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Conference Final

Jones needed to be perfect to save Sharks, McKenna says

Blues, injuries to teammates too much for San Jose goalie to overcome in Game 6

by Mike McKenna / Special to NHL.com

Mike McKenna has been a professional goalie for the past 14 seasons and has played for seven NHL teams and 13 minor-league teams. Most recently he played in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing one NHL game with them this season. He also played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators.

He knows about the most important position in the playoffs and a lot about the men who play it and those trying to score goals against them. So NHL.com asked him to share his insights during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In his latest column, McKenna talks about the 5-1 victory by the St. Louis Blues against the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at Enterprise Center on Tuesday, which sent the Blues to their first Stanley Cup Final in 49 years.

Sometimes you can only do so much.

For Sharks goalie Martin Jones to walk out of Enterprise Center victorious after Game 6 against the Blues, he needed to pitch a shutout.

Jones did his best, making many key stops in the second and third period to keep the game close and hope alive for the Sharks, but ultimately it wasn't enough.

When your season is on the line and the game doesn't end up how you'd like, it's impossible not to look back and question what you could have done differently. It can eat at you. But comfort also can be found in knowing it just wasn't meant to be.

Three of the goals Jones allowed fall into the no-hope category for a goalie. Accidental deflections and wide-open shots from just outside the crease aren't the types of chances a goalie wants to face when elimination is staring at them.

The only goal where Jones had a strong chance to change the Sharks' fate was the power-play score by forward Vladimir Tarasenko at 16:16 of the first period. Jones elected to stay deep in his crease and seemed to be anticipating a backdoor or high-tip pass to the far side.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm6: Tarasenko roofs PPG from the circle

Whatever the reasoning, Jones was left vulnerable on the short side, precisely where Tarasenko scored with a deadly accurate shot. It was surprising that Jones didn't play him more aggressively. NHL goalies are well aware that Tarasenko prefers to shoot from that spot on the power play and that he possesses one of the best snap shots in the NHL.

It was apparent early that St. Louis wasn't going to be denied in Game 6. As usual, goalie Jordan Binnington was a big part of it. He made many difficult saves look easy, none more so than on the partial breakaway by Logan Couture midway through the game.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm6: Binnington makes 25 saves in Game 6 win

Binnington does just about everything well, but the real strength of his game lies in his patience and edgework. His movements are precise yet fluid, and he does an outstanding job of recovering to his feet quickly after making a save. It's rare to see him flopping around and even rarer to see him make a mistake while handling the puck outside his crease.

The only blemish for Binnington was the goal scored by forward Dylan Gambrell, who came streaking down the wing and beat him clean on the blocker side, just above the pad.

Goalies know this is a hard shot to stop because it's an unnatural feeling to reach in that manner with that hand. But though it may have been a difficult save to make, Binnington also didn't give himself much of a chance to react because he was so far out of the crease.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm6: Gambrell rifles home first NHL goal

Cutting down the angle is a time-honored tradition. From a young age we're told to move out and take away the net from the shooter's eyes. But it comes with a price: even a slight lateral movement by the shooter can put the goalie off-angle. That doesn't even take in the decreased reaction time available once you close the distance to the shooter.

Though goaltending may not have decided Game 6, I am beginning to think there is a driving force behind the Blues that might surprise people: assistant Mike Van Ryn.

Last season he was coach of Tucson in the American Hockey League, who we faced with Texas in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs. His team was incredibly detailed; it was obvious they were buying into the system Van Ryn had installed.

In the NHL, assistants do not receive a lot of publicity but they play a huge role in shaping a team's identity. When a young, hungry coach has success at the AHL in his first season, it raises eyebrows. For Van Ryn, that success has continued at the NHL level. Is it a coincidence? Maybe.

But I suspect there's a future NHL coach biding his time as an assistant in St. Louis. I'm sure a Stanley Cup wouldn't hurt his resume.

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Listen: Stanley Cup Final preview from NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast

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