes, they cycled the puck and kept possession. Just when it seemed that Boston would get possession and attempt to clear the zone, someone from the Blues would make a hit and take the puck away. I believe all four offensive lines of the Blues got on the ice during that stretch.

Shots in the second favored the Blues at 12-10, but Boston bounced back and upped their physicality, outhitting St. Louis 13-8.

THIRD PERIOD

Chara left the ice about 3 minutes into the second period after his injury. A Brayden Schenn shot deflected and hit him in the face. He was “leaking blood,” as the NBC commentators put it. The big captain returned to the bench for the start of the third wearing a full face shield, but as the period started, it was evident he was not going to play. To his credit, he insisted on joining his teammates on the bench although he could not play.

Chara’s status for game five is uncertain. With the Bruins already missing veteran defenseman Kevan Miller (lower body injury), and Matt Grzelcyk from his encounter with Sundqvist in game two, they can ill-afford to lose Chara. Their defensive depth is being tested and will play a part in the remainder of this series.

TIEBREAKER

They say it just takes a little spark to get a fire going. The goal in the opening seconds of the game for O’Reilly may have been that spark for him. He put the Blues back on top at the 10:38 mark of the third with his second goal of the game on another assist from Pietrangelo and Carl Gunnarsson.

Schenn added an empty-net goal for the final of 4-2.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the last 10:22 of play the Blues held Boston to just one shot on goal. That’s Blues hockey.

Alex Pietrangelo had a great game. He logged 19:37 of ice time, had two assists, five shots, and was +3 on the night.

Zach Sanford was the game’s 2nd star. He got the assist on O’Reilly’s first goal, had four shots, five hits and was a +2 on the night.

Vince Dunn, according to some comments, played with his jaw wired. He was a factor out there and generated some scoring chances. It was good to have him back.

Oskar Sundqvist made his presence known in his return from suspension. He was all over the ice and made a difference in this game. He’s also a big part of the penalty kill as the Bruins were 0 for two on the power play tonight.

Back to Boston for game five. It’s been a good series. If St. Louis wants to win at home they’ll have to take the next two games to win it in game six on Sunday night. If Boston wants to win at home, they’ll need to win 1 of the next two games and win two of the final three.

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