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Conference Final

Couture discouraged by Sharks' play in Game 2 loss to Blues

Scores two more goals, says San Jose not performing up to capabilities in playoffs

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE -- Two more goals from Logan Couture weren't enough for the San Jose Sharks.

Not nearly enough.

The Sharks lost 4-2 to the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Monday. The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 in St. Louis on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS). 

To Couture, this loss wasn't an isolated incident. The Sharks rallied from down 3-1 to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round, then won a back-and-forth, seven-game series with the Colorado Avalanche in the second round.

"In my opinion, that wasn't anywhere near what we're capable of, and I don't think we've played up to our capabilities in a while now," Couture said. "We did just enough to beat the Avalanche, but we haven't played our best hockey since that Vegas series.

"And it's discouraging, it's frustrating, because we're going to need everyone here if we're going to beat these guys, because they're a very good hockey team."

 

[RELATED: More Sharks vs. Blues series coverage | Bortuzzo takes advantage of chance in win]

 

Coach Peter DeBoer disagreed that the Sharks hadn't played their best hockey since the Vegas series. But it's all how you look at it.

The Sharks have had good games, games when they looked like potential Stanley Cup champions, games like, well, Game 1 of this series. They forced turnovers, scored gorgeous goals and won 6-3 on Saturday.

But then they have had games in which they've looked out of gas or sloppy or both, games like this one.

We can all agree they haven't played their best hockey consistently. They haven't won back-to-back games within a series since the first round. Even then, they needed 58 saves in a 2-1 double-overtime win in Game 6 and had to rally from down 3-0 in the third period in a 5-4 OT win in Game 7.

"You can't hope to win a game," DeBoer said. "You can't put in enough effort to hope to win a game, and I think that's what we did tonight. I think you've got to make sure you're working hard enough that you're going to dictate the outcome."

The Sharks had just fallen behind 2-0 and taken a penalty in the second period when Couture knocked down a pass attempt by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo at the San Jose blue line. He raced down the ice against Pietrangelo, protected the puck with his body, hit the brakes and slipped the puck past the left pad of goalie Jordan Binnington at 4:55, then shouted, "Let's go!"

"We needed a spark," Couture said. "We were pretty flat."

Video: STL@SJS, Gm2: Couture scores a pair to tie it up

Couture gave the Sharks another spark 1:59 later, taking a stretch pass from forward Timo Meier in the neutral zone, skating into the left circle and wristing a shot between Binnington's pads.

Just like that, it was 2-2.

But that's all the Sharks would get.

"Even scoring those two goals, I thought we still didn't show like we had the energy to compete," Couture said. "Just two goals got us tied in a game where we probably didn't deserve to be tied in a game."

Couture leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs in points with 19, four more than anyone else, and goals with 13, four more than anyone else.

His goal total is one short of the San Jose record of 14 set by forward Joe Pavelski in 2016, when the Sharks went to the Stanley Cup Final, and often would be enough to lead the playoffs at the end, not just two games into the conference final.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm2: DeBoer talks strategy in Game 2 loss

In 15 of the previous 21 playoff seasons, no one has scored more than 13 goals. No one has scored more than 15 goals in a playoff season since Avalanche center Joe Sakic scored 18 in 1996.

Couture led the playoffs in scoring with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 2016. Since 2010, he ranks second in goals (47), behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (50), and fourth in points (100) in the playoffs. 

"He's been a complete stud," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "He's been carrying this team for a long time now, and I think a lot of us have to hop on board and start doing our share now too."

Depth is supposed to be one of the Sharks' strengths, but the third line has gone dry. Thornton (one assist) and forward Kevin Labanc (one goal) each has one point in the past eight games, and forward Marcus Sorensen has gone seven games without a point. Forward Evander Kane has two assists in the past seven games.

"We didn't have enough participants across the board," DeBoer said. "I thought Logan Couture was pretty good, a couple other guys. But it's tough to win this time of year if you don't have everybody going, and I thought they got contributions from everybody like we did [in Game 1]. So we've been here before, and we know how to handle this."

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