Jori Lehtera’s first goal in seven games got the St. Louis Blues off to a great start in their first Western Conference Final game since 2001.
Lehtera’s goal came midway through the second period and along with the shut-down goaltending of Brian Elliott gave the Blues a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series.
Lehtera quickly went the other way following a turnover by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns at center ice, scoring his first goal since Game 7 of the Blackhawks series. It was Lehtera’s second goal of the playoffs.
Lehtera fought through the check of San Jose’s Chris Tierney and got off a long slapshot that somehow snaked its way under the arm of Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
“I just got the puck, then I close my eyes and shoot it,” Lehtera said. “That’s about it. You’ve just got to keep it simple.”
Elliott had a sellout crowd of 19,483 chanting his nickname “Moose” all night after stopping 31 of 32 shots. When the last line of defense was the goaltender, Elliott came up big every time including after the Sharks pulled their goalie for an extra attacker with 2 minutes, 29 seconds remaining.
“It really has a lot to do with the guys in front of you, the way they’re playing and the (shooting) lanes they’re taking away,” Elliott said.
“When your goalie’s your best player, it gives you a great chance of winning and that was the case tonight,” said Blues captain David Backes, who scored his team’s first goal. “It was that way for the first two rounds, and nothing’s changed in Game 1 of the third round.”
The Blues were outshot 16-5 during a shaky second period and only the goaltending of Elliott allowed them to enter the third period with a lead.
His best save of the period came when he robbed Pavelski, his University of Wisconsin teammate, by stretching out his pad and skate about as far as it could go.
When your goalie’s your best player, it gives you a great chance of winning and that was the case tonight. It was that way for the first two rounds, and nothing’s changed in Game 1 of the third round.
Blues captain David Backes on goalie Brian Elliott
“He’s obviously a good player and the guy that leads their team,” Elliott said. “It’s really nothing more than just trying to stop every puck. It’s not who’s shooting it that matters, it’s trying to get in the way. You don’t really think about who’s shooting it.”
Pavelski knew he missed out on a golden opportunity.
“I hate to see it hit him like that,” said Pavelski, who has nine goals in 13 playoff games. “It’s a good play. The stick just didn’t … I’m going to blame that one on the stick. No. I have to find a way to put that in regardless of what goes on. I have it and I feel it. I thought it was going in.”
Burns was asked about his giveaway that led to Lehtera’s game-winning goal.
“He was just there up the boards. Obviously I didn’t see him coming,” Burns said. “Two guys in the middle, right between. If you’re asking if I passed to him, no, I didn’t.”
The Blues felt they had taken a 1-0 lead when a shot by Jay Bouwmeester hit Patrik Berglund in front and the puck wound up in the Sharks’ net.
The goal was waved off by the on-ice officials for goalkeeper interference. Berglund did make contact with San Jose goalie Martin Jones, but Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic also appeared to push Berglund a bit later and may also have inadvertently deflected the puck in.
The Blues used a coach’s challenge to review the no-goal decision, but following the review the call was upheld.
The NHL Situation Room issued this response to the challenge:
“... the referee confirmed that St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund made incidental contact with San Jose goaltender Martin Jones before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Jones from doing his job in the crease.”
It marked the third time in 15 games the Blues had lost a goal on a review or challenge.
The Blues grabbed the lead on a goal that actually counted when Backes deflected in a shot by Kevin Shattenkirk.
It was the seventh playoff goal in 15 games this spring for Backes, who again showed excellent hands in front when he got a piece of Shattenkirk’s shot.
“One thing I never have to worry about is him being in front of the net when I shoot it,” Shattenkirk said. “For me to get that shot off, have it deflect before it gets to him and him still get a piece of it is amazing. That’s where he’s so valuable.”
The lead lasted for only 34 seconds as San Jose tied it on Tomas Hertl’s goal, which originally was credited to Joe Pavelski.
Elliott did have one scary moment when he failed to corral a slow-moving puck with his glove late in the second period and the puck continued into the net. Fortunately for the Blues, the play was blown dead earlier.
“The puck was spinning a lot and it probably just spun out,” Elliott said when asked about the play. “I haven’t even seen it yet, so I don’t know.”
Jones robbed Stastny early in the third period, then Elliott returned the favor when he made a sprawling save on Patrick Marleau.
There was a funny moment near the end of the first period when Backes tangled with San Jose’s Joe Thornton and the pair grabbed at each other’s playoff beards. It was far easier for Backes to gain traction thanks to Thornton’s massive Moses-like facial hair.
“Yeah, just seeing whose was real and making sure they weren’t glued on,” Backes said. “It seemed like both checked out and you move on with life.”