ST. LOUIS, Mo. — If you were surprised by the St. Louis Blues’ fourth line scoring Game 4’s opening goal, you haven’t been paying enough attention.
For the San Jose Sharks, here’s yet another example of not starting the game on time: Logan Couture (39) got back to retrieve the St. Louis dump-in, but he put the pass into Brent Burns’s (88) feet. Burns recovered agilely, but that extra split-second allowed a forechecking Ivan Barbashev (49) to pressure. Burns backhanded a pass perhaps too hard for Couture and too soft for Gustav Nyquist (14) up the wall. Alexander Steen (20) kept the puck alive. Couture managed to stick it away, sailing it across the ice to Timo Meier (28).
The puck bounced on Meier, which gave 6-foot-6 Colton Parayko (55) all the time he needed to pinch and force a turnover. A trailing Barbashev threw the puck back into the corner; Oskar Sundqvist pressured Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) into going back with it again, to Burns behind the net.
Burns, surveying the ice, took an extra beat, allowing Steen to close and finish. Burns might have expected Nyquist along the wall, but instead, Barbashev was waiting. Barbashev, going for a shot-pass to Sundqvist in front, instead deflected it off Nyquist’s stick, past Martin Jones.
Sundqvist offered, “We’re putting pucks in good areas, where we know we’re going to get it back.”
“Just a broken play, broken breakout,” Burns remarked.
While the Blues certainly benefited from a bounce, it was also a ferocious forecheck from their secondary forwards and Parayko that put the Sharks down a goal just 35 seconds in.
This is the sixth time in this post-season that San Jose has found itself down 1-0 five minutes or less into a game. A quick survey of the last five Stanley Cup champions suggests that this is unusual:
Going back to the line of Barbashev, Sundqvist and Steen, they’ve been hard to handle all series.
This was the opening shift of Game 1:
A Steen forecheck, a nifty Sundqvist behind-the-back, between-the-legs pass and Steen almost put St. Louis on the board.
This was from Game 2:
A forechecking Steen blew through Joakim Ryan’s attempt to hold him up, perhaps surprising Justin Braun (61). Barbashev helped outnumber Braun, taking the puck and finding Sundqvist for another golden opportunity.
“First guy in on the forecheck doesn’t always have to come up with the puck. Just get that D-man, stall the puck, the second guy comes in quick,” observed Sundqvist.
A beautiful pass from Steen to Sundqvist extends the Blues lead late in the third. pic.twitter.com/q4DqTLkLSF— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) May 14, 2019
Barbashev started the rush with a hand-off to Steen on this nifty Sundqvist goal.
The Russian winger proved to be especially challenging for Erik Karlsson in Game 3:
Barbashev held off Karlsson (65), before finding an open Steen.
A forechecking Barbashev appeared to surprise Karlsson breaking out. This turnover would lead to a St. Louis offensive zone faceoff that David Perron would take advantage of to tie the game.
For good reason, Craig Berube hasn’t been afraid to trot Barbashev and company out:
How often do you see this?#STLBlues 4C Barbashev led team in even-strength ice-time (5:50) in first period— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) May 18, 2019
“We’re not the fastest line out there, but we’re playing fast,” Sundqvist said. “It feels like sometimes I don’t even have to look where either Steen or Barbashev is. It’s been a really good connection.”
Joe Thornton and San Jose depth answered in Game 3, we’ll see what the Sharks have up their sleeve this Sunday.
Will Karlsson play Game 5?
Karlsson played two limited-looking shifts in the last 10 minutes of the Game 4 defeat.
For two straight days, Peter DeBoer has had nothing to say about Karlsson’s health.
After Game 4, he offered, “I don’t have anything for you there.”
This morning, he stated curtly, “No update.”
Meanwhile, Marc-Edouard Vlasic talked about the prospect of shouldering more ice-time in Karlsson’s absence: “We won’t worry about that until Sunday. We’re focused as if he’s playing. Only Erik knows how he’s feeling, so I can’t answer that.”
When asked, Burns responded, “He’s great. How are you doing?”
None of this appears promising. We’ll see tomorrow at about 10:30 a.m., when DeBoer will be made available before Game 5.