By Morris Phillips
SAN JOSE — Want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup? You’re going to need contributions from a variety of sources.
On Monday night, Robert Bortuzzo was the unlikely source that propelled the Blues in their 4-2 Western Conference Finals-tying win at the SAP Center. The veteran defenseman went the first 30 NHL playoff games of his career without scoring a goal, then in Game 2, turned slick skating opportunist in beating Sharks goalie Martin Jones late in the second period with the game winner.
“That was pretty smooth by him, but he’s got that in his arsenal,” Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said of Bortuzzo.
“He’s a big guy with a good set of hands so it’s nice to see him rewarded,” said Alexander Steen.
Bortuzzo jumped into the rush, slipping past an unsuspecting Joe Thornton, where Tyler Bozak’s pass put Bortuzzo in position for a point blank opportunity that he backhanded into the upper left corner. Ironically, Bortuzzo was a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stars-Blues series, but against the bigger Sharks, and likely to match up against Thornton, the defenseman was on the ice and his contributions were potentially series altering.
Bortuzzo scored just two regular season goals, and has lit the lamp just 16 times in 366 career regular season and playoff appearances. That paucity of scoring didn’t interfere with his star turn in Game 2.
“It’s not really my game, but (goal scoring is) definitely something that goes in the back of your mind,” said Bortuzzo. “It was just a rush of emotion.”
In the tense, third period Bortuzzo dropped to the ice, blocking Kevin Labanc’s high velocity slapper that could have drawn the Sharks even with 10:04 remaining. Instead, the Sharks failed to even the score as the Blues have held the opposition scoreless in all six third periods of their road, playoff wins.
The Blues, desperate not to return home down 2-0, blocked 20 shots in the game and delivered the majority of the impactful hits along the boards. Bortuzzo also set the tone, sending San Jose’s Marcus Sorenson careening into the boards midway through the first period.
Logan Couture enlivened the SAP Center with a pair of second period goals two minutes apart that wiped out a 2-0 deficit. Couture’s first goal was shorthanded off a takeaway and seemed to lift the malaise that enveloped the home team. But coach Peter DeBoer drew a different conclusion.
“I thought Logan Couture was pretty good, a couple of other guys … It’s tough to win this time of year if you don’t have everybody going, and I thought they got contributions from everybody, like we did in the first night,” DeBoer explained.
Binnington continued his eye-catching maiden voyage on the roller coaster that is the NHL playoffs. The rookie net minder stopped 26 shots (11 in the third period) and won for the ninth time. Binnington is one win way from becoming just the 10th rookie goaltender to win 10 times in a single playoffs.
The Sharks have dropped Game 2 at home in each of their 2019 playoff series, after winning Game 1. The Sharks have split a pair in Game 3, winning in Denver to take a 2-1 lead on the Avalanche in the conference semis.
The series, tied 1-1, resumes Wednesday in St. Louis with the pivotal Game 3.