The last time Robert Bortuzzo scored a playoff goal, he was in the first of his three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. It was the spring of 2007, and he was 18 years old.
The emphatic celebration from the St. Louis defensive defenseman was more than understandable when he scored a jaw-dropping goal that ended up the game-winner Monday night in the Blues’ 4-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks that tied the Western Conference finals at one win apiece.
“It’s not really my game,” said Bortuzzo, 30. “Jaden (Schwartz, a Blues teammate) will remember, I told him if I do score a playoff goal, you’ll like the celebration. You never plan what you’re going to do, but it’s a rush of emotion.”
Thanks to that emotion, and the victory that came with it, the Blues return home even in the series heading into Game 3 on Wednesday.
With the score tied 2-2, Bortuzzo scored a surprising goal at 16:34 of the middle period. After bolting from his point position, he took a return feed while heading toward the goal and lifted a top-shelf backhander for his first tally in 31 career playoff games — and just the 15th in 366 regular-season and playoff NHL contests.
Bortuzzo was visible in a more familiar manner in the third period making a goal-saving block on a Kevin Labanc chance, but his goal was certainly the talking point of the night.
“I loved his celebration,” Schwartz said. “He’s got a lot of emotion. Right now, it’s a big time of the year, and the intensity’s high and everybody’s doing a good job of embracing that and having fun with it.”
Jordan Binnington made 24 saves for the Blues, 11 of them in the third period while the Sharks pushed for the equalizer. San Jose’s hopes were dashed when Oskar Sundqvist provided the much-needed insurance goal with 3:08 remaining in the third.
In all three postseason series this spring, the Sharks have won the opener but then lost the second game.
“We’ve been here before, and we know how to handle this,” San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said.
DeBoer took the defeat in stride, but he has the benefit of coaching a veteran-laden club that knows it wasn’t up to snuff.
“One thing about our group is they’re smart. Their self-analysis is very good,” DeBoer said. “They know when they played well. There’s games this year we played really well and lost, and tonight wasn’t one of them. We have to find another level.”
Curiously, the Sharks had all the momentum before the game-winning goal, having erased a 2-0 deficit.
After Schwartz put the visitors on the board first at 2:34 of the opening frame, ripping a glove-side wrist shot into the top corner, Vince Dunn doubled the St. Louis lead at 4:16 of the second period with a long wrist shot that beat screened Sharks goalie Martin Jones.
However, Logan Couture quickly tallied twice for the Sharks to even the count. Just 39 seconds after Dunn’s goal, and with San Jose short-handed, Couture stole the puck at his own blue line to create his own breakaway and finished it by tucking home the puck.
Couture tied the game with another breakaway goal two minutes later. This time, he was sent a long pass from Timo Meier and converted a five-hole shot for his 13th goal of the playoffs, most among all players this spring.
Jones stopped 21 shots for the Sharks.
—Field Level Media