(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
SAN JOSE-Saturday’s Game 4 of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals was a complete reversal of Thursday’s 4-0 victory for San Jose. The St. Louis Blues tied the series 2-2 with a 6-3 victory, beating the San Jose Sharks in all three zones. The Blues’ power play went 2-4 while the Sharks’ power play went 0-4. Troy Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak each scored two goals for the Blues, with Jori Lehtera and Alex Pientrangelo adding to the tally. For the Sharks, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson scored.
Oddly, the Sharks won on the shot clock and in the faceoff circle, the same way the Blues won those in the previous game. The fact that the Sharks were not shut out seems like a negligible detail.
It was the first time in these playoffs that Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer decided to pull goaltender Martin Jones from the game and put backup James Reimer in. It was a stark contrast to the consecutive shutouts that Jones pulled off in the last two games. On the performance of Jones, Sharks forward Tommy Wingels said afterwards:
We hung him out to dry tonight, he made some big saves there and he gave us a chance. We kept giving them more opportunities, odd-man rushes and guys alone at the net. So that’s certainly not on [Jones] at all, it’s on every guy in front of him.
It is anyone’s guess whether we will see these teams bring their best game to the same game in this series. The first game may have been the closest we will see, as each subsequent game has shown one team or the other at their best and the other very much not so. Of the Sharks’ performance Saturday, forward Logan Couture said: “We weren’t ourselves early. When you give a good team a two-nothing lead, and you give up a short-handed goal, that’s pretty much it.”
Tommy Wingels went into some detail about what the Sharks did wrong in this game:
We got away from our game. Our game is going north with it, it’s making plays where we’re there, it’s gettin pucks past their d-men, through the neutral zone and in on the forecheck. We got away from that, we turned pucks over, we turned it into a track meet for the first twenty, thirty minutes.
The only change in either lineup from Game 3 was Jake Allen, replacing goaltender Brian Elliott in the Blues net. After the game, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock talked about the decision to put Jake Allen in net:
He gave us exactly what we needed. He’s a competitive son of a gun and we needed a battler in there. We needed somebody to really help us play better defense. And we played with more passion in front of him in our own zone because I made the goalie change. And I had to make that decision. But I just felt like we were allowing them too much easy space with [Elliott] in there. And [Elliott] was getting bombarded and we needed to just dig in a little bit deeper defensively if we were going to have a chance in this series.
Almost four minutes in, Roman Polak took a shot from the blue line that looked like it was in, at least from one end of the rink. A section in the audience got half way to their feet before seeing that it was not a goal. The crowd was ready and confident that any Shark could score from anywhere. The game did not fulfill their expectations.
Instead, five minutes in, the Sharks took the first penalty, a tripping call to Brent Burns. Before that power play was over, the Blues had taken the lead. The goal was Troy Brouwer’s, with assists to Robby Fabbri and Paul Stastny. Coach DeBoer challenged the play as offside but the goal stood up and the Sharks lost their timeout.
Shortly after the half way mark of the first, matters got worse for the Sharks. Jori Lehtera took a shot that Jones stopped, and the rebound went to the other side of the crease, where Robby Fabbri was waiting. Jones got across and stopped two shots, but a third rebound went out front to Lehtera, who put it under a prone Brent Burns and into the net.
The Sharks had their first power play a few seconds fater that, an interference call on Paul Stastny. The first power play unit did not look their worst, but they were not as sharp as they have been. The Blues took advantage of some poor passes and overdressed plays and killed the penalty. The second unit had no more success, and only a little less time. The first unit went off the ice with just under a minute left in the power play.
The next power play came with just 21 seconds remaining in the period, and it went to the Blues. As they waited for a delayed slashing call on Vlasic, another shooter drew Jones away from the net and got the puck behind him. Burns was there again he knocked the puck away.
Just over half way through the Vlasic penalty, Logan Couture put the puck over the glass and gave the Blues a two man advantage for 48 seconds. The Sharks survived both penalties and got a round of applause for it.
Their next power play, though, earned applause only from the Blues fans in the building.
Jaden Schwartz and Kyle Brodziak escapaed through the neutral zone with the puck, attacking two on one against Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Schwartz passed and Brodziak shot at the far corner on Jones, scoring his first of the playoffs short handed at 6:09, while Kevin Shattenkirk sat in the box for interference. An assist went to Jaden Schwartz. Their escape was explained by Joe Thornton after the game: “It was going to [Pavelski] and Pav thought [Couture] was behind him so he let it go. But it was just one of those plays where usually we make that happen and it just didn’t.”
The Blues’ second even strength goal came just after the half way point of the second. This one looked a lot like the previous one, when Jones had to get from one side of the net to the other and ended up too far from the center of his crease, giving  an open net to shoot at. After that fourth goal, Peter DeBoer did the same thing Ken Hitchcock did in Game 3: he replaced the goalie. James Reimer hit the ice for the first time in the playoffs.
A minute or so later, a puck hit the netting above the Blues net, which caused the official to blow his whistle. When the puck landed, Hertl knocked the puck inth=o the Blues net. That got a reaction out of the Blues and got ?Hertl all tangled up in a scuffle. Oddly, the officials felt that Thornto ought to go to the box, along with Brouwer, both for roughing, but not each other.
The Four on four play seemed to favor the Sharks, or maybe it was the Blues sitting back on their 4-0 lead. In any case, the penalties elapsed and the score was still 4-0.
As the second wound to an end, the score stood at 4-0 and the shots were 21-15, both in favor of the visitors.
1:05 into the third period, the Sharks pushed back a little. The Thornton-Pavelsk-Hertl line worked their way into the offensive zone, accompanied by the Sharks wrecking ball defenseman, Burns. Burns took one of this familiar skates around behind the net to loosen things up and then made his way back out to the top of the slot. This all seemed to be a distraction as the puck got back to Joe Thornton while Joe p/avelski was making his way to the net.Hertl was already there, possibly screening Allen’s view of Thornton’s pass to Pavelski. It was Pavelski’s tenth goal of the playoffs, Thornton’s 11th assist and Martin’s 4th.
The Blues put the kibosh on the Shark’s excellent third period start when Joel Ward put the puck over the glass at 3:48. Just seven seconds into the power play, Troy Brouwer put the puck around Reimer, off the post and in. Assists went to Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny.
The next attack came the Sharks’ third line of Chris Tierney, Joel Ward and Melker Karlsson. It started with an uncustomary skate deep into the offensive zone, by Justin Braun. That set off a chain reaction that had the Blues scrambling around the energy and quickness of Tierney and Karlsson. They put at least four shots in the direction of the net before one went in at 6:57. The goal went to Chris Tierney with an assist to Melker Karlsson.
The Sharks had another power play at 7:07, but all they got for that was some padding for their shot count. Yet another power play came their way at 10:51. Stastny was in the box again, this time for tripping Chris Tierney. Still the Sharks power play could not launch.
With more than four minutes left, DeBoer pulled Reimer for the extra skater. All that accomplished was the Blues’ sixth goal into an empty net.
With Reimer back in the net, a good push by San Jose’s third line resulted in the Blues’ scoring an own goal while trying to clear Tierney’s pass out of Karlsson’s reach.
With 2:11 left, after a group discussion around the faceoff circle, Brenden Dillon and Carl Gunnarson came to blows. The crowd deemed Dillon to be the winner. Both players left the game. Alexander Steen and Tommy Wingels also received ten minute misconducts.
The final shot count was 34-27 San Jose.
Game 5 will be in St. Louis on Monday at 5:00 PT.