It was readily apparent Friday that the St. Louis Blues weren't rattled by how their latest loss happened two nights earlier. The first sign came when Ivan Barbashev opened the scoring in the first minute. The final sign came when they repelled San Jose's final push to beat the Sharks 2-1 on home ice and even the Western Conference finals at two wins apiece.
"It's huge," Blues forward Tyler Bozak told Rogers Sportsnet after the victory. "Obviously, you don't want to go down 3-1, especially when heading into their building. After what happened in Game 3 -- we're a resilient group, we fought through a lot of adversity this year -- to see us come back is a great feeling." Game 5 of the best-of-seven series will be Sunday afternoon in San Jose, Calif. The West champion will advance to meet the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
After falling in Game 3 in dramatic fashion -- surrendering a late goal and then losing in overtime due to a winning goal coming on a play that should have been blown dead due to a hand pass -- the Blues needed a strong response to even the series. Barbashev scored just 35 seconds into the affair, Bozak netted the game-winning goal on a late first-period power play, and then goaltender Jordan Binnington made 29 saves to move into the history books.
"It just kinda fired us up, gave us some extra fuel," Bozak said of the inglorious way his team was defeated in the third game. "We showed that early in the game. Obviously, San Jose's a great hockey team and they had their push, but we were able to hold them. We're excited to get to San Jose now." Binnington, who has played as big a part as anybody in the team's turnaround from the middle of the season, becomes only the 10th rookie goalie in NHL history to win 10 or more playoff games. He's also the first Blues netminder to record double-digit victories in a single year's postseason.
"I think we deserved that one, for sure," Binnington told the NHL Network after his first-star performance. "We've got a best-of-three left, we'll see how we do." Tomas Hertl scored San Jose's lone goal 6:48 into the third period.
The fact this is going to be a long series should surprise nobody. The Sharks continue their trend of winning odd-numbered games and losing the even-numbered affairs. It happened through all seven games of their second-round series victory over the Colorado Avalanche and has continued through four games of this set. "You're in the Western Conference final. It's 2-2," Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said of his team's situation. "I feel pretty good. We have home-ice advantage. I feel good."
Still, there are some warning signs for the Sharks. First, star defenseman Erik Karlsson appeared to re-injure a nagging groin injury. He was on the bench for a stretch of seven minutes of the third period, though he returned in the final minutes.
Second, there is a common belief that they aren't consistently reaching their top level. "We can get better. We're going to have to get better," Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said. "It's a great team over there, and we're still looking for a solid 60-(minute) performance."
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