The St. Louis Blues earned the split they were looking for in the opening two contests of their Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks thanks to a 4-2 victory in Monday's Game 2 at the SAP Center at San Jose.
The series is now tied at one apiece, and the Blues have the opportunity to clinch their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since 1970 if they win the remaining games on their home ice.
Jaden Schwartz, Vince Dunn, Robert Bortuzzo and Oskar Sundqvist all scored for the visitors, allowing their team to overcome two goals from Logan Couture in the second period. Goaltender Jordan Binnington saved 24 of the 26 shots he faced and preserved the lead throughout the third period before Sundqvist provided the breathing room with the final goal.
It is no surprise Binnington came through with the game hanging in the balance considering he is the primary reason the Blues are even still playing.
He allowed a single goal in Game 6 and a single goal in a double-overtime Game 7 in the second round after his team fell behind 3-2 to the Dallas Stars, spearheading the comeback and keeping hopes of the franchise's first Stanley Cup title alive.
Monday's showing was an important bounce-back performance since he allowed five goals to the Sharks in Game 1. Only Couture was able to beat him, but the San Jose center has been beating every goaltender he faces in this postseason.
St. Louis wasted little time giving Binnington a lead to work with, as the San Jose defense gave Schwartz far too much space to operate with right in front of the net in the opening three minutes of the game. He picked a spot in the corner and flicked it right past Martin Jones' glove side to start the scoring.
It was playoff business as usual for Schwartz, who entered the game with eight goals and 12 points in 14 postseason contests. By contrast, he scored just 11 goals throughout the entire regular season.
The game appeared to slip away from the Sharks when they were unable to capitalize on their own chances the rest of the first period and saw Dunn score with a shot from the point early in the second to make it 2-0.
Dunn was the one to score, but Ryan O'Reilly made franchise history with the assist:
That's when Couture went into takeover mode, scoring his first goal while the Blues were shorthanded by intercepting a pass and beating Binnington five-hole. He then collected a pass from Timo Meier less than two minutes later and tied the score by going five-hole yet again for his 100th career playoff point and league-leading 13th goal in this postseason.
That momentum was short-lived, though, as Bortuzzo beat Jones with the backhand to give the Blues the lead for good.
It was a critical moment, and the San Jose goaltender was unable to preserve the momentum Couture gave the home team. He has been inconsistent all playoffs, allowing three or more goals seven times after finishing with the highest goals-against average (2.94) and worst save percentage (89.6) of his career during the regular season.
To his credit, he gave his team a chance to tie the game in the third period by surviving a St. Louis power play, but Binnington passed every test the Sharks threw at him in crunch time—including a barrage of offensive chances with an extra attacker on the ice in the closing minutes.
His effort, along with the beautiful passing from Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo to set up Sundqvist's goal and take some of the pressure off, means St. Louis has momentum on its side as the series heads to the Midwest for the first time.
The series shifts to St. Louis for Wednesday's Game 3.