Home sweet home? Not for the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Blues again seemed tantalizingly close to a win that would give them the upper hand over San Jose in the Western Conference Final, only to surrender crucial goals near the end of the second period and start of the third in an eventual 6-3 defeat against the Sharks.
Joe Pavelski scored two goals, including the go-ahead goal 16 seconds into the third period for his NHL’s leading 12th playoff goal, as the Sharks took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
How can the Blues win six of nine playoff road games while losing six of 10 at home?
“I think maybe we’re complicating the game too much,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We get on the road, we play that simple game. It seems to be the most effective for us.”
Ah yes, playing the simple game. A lot of players say that, but why is hockey becoming an advanced calculus final exam for the Blues on home ice?
“If I had the magic answer I’d give it to you,” Pietrangelo said. “I’m not too sure. It’s something that we really need to take a hard look at and figure out why we’re doing that. That’s on us players.”
Blues captain David Backes tried to elaborate a bit on the problems at home, which keep coming up like potholes on the Poplar Street Bridge.
“I just think we’re a little cuter at home than we are on the road,” Backes said. “We just stick to an ugly, pucks-deep type of game on the road and it’s effective and it just wears on teams, where here we’re feeding them a little bit too much, we’re in the box a little too much and their power play made us pay a couple times tonight.”
Pavelski broke a 3-3 tie early in the third period redirected a shot from the point by Brent Burns past Blues goalie Jake Allen, who was making his second straight start following 17 straight starts by Brian Elliott. Allen allowed four goals on 25 shots and the Sharks were 2-for-3 on the power play after going 0-for-5 in Game 4.
Chris Tierney and Joel Ward added empty-net goals for the Sharks after Allen went to the bench for an extra attacker.
Game 6 is set for Wednesday as the Blues will be trying to win their second straight game in San Jose and force Game 7 back at Scottrade Center on Friday.
The Blues were trying to push a 3-2 lead into the third period when a hooking penalty on Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk led to a power-play goal by Pavelski. The Blues’ defense paid too much attention to Joe Thornton near the side of the net, allowing Thornton to find the wide-open Pavelski in the slot.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called that the “killer goal.”
“I thought the killer goal was the third one,” he said. “I thought the energy on our bench, which was excellent, dropped a little bit after the third goal, not the fourth one. That was the difference.”
Another difference in the series has the five straight scoreless games by Blues regular season scoring leader Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian star had seven goals and 14 points in his first 14 playoff games this season.
“We have no choice,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to bring it back for Game 7, that’s the goal, so he’s just part of the mix. He’s struggled this series. He’s struggled offensively, he hasn’t gotten the looks offensively that he normally gets. But he’s one shift away from breaking it open.”
The Sharks took an early lead on a goal by Marc-Edouard Vlasic just 3:51 into the game, but the Blues struck back with two goals before the first period ended.
Jaden Schwartz ended a 13-game playoff goal drought with dogged pursuit of a loose puck after a shot by Patrik Berglund hit Backes in front. Schwartz pounced on the puck and beat Sharks goalie Martin Jones for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Backes and Fabbri were both shaken up Saturday during Game 4, but they were back in the Blues lineup two days later for Game 5.
Paul Stastny poked a puck away from Pavelski in the Blues’ end to help set up the go-ahead goal by Troy Brouwer.
Alexander Steen worked the puck in the slot to Stastny, whose shot hit Jones and bounced high in the air. Before the puck returned to the ice, Brouwer swung his stick like he was swinging a baseball bat and drove the puck into the net with 4:52 remaining in the period.
The goal was Brouwer’s team-leading eighth of the playoffs. He has eight goals in 19 games during his first playoff experience with the Blues after scoring only seven goals in his first 78 NHL playoff games.
It also marked four straight two-goal periods by the Blues after they had been shutout in back-to-back games by Jones.
The Sharks scored two power-play goals during the second period, both coming with Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in the penalty box.
San Jose tied it 2-2 when a shot by Vlasic got behind Allen, hit the goalpost, then was batted in out of mid-air by Ward at the 4:37 mark.
Fabbri took a pass from fellow rookie Colton Parayko and unloaded a low shot from the blue line that eluded Jones.
The shot gave the Blues seven goals on 32 shots since Jones posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3.
Fabbri’s goal seemed poised to send the Blues into the third period with the lead, but the Sharks answered before the second period ended.