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Blues feel lucky to be even in series

Hitchcock: 'Our job to catch up' to Sharks in Game 3

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues' biggest problem was their greatest solace.

"This wasn't our best," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We all know that in here. We're men. We can take that, and we know that's not us."

This wasn't close to their best. Actually, the Blues' 4-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday was their worst performance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were outplayed at even strength and on special teams. They were frustrated and undisciplined.

That wasn't them. That better not be them. That can't be them. If they continue to play like this, they won't make this a long series, let alone make the Stanley Cup Final.

The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 entering Game 3 at SAP Center in San Jose on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). But the Blues could be trailing 2-0, and they know it. They were outplayed for much of Game 1 as well and needed goaltender Brian Elliott to be First Star to win 2-1.

"[The Sharks have] got their 'A' game going right now, and it's our job to catch up," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We have played two 'B' games, and I think at times quite frankly, we're fortunate it's 1-1. We'll take 1-1 right now with the way we've played.

"We have another level we can play at. We've seen it, but it hasn't come out at home as much as it has in other buildings, for whatever reason."

The Blues are 4-5 at Scottrade Center in the playoffs. The good news for them as the series shifts to San Jose is that they're 5-2 on the road. The bad news: The Sharks are 5-1 at home.

Home, road, inside, outside, wherever they play, the Blues must be better and get back to their identity. They're supposed to be a hard, heavy team with a relentless forecheck that pins opponents in their defensive zone, grinds them down and forces them to make mistakes. They're supposed to be a deep, experienced group with strong special teams.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Wingels buries wrist shot past Elliott

The Sharks beat them at their own game Tuesday. At even strength, San Jose spent a lot of time in the St. Louis zone. The line of Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton was dominant, often against Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen and David Backes, supposedly the best matchup for the Blues. The bottom six, supposedly a disadvantage for San Jose, got a goal from Tommy Wingels.

"We turned it over, fed their engine and ended up stuck in our zone," Hitchcock said. "We had lots of clean exits that we could have gone with, but we went the other way and got hemmed in quite a bit."

When the Blues did exit the zone, they too often just dumped the puck down the ice and went for a change instead of regrouping and attacking with numbers, and so they ended up back on their heels again. They too rarely got the puck deep in the Sharks zone and held it there.

"We need to get pucks to the end wall and not to the top of the circles and just inside their blue line, and we just haven't done that," Backes said. "If we get to that, I think we give ourselves a much better chance. And so far, we haven't done that, and they've had the better of us, and we've got to respond."

The Blues took too many penalties, and veterans were the ones marching to the box: Backes for tripping, Troy Brouwer for slashing, Steve Ott for interference, Jay Bouwmeester for slashing, Brouwer for high sticking. None of those players is younger than 30. None has played fewer than 34 NHL playoff games.

"If we're in the box all night, we're going to be on the wrong side of things," Blues forward Kyle Brodziak said. "It all boils down to being disciplined and everyone being better. We've got to be better."

The San Jose power play cashed in. Twice, defenseman Brent Burns beat Elliott with one-timers. On his first goal, the Sharks took advantage of a broken stick, but on his second, they showed the ability to adjust. They had a shoot-first mentality, after the Blues were aggressive on the penalty kill and held them 0-for-3 in Game 1. Now, the Blues have to adjust.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm2: Burns nets a pair in Game 2 win

The Sharks penalty kill went 6-for-6 and kept the Blues from getting back into the game in the third period. They killed a four-minute high-sticking penalty early in the third, with goaltender Martin Jones making five saves, including a point-blank beauty on Brouwer. Then they killed two overlapping penalties later in the period, with 24 seconds of 5-on-3. Brouwer hit a post at one point, his second post of the night. But that was the closest the Blues came to scoring.

Listen to this quote: "They're a frustrating team to play against. They check you hard. They're very disciplined, and their structure can frustrate you."

Who said that? Which team was he describing?

It was Shattenkirk talking about the Sharks. But from a St. Louis perspective, it should be any of the Sharks talking about the Blues.

Now listen to this one: "Our pressure works, and when we do it right, they're a team we can expose."

Shattenkirk again.

If the Blues' pressure works, if they can expose the Sharks, if that's who they really are, now's the time to show it.

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