ST. LOUIS — With the game – and perhaps the season – in the balance, assistant coach Mike Van Ryn of the St. Louis made a decision.
With the Blues battling with the Sharks in San Jose in Game 2 on Monday night, Van Ryn decided to tweak his defensive pairings. He put Alex Pietrangelo with veteran Jay Bouwmeester, the offensive-minded Vince Dunn with the powerful slap shot of Colton Parayko, and Joel Edmundson with fellow defensive stalwart Robert Bortuzzo.
So of course, it was Bortuzzo who scored the game-winning goal in the 4-2 victory late in the second period off a nice give-and-go with Edmundson.
“I think Ryno did a good job there of just reading off of how we were feeling,” Edmundson said. “All six of us, we’re comfortable playing with each other. When he put me and (Bortuzzo) together, we kind of got excited. We like playing together. It was nice to get out there with Bobbo again, especially getting that goal and helping our team out.”
Bortuzzo became the fifth Blues defenceman to score a goal in this post-season. More important, the Blues tied the Western Conference final at 1-1 with Game 3 coming up Wednesday night in St. Louis.
Dunn also scored and Edmundson had a pair of assists as Blues defencemantotalled five points in Game 2 and had a hand in all four goals. The Blues are tied with San Jose with 38 points from defencemen in the playoffs, the most in the NHL.
Blues coach Craig Berube said the defensive switches resulted from switching up the lineups on the power play.
“Sometimes that’s needed just to mix things up,” Berube said. “It could be matchup. It could be a number of different things. Our team understands that and they know that things change during the game, but they don’t let it affect them. They stay with their game. They stay with the game plan. And they stay focused.”
Pietrangelo got an assist on Oskar Sundqvist’s goal in the third period to tie the Blues record for points by a defenceman in one post-season with 12 (two goals, 10 assists). Pietrangelo’s offence is expected — the Blues captain had 41 points in 71 regular-season games — but it is the scoring from the entire defence that has given the team a boost.
Edmundson has a goal and five assists in 13 playoffs games after just 11 points in 64 games this season. Bouwmeester has five points in 15 playoff games after 17 points in 78 regular-season games. And with a goal and an assist Monday night, Bortuzzo joined in after just 10 points in 59 games during the season.
“We want our ‘D’ to be active and they produced for us all year and produced in the playoffs, too,” Berube said.
After giving up numerous odd-man rushes in the opening loss to the Sharks, the Blues defence seems to have found its game, especially after the pairing switch midway through the second period.
“I just think we had more poise with the puck coming out of our end,” Bortuzzo said. “That gave us an opportunity to get through the neutralize zone with possession, put pucks where we wanted to and fore-check.”
The aggressiveness of the Blues defencemen in the offensive zone definitely got the Sharks’ attention.
“If they’re rolling around, you’ve got to lock up and get the job done and be on the inside,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “We let a few guys kind of get inside us tonight probably. That was the focus probably for them coming in. There are certain battles that we’ve got to win, and we’ll try to get back to that part.”
St. Louis went 0 for 5 with the man advantage and gave up a short-handed goal to Logan Couture in the second period that helped the Sharks erase a 2-0 deficit. The Blues are now just 7 for 47 on the power play in the post-season and it was the third short-handed goal allowed, the most in the NHL.
“Not good, obviously,” Blues centre Brayden Schenn said. “Our numbers aren’t there. Numbers aren’t everything. But possession is not there, plays aren’t there. We have to go back to the drawing board and look at some film to see if we need to make some changes or not.”
The Blues have scored just once on the power play in their last 26 attempts and haven’t found the back of the net with the man advantage in five games. Special teams improvement could loom large if St. Louis is to advance to its first Stanley Cup Final since 1970.
“We need to be better,” centre Ryan O’Reilly said. “We’re not anticipating each other very well, getting into these battles and winning them very quick. It’s tough to gain any momentum.”
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Joe Harris, The Associated Press