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St. Louis Blues' adjustments spark huge response, lead to Game 4 win

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Head coach Ken Hitchcock in his postgame news conference a few nights ago put it on himself to change things up to find a way to get his team back in the Western Conference finals.

Take a bow, Mr. Hitchcock.

A gutsy goalie change, tweaked forward lines and some altered tactics produced the momentum shift the St. Louis Blues needed to get off the mat and yielded a 6-3 win on Saturday over the San Jose Sharks, tying the series up at two games each.

After poring over five hours of video at the team's hotel on Friday, the veteran coach concocted the needed formula.

"Playing faster from effort and much more physical," noted a rival Western Conference head coach via text message during the game on Saturday night. "Tactics are simple: hard to the O-zone and have a purpose when you get there. And don't turn the puck over."

As one NHL assistant coach from an Eastern Conference team watching the game said: "Blues really amped up their energy, and the Sharks look like they are a step behind with everything execute-wise. The Blues are doing a much better job of staying on the defensive side of the Sharks when they don't have the puck and just no letting the Sharks dictate the pace of the game ... Blues hockey."

In a series that easily could have been 3-0 for the Sharks entering Game 4 based on merit of play, the Blues arrived Saturday night.

Hey, better late than never.

They found a way to create havoc in San Jose's transition game, be better through the neutral zone, bang bodies on the forecheck and produce turnovers. And the end result: more zone time and, hence, more chances.

Finally, Blues hockey.

"A big step," Hitchcock said afterward. "Looked like the way we played in the Chicago series. Which is a good sign."

Getting his team back to that level involved getting the players' attention with a goalie change and other modifications.

"We made a few adjustments, but I think what [Hitchcock] said -- and what we all were saying after last game to each other -- was that we needed to be better at the little things: getting pucks in, being quicker through the neutral zone," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. "We were slow in the first three games through the neutral zone, and it didn't allow us to get any forechecking pressure. When we saw it on tape, and we saw the few examples that we had that worked, we realized that's what we needed to commit to."

Blues goalie Jake Allen looked poised in his first playoff start after replacing Brian Elliott, and the juggled line combinations found the right balance.

In particular, fourth-line center Kyle Brodziak and clutch playoff performer Troy Brouwer led the way, not just with two goals each on Saturday, but also with their inspired play over 200 feet. They dug in, paid the price, delivered big hits and made smart decisions with the puck.

Teams feed off that kind of leadership.

"There's a number of guys that have the conscience of the team; when you just have to step up and play with a higher level of emotion, you can't just talk about it, you have to have people show you the way. They're very good players at knowing what the emotional level is," Hitchcock said of Brodziak and Brouwer. "They've had experience. They know another gear. And they found it."

If there was concern for the Blues, it's that captain David Backes didn't play after the first period, although he remained on the bench, and winger Robby Fabbri, who was outstanding in the opening period, played only two shifts in the third period. Hitchcock said after the game that he thought both players would be good to go for Monday's Game 5 in St. Louis, although he would have a more detailed update on each player in the coming days.

Losing either one of those players for any stretch would be a tough blow for the Blues.

In the meantime, the Sharks have to lick their wounds. As much as the Blues took it to them on Saturday, they facilitated the result with a sloppy performance, the kind of which we haven't seen from this team in quite a while.

"Might be a little case of SJ had it so easy in Game 3, thought would be same in Game 4. STL thought differently," an Eastern Conference coach noted via text Saturday night.

"We've been consistently good for a while. We didn't execute tonight," said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. "We got burnt. We got what we deserved because of our execution. [We need to have a] short memory and move on to the next game. We've had one or two of these games throughout the playoffs and we've always responded the right way."

Sharks center Logan Couture didn't even buy the notion that the Blues' adjustments were the reason for the loss.

"No, it was us," Couture said. "We didn't play very well. Like I said, turned the puck over, left the D-zone early, took some penalties. That's pretty much a recipe to give up some goals."

DeBoer had done an outstanding job with this Sharks team. He'll have his bounce-back game plan ready to go Monday night in St. Louis. This series pits two of the best in the business behind the bench.

No question, however, emotion also played a big part here on Saturday night, with the Blues' desperation level forcing a heightened commitment, as their season was on the line in Game 4, for all intents and purposes.

"You know, we didn't really have that thought in our mind," Shattenkirk insisted. "What we were thinking was, if we win this game, it's 2-2. Really, coming into this game, everyone was making it seem like we were down and out. And we were playing that way. We weren't showing much from ourselves.

"But we felt like we were still in a great position to tie this up. And now we have home-ice advantage."

Oh, there's no denying it, we've got ourselves a full-fledged series now that the Blues decided to join it for real.

Related Video
Blues' offense ignites for six goals in Game 4
Blues' offense ignites for six goals in Game 4
After getting shut out in back-to-back games, the Blues finally break out posting six goals in Game 4 to even the Western Conference finals with the Sharks at 2-2.

Troy Brouwer nets two goals in Blues' win
Troy Brouwer nets two goals in Blues' win
Blues right wing Troy Brouwer scores a pair of goals against the Sharks in St. Louis' 6-3 win over San Jose. Blues had not scored in 157 minutes of gameplay prior to this game.

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sportsespnwestern conference finals2016 nhl playoffsst louis bluesjoe thorntonjoe pavelskipeter deboerken hitchcocktomas hertlsan jose sharksstanley cup playoffsjake allennhl playoffswestern conference
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