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5 Keys: Blues at Sharks, Game 4

St. Louis hopes for spark from goalie change; San Jose can't let up

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SAN JOSE -- The St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks play Game 4 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). San Jose leads the best-of-7 series 2-1.

Here are 5 Keys for Game 4:


Brian Elliott was the biggest reason the Blues won Game 1. But after losing Games 2 and 3 by a combined score of 7-0, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock decided to start Jake Allen in Game 4. How does changing goaltenders help the offense?

"Just brings alertness," Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock said he wants to change the momentum and feels asking the same players to perform a little better won't be enough. But there is also this: The Blues have struggled to exit their zone, let alone sustain pressure in the offensive end, and Allen moves the puck better than Elliott. Perhaps he can help get them going in the right direction.

"Part of it is also the luxury," Hitchcock said. "I've got a goalie that gives a different look. He plays a different style. He's very active in the net. He's very active in moving the puck, getting us out in transition. He's an awful good goalie just like [Elliott] is."

Video: Blues announce Game 4 starter


The first two goals the Blues allowed in their 3-0 loss in Game 3 resulted from forcing passes to covered players. In the first period, defenseman Colton Parayko passed ahead for forward Jori Lehtera in the neutral zone, but Sharks defenseman Brent Burns broke it up. In the second, forward Robby Fabbri tried to pass left to right across the offensive zone to center Paul Stastny, but Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi poked it away. Both times, the Sharks took off in transition and scored.

"Not only did we pass it to covered people, but they checked us hard off the puck to create the transition back," Hitchcock said. "That's what we've got: two teams that are more than comfortable checking their way to a championship."

The solution? Be smart. Keep it simple.

"You obviously want guys making plays if they're there," Blues forward Kyle Brodziak said. "But we're playing a team that's very well structured, and the plays aren't always going to be there. When they're not there, you have to respect the fact that they're not there and approach it a different way.

"Sometimes it's difficult for a player who wants to make plays to do the unselfish thing and just put the puck behind them and try to go to work that way, but I think it's just the commitment level our guys definitely have and we're going to look forward to doing it a little more."


The San Jose line of Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton has been the best in the series, sustaining possession and producing goals. Hertl has three goals. Pavelski has four assists. Thornton has two assists. All three are natural centers with elite skill and hockey sense, and you must be in the right spot with your head on a swivel.

The Sharks scored their third goal in Game 3 when Thornton sent an amazing pass from the left corner behind the net past Blues forward Jaden Schwartz and onto the tape of Hertl, who stepped in front and stuffed the puck past Elliott.

"I think the difference in that line compared to other lines is the puck speed as opposed to foot speed," Blues forward Alexander Steen said. "They play a quick game through chemistry and puck movement. You have to be positionally sound all the time, make sure that you're on top of them or almost a step ahead of them in the chess game."

Video: Hertl, Jones lead Sharks to 3-0 victory in Game 3


The Sharks had 16 shots on goal in Game 3, including three in the third period. But that's deceiving, and not just because they were sitting on a two- or three-goal lead for almost half the game. San Jose missed the net 11 times and had 20 shots blocked. The Sharks also passed up too many shot opportunities.

"When we're in their zone, shoot the puck," center Logan Couture said. "That's what we're good at. We got away from it [in Game 3]. Myself, a couple times, I had chances. I didn't shoot the puck. Putting the puck on net is never a bad play."

Especially when the other team is starting a goaltender who has played only twice in these playoffs and faced nine shots in 49:57.


The Sharks are rolling. They haven't allowed a goal in 150:45. They dominated part of Game 1 and most of Games 2 and 3. They have won six straight at SAP Center and are two wins away from the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history. This is not the time to give the Blues any life. A 3-1 series lead is much different than a 2-2 tie headed back to St. Louis for Game 5 on Monday.

"The main thing is, we've got 10 wins right now," Couture said. "Our goal is 16."

The fewer games you play on the way, the more rest, the less wear and tear, the better your chances.

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