SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock had thrown down the gauntlet, taking the pressure and challenge on himself before Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks. He said after a Game 3 loss on Thursday that it was up to him to find a way out of the mire the Blues had created, to find a light in the darkness for a team that could have lost the first three games.
The Blues saw it, that light, perhaps 10 or 12 minutes into the first period, Kevin Shattenkirk estimated. After Troy Brouwer scored on the power play (6:14), after Jori Lehtera kept up with the puck after a highlight-reel stick save by Sharks goalie Martin Jones (10:11), after they had settled into the game they knew they would need to play.
The Blues played that game for the most part, and with it, earned a 6-3 win against the Sharks to tie the best-of-7 series 2-2 and secure a fresh start back home for Game 5 at Scottrade Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
It was tactics, sure. It was personnel, like switching line combinations and swapping goalie Jake Allen for Brian Elliott. It was desperation too. It was knowing what they needed to do and actually going out and doing it, understanding the ramifications of what would happen if they didn't.
Video: STL@SJS, Gm4: Allen stretches for a great pad save
"It was a combination, a combination of things that we needed to do and a lot of it was on the players, effort-wise," Hitchcock said. "Looked like the way we played in the Chicago series, which is a good sign. And some of it, we did our job."
And, really, it wasn't such a grand plan in the end. It was the right touch at the right time, the subtle tweak, the last brushstroke, the result of hours and hours of Friday given over to finding the thread that would lead them to continued relevance in the series.
"We made a few adjustments, but I think what [Hitchcock] said and what we all were saying after last game to each other was that we needed to be better at the little things: getting pucks in, being quicker through the neutral zone," Shattenkirk said. "We were slow in the first three games through the neutral zone, and it didn't allow us to get any forechecking pressure. When we saw it on tape and we saw the few examples that we had that worked, we realized that's what we needed to commit to."
And with that, they found what they had before.
"I thought we went back to our roots, what made us successful throughout the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs," said Brouwer, who scored two power-play goals in Game 4. "We were able to get pucks deep, we were able to create chances from below the goal line rather than try and create stuff off the rush."
Video: STL@SJS, Gm4: Brouwer scores twice in Game 4
The Blues needed to be resilient, to get the second and third chances that they hadn't gotten in the one-and-dones the past two games. They needed to spend more time in the offensive zone, and less time chasing the puck and giving up odd-man rushes to the Sharks. They needed to capitalize on turnovers.
They needed to have that desperation. They were on the verge of going down 3-1 to the Sharks, and it looked likely the way they had been playing in the past two games.
But things changed.
"What we were thinking was, if we win this game it's 2-2," Shattenkirk said. "Really, coming into this game everyone was making it seem like we were down and out. And we were playing that way. We weren't showing much from ourselves. But we felt like we were still in a great position to tie this up. And now we have home-ice advantage."
The Blues have that back. They have the momentum, for what it's worth, given how it flipped on the Sharks from Game 3 to Game 4. They had the emotion and the want, led by Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak, who also scored twice in Game 4 including a shorthanded goal in the second period, even as they lost captain David Backes in the first and Robby Fabbri for most of the third. They had the right adjustments and the right moves at the right time.
Video: STL@SJS, Gm4: Brodziak nets two goals in Game 4
Hitchcock had taken the burden on himself. After the win, after he made good on the challenge, he was able to take a sunny view of the rest of the series, of the final two (or three) games that could send his team from the depths they experienced in Game 3 after being shut out for two consecutive games to the high of Game 4 and a new series ahead.
"We have to play a lot of the way we played today if we expect to win," Hitchcock said. "We played fast. We played physical. We created turnovers. We have to play like that. If we do it like that, continue down this path, I like our chances. I like our chances to win.
"That's the path we've got to continue to play on for us to be successful. Doesn't matter if it's San Jose, Chicago, Dallas. We have a method to our game. We have to get to it. Today was a day we got to it."