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Agnew: Desperation pays off for Blues in Game 4

Former NHL assistant coach says St. Louis got results with enhanced emotion

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

SAN JOSE -- For additional insight into the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Gary Agnew to break down the action. Agnew will be checking in throughout the series.

Agnew, 55, has been an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also served as interim coach of the Blue Jackets for five games during the 2006-07 season and has been coach of Syracuse of the American Hockey League and London and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League.

This was the game the St. Louis Blues needed to play, with the fear and focus of a team playing a game that might decide its season. The Blues came out exactly as they needed to, and that made it difficult for the San Jose Sharks to make any inroads. Thus, the Blues won 6-3 in Game 4 and return to St. Louis with home-ice advantage reestablished in a best-of-7 Western Conference Final series that is even at 2-2.

"I thought it was the emotion of a team that's up versus the emotion of a team that's down," Agnew said. "The desperation I thought that St. Louis showed vs. San Jose's [with a] 2-1 lead -- they were the more energized, desperate team, for sure."

It was a return to emotion, but also a return to what the Blues do best.

"St. Louis, I thought, went back to their structure, their identity," Agnew said. "They forechecked with tenacity. Although San Jose had a couple of odd-man rushes, for the most part [the Blues] played their game. They were more direct. They got more pucks to the net, and when they got to the net they were stopping at the net, they weren't circling away. They were looking for rebounds. They were staying on the puck. They were doing everything that you like your team to do from an offensive standpoint."

Video: Blues score six goals in Game 4 to even the series

And that is hard to combat, especially for the Sharks. Although the Sharks were leading the series, they did not have the same amount of emotional investment. They didn't have the same need as the Blues did in Game 4.

Referring to a couple of odd-man rushes for the Sharks in the first period, Agnew said, "If they score on those, maybe it's different. I'm not sure it would have been because of St. Louis' desperation."

St. Louis also changed things up a bit, with coach Ken Hitchcock subbing goaltender Jake Allen for Brian Elliott and switching his line combinations.

"Certainly wasn't anything that Brian Elliott did, but you need to snap your team back to attention," Agnew said. "So you use whatever tools that you can, that Hitch had at his disposal, which is change the goalie, switch the lines, show some video. … Your team's looking, your players are looking for something. They know they're not playing well. They know it's a 2-1 deficit, but they're looking for something to hang their hat on, so any one of those things you try and use to your advantage.

"So the goaltending change, combined with the others, in my opinion gave them that sort of snap back to attention."

And, Agnew said, Allen gave the Blues a good performance, withstanding the push that San Jose made in the third period to try to get back into the game. He made some significant saves and kept the Blues from experiencing what the Tampa Bay Lightning had the night before against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when the Lightning's 4-0 lead nearly vanished in an eventual 4-3 win.

Agnew praised the Blues' re-commitment to forechecking. He also praised their play on special teams, where they scored two power-play goals, each by Troy Brouwer, and went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm4: Brouwer nets gorgeous tic-tac-toe PPG

Not only that, but in what Agnew called the turning point of the game, the Blues were able to score on the penalty kill, nabbing a shorthanded goal by Kyle Brodziak at 6:09 of the second period to put the Sharks in a 3-0 hole. That came after the Blues did not score on a 48-second five-on-three opportunity at the start of the second period that could have been demoralizing.

Instead, not long after, they had nearly put away the Sharks.

The Blues received excellent play from their fourth line for the second straight game, from Brodziak, Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin. As Agnew said, "They gave them emotion, they gave them momentum."

The Blues didn't have to rely on their remade (again) top line, which was not at its best on Saturday. Instead, they had that play from their fourth line, and good games from left wing Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, of whom Agnew said, "I thought he competed way higher, he was meaner and tougher in all those areas than he had been previously."

That combined to give St. Louis the chance to take Game 4, which they did, and enabled them to square the series. But there are still at least two more games to be played to decide the Western Conference champion, and it's time for the Sharks to respond in Game 5 at Scottrade Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"Now San Jose snaps back," Agnew said. "Now it's best-out-of-three with St. Louis having home ice. [San Jose] had the opportunity, they didn't take advantage of it, but now their coach has something he can hang his hat on and say, OK, here's how we won those games. This is why we didn't.

"Both teams will be gunning now. It got a little nasty [Saturday] night, so the series is getting to where decisions are going to be made. There's no time to recover. You've got to win them right away."

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