Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily in-depth look at the 2019 NHL playoffs. The St. Louis Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on Friday. The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2.
What We Learned
Here are some takeaways from Game 4 of the Western Conference Final:
Blues forecheck went missing in action
St. Louis came out in the first period of Game 4 with a relentless forecheck that produced a goal by forward Ivan Barbashev at 0:35 and caused numerous turnovers in the San Jose zone. The game plan seemed to include a philosophy of hitting Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson at every opportunity. And it was working. But then it stopped. Why? Even Blues coach Craig Berube had no explanation. Whatever the reason, the Sharks were allowed to exit their own zone with little to no resistance and came through the neutral zone at top speed, which caused the Blues all kinds of problems. St. Louis must get back to playing the heavy forechecking, grinding game they are known for, and do it for a complete game, or they will have difficulty slowing down the high-flying Sharks in Game 5 on Sunday.
Video: WCF, Gm4: Sharks @ Blues
Blues are too passive protecting leads
St. Louis carried one-goal leads into the final two minutes of Games 3 and 4. On each occasion the Sharks pulled goalie Martin Jones for an extra attacker and have been successful at exerting pressure on the Blues. Part of that must be attributed to the disturbing habit of St. Louis players collapsing and having a passive game plan. That blueprint cost them the tying goal from Sharks forward Logan Couture in Game 3 with 1:01 to play; they almost allowed the equalizer in Game 4, too, if not for goalie Jordan Binnington. Should the Blues find themselves again protecting a one-goal advantage in a 6-on-5 situation, they must be more aggressive in attacking the Sharks point men. This philosophy really should be carried throughout the whole game because shot attempts were 73-35 in favor of the Sharks. That's hardly a recipe for success for the Blues.
Sharks could improve killer instinct
San Jose has been a great case study in these playoffs of how wanting a stronger killer instinct and having one often doesn't match. It's not from lack of desire. It illustrates how tight things have been in the Western Conference. In the second round, neither the Sharks, Colorado Avalanche, Blues nor Dallas Stars were able to get ahead in their series by two games. In the Western Conference Final, the Sharks have wins in Games 1 and 3 and the Blues in Games 2 and 4. Game 5 will present another opportunity for San Jose to exert control on the series. Over the past 14 postseason games, the Sharks have not lost two in a row and their will and desperation figures to go up again after a defeat.
Hertl on board for Sharks
Tomas Hertl's first goal of the series, a power-play goal at 6:48 of the third period of Game 4, is encouraging for the Sharks. Hertl has 10 goals in these playoffs but didn't have a point in the first three games of this series. He's counted on heavily to produce, especially playing with talented linemates like Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane. The Blues have certainly paid him some extra attention but Hertl is strong enough and skilled enough to deal with it. The shot of confidence he'll get by breaking through could well be a factor in the rest of this series.
-- The Stanley Cup Final will begin on May 27 in Boston. Here is the complete schedule.
-- The Blues rebounded from their painful defeat in Game 3 to even the conference final, writes Mike Zeisberger.
-- The Sharks once again failed to build on a series lead and find themselves headed for another long series, writes Tim Campbell.
Eastern Conference Final
-- How did the Boston Bruins reach the Cup Final? Jon Lane looks at their remarkable run through the Eastern Conference.
-- The Bruins rode goalie Tuukka Rask and their special teams to the sweep over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, writes Matt Kalman.
-- A lack of discipline and ineffective power play were some of the reasons the Hurricanes were eliminated, writes Kurt Dusterberg.
-- David Backes will finally play in the Cup Final and the Bruins forward got emotional when he finally clinched his trip, writes Shawn P. Roarke.
-- The Hurricanes credited their fans, atmosphere at home for their special season, writes Tom Guliltti.