Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blues squeak past Wild 1-0 on early goal in third period

Oshie nets winner to give St. Louis third straight win

ST. LOUIS -- Despite a wide margin of shots through two periods and the game scoreless, the Blues had a sense that a breakthrough was imminent.

They certainly couldn't have imagined it coming so soon coming out of the second period locker room.

But T.J. Oshie's pin-point shot from just inside of the left circle through a screen got past Minnesota's Josh Harding 26 seconds into the third period provided the winning margin for the Blues in a 1-0 victory over the Wild Thursday at Scottrade Center.

The win was the third in a row for the Blues, who crept back over the .500 mark at 20-19-7 and snuck within seven points of eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Blues used a turnover that led to a 3-on-2, as Roman Polak got a cross-ice feed to Oshie, who skated into the left circle and snapped a shot that glanced off the stick of defenseman Kim Johnsson and into the top corner.

"Yeah, it was a great play," Oshie said of goal No. 9. "I stepped up when they made the turnover. I was yelling for it going down the wing and (Polak) made a good pass to me. It got tipped by someone, but it got through and I was just trying to put it on net ... and it went in.

"I was trying to find a hole around (Johnsson). Luckily, I found one. ... I couldn't even see the goalie. He was right in front of me, so I was just trying to shoot around (Johnsson) there."

The Blues, who outshot the Wild (24-21-3) by a 37-19 margin but held a 28-9 shot advantage through two periods.

No worries, though. There was a sense of breakthrough, and the players felt one.

"We liked our first two periods and we talked about and we talked about addressing a little more net traffic," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We talked about sticking with the process. It's time and pressure, time and pressure. Eventually, we expect it to break."

The Blues did finally break through, and Chris Mason stopped 19 shots, including some solid stops in the third period for his first shutout of the season and 19th of his career.

His biggest save may have been on Minnesota's Guillaume Latendresse, whose point-blank shot was stopped by Mason late in the second period when the Blues goalie was seeing little action.

"I thought one of the big saves he made in the second period when we had a lot of play in their zone, not a lot going on in our zone and all of the sudden they got a play right to the front of the net," Payne said. "It's one of those ones where you're finding a way to stay sharp, stay in the game and all of the sudden, that chance comes at you. You can sometimes get surprised by that. I thought that was one of the big ones."

Those are the kinds of saves Mason wasn't coming up with for a good stretch there.

"A goalie's got to make a save like that and in the last month, I wasn't doing that," Mason said. "It was a good opportunity for me to kind of make a crucial save at a crucial point of a game."

There were defensemen making plays in front of the Wild net as well, with Mike Weaver blocking two crucial third-period shots including one on Antti Miettinen with 4:48 to play in the game on a shot from the high slot. And there was also Erik Johnson, who just got a piece of the stick from Martin Havlat with 15:59 remaining in the game on a play right in front of a wide open net.

"I think Havlat was coming down and he threw it across there and I was fortunately in the right spot for a block there," Weaver said. "It worked out for the best, I guess."

All-in-all, the Blues were busy preserving another scoreless third period for the second straight game after allowing third-period goals in nine straight contests.

"There's going to be times you have to find a way, plain and simple," Payne said. "There's also times where you just got to keep going with the way you're playing. ... Pretty good, solid 60-minute effort with that concept in mind tonight."

Oshie was also involved in a play the Wild players and coaches called dirty.

Oshie was engaged with the Wild's Andrew Ebbett battling for a puck in the left corner of the ice in the Wild end. The two players went down hard and crashed into the corner boards, setting off a scrum that resulted in Oshie getting a holding penalty, Minnesota's James Sheppard receiving a 10-minute misconduct and Wild tough guy Derek Boogaard getting two minutes for roughing David Backes.

The Wild claimed Oshie slew footed Ebbett, a play Oshie claimed was unintentional.

"I was trying to get body position on ... I'm not exactly sure who it was," Oshie said. "It was a penalty. It was a good call. I wasn't trying to get my leg behind him and throw him down. I'm not sure what else happened after that. I was on the ice from then on. I got up and just tried to grab a jersey."

Minnesota's side sure wasn't happy.

"There’s no doubt it’s a slewfoot. There’s no doubt," Wild coach Todd Richards said. "They weren’t going to call anything until everything broke out.

"If you watch the replay, if they talk about slewfoots and the danger of slewfoots, that’s exactly it. That’ll probably be in the teaching clip next year for the NHL. His head comes straight back and hits the ice and you go into the boards defenseless."

Ebbett claimed foul as well.

"(Oshie) kicked my feet right out from underneath me," Ebbett said. "I couldn’t even protect myself. We made eye contact and usually at a point like that you’re going shoulder to shoulder. And then all of a sudden he brings his feet right from behind me and kicks my feet out from underneath me while throwing me down. Pretty dirty play. And I’ve got nothing to protect myself and I’m going head first to the ice."

"I landed on the back of my head. I just tried to brace myself with my back so my head wouldn’t hit the ice. Muscles are all tight. I can't move anything right now. I tried to soften the blow with my shoulders and my back, and that’s what’s paying the price."

The Blues brought their game plan for three periods Thursday and were rewarded with two points when they needed them most.

"Big Walt (Tkachuk's) always saying go to the hard areas and keep putting pucks to the net and it's eventually going to go in," Oshie said. "We were able to squeak one by."

* NOTES -- The Blues welcomed forward Andy McDonald back into the lineup after McDonald missed Tuesday's win over Columbus with what was a mid-body strain.

McDonald, who was injured in the second period of Saturday's 4-3 win at Los Angeles, knew the injury wasn't serious but the proper precautions were taken and feels like he was good to go.

"I just kind of over-extended and turned a different way," McDonald said. "I don't know the reason (or) the mechanism behind it. It was just a little bit of a strain and hopefully, it won't bother me anymore."

* The Ed Belfour experiment is over.

The Blues, who hired the former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender to be the team's goalie consultant did not want to handle the heavy travel burden. And since Rick Wamsley became coach of the team's minor league affiliate in Peoria, there was not a need for Eddie 'The Eagle' there.

Belfour decided to step away from it all instead, citing the desire to be closer to his family.

Speculation of Curtis Joseph, who announced his retirement Tuesday, coming to St. Louis to be the team's goaltending coach, was quickly squashed by the former Blues netminder.

"I haven’t even thought about becoming a goalie coach or consultant," Joseph said from his home in Toronto. "I'm committed to staying home and raising my boys. I haven't heard anything from anyone."

... Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo skated in his 100th game with the Blues. ... The Wild are now 1-5-3 in the second of back-to-back games when they play the second game at St. Louis. They defeated Vancouver Wednesday.

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