The Western Conference Finals kicked off from The Shark Tank in San Jose, and it was all Sharks in the opener. Rookie Jordan Binnington has looked like a stud so far in the early days of his career, but tonight he looked like just that – a rookie. Whether it was the constant pressure of the teal-clad Sharks, or just an off night at an inopportune time, Binnington was not at his best as the stakes were pushed to an all-time high for the suburban Toronto tendy and his mates. Not to anger the country of New Zealand or steal from my man Anthony Jeselnik, but on Saturday night it was a Shark Party. Let’s get started!
The home side didn’t waste any time getting started in Game 1 of this Western Conference Final. Logan Couture struck for his 10th goal of the postseason, connecting on an even-strength goal at just 3:31 of the first period on assists to Gustav Nyquist and Timo Meier, making it 1-0. That’s why the Sharks brought Nyquist over from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline, as he has paid big dividends. Joel Edmundson splashed cold water on the home crowd with an even-strength marker, his first of the playoffs, midway through the first period, to make it 1-1. However, the crowd was back at full throat after a Colton Parayko slashing infraction. Joe Pavelski made the Blues pay with a power-play goal to make it 2-1 heading to the room after 20 minutes.
In the second period it was the same script. Kevin Labanc opened the scoring at 7:41 of the second period, making it 3-1 in favor of the home side. Shortly thereafter, Ryan O’Reilly quieted the raucous crowd with a laser at 8:58 of the second period to keep the Blues within arm’s length at 3-2. However, the good feelings didn’t last long for the visitors, as Timo Meier scored not once, but twice, in the second period, to send the home folks to a 5-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Tyler Bozak managed to quiet the crowd with an even-strength tally at 13:01 of the third period to slice the lead to 5-3, but Couture, the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy at this point, notched his 11th of the postseason to put a bow on the scoring at 17:39 of the third period to help the home side double up the Blues in the series opener.
It was a rough game for rookie Jordan Binnington, who hasn’t had many tough nights so far in his outstanding, fledgling career. He coughed up five goals on just 24 shots in the road loss. Remember when there were Sharks fans who wanted to send Martin Jones on a one-way trip to the Farallon Islands with a bloody steak tied around his net to be eaten by real Sharks? After Game 4 of the Vegas series, he was a pariah in the Bay Area, but he quickly turned things around and has this team hurtling toward the Stanley Cup Finals after a slow start. Suddenly, he is loved again, and playing his best hockey of the season.
For the Blues, they had just one player, Ivan Barbashev, win more faceoffs than he lost. He was 3-for-4 at the dot, but an ugly minus-2 with only one hit in his 9:42 of ice time. Tyler Bozak had the goal and plus-1 rating, but he was 6-for-13 (46.2 percent) in the circle, while O’Reilly also had a goal, but was 15-for-32 (46.9 percent). Brayden Schenn won’t be showing these highlights to his friends and family, going scoreless with a minus-2, while cashing in on just five of his 15 attempts at the dot. Oskar Sundqvist was even worse, getting blanked with a minus-2 and just two wins in eight attempts on faceoffs.
As far as the home side was concerned, in addition to Couture and Meier showing out on offense, Brett Burns, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic notched assists in the victory. Justin Braun registered five hits, but Brendan Dillon was good for four thundering hits. Evander Kane was also very physical, posting an assist with a plus-1 rating and six hits, and Goodrow ended up with four hits as well as nine wins in 14 faceoff chances (64.3 percent). Hertl went 21-for-34 (61.8 percent) to also lead the way, while stepping in front of two shots. Meier also dished out five hits to match Braun. In addition to Nyquist’s assist in the first, he had a second helper and ended up plus-2 on the evening. Pavelski was also in the multi-point club with a goal and an assist, while ending up with two hits.
Robert Bortuzzo and Barclay Goodrow were involved in a late-game donnybrook which cost Bortuzzo two and 10. Goodrow was also assessed a game misconduct. Nothing more should come of it from a league discipline perspective, but it does set the tone for the next game and beyond.