Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blues head into Olympic break with momentum

Team caps seven-game stretch with three
straight wins after 4-3 shootout victory over Capitals

ST. LOUIS -- It looked bleak there for the Blues when the week began.

They began a grueling seven-game stretch by dropping three of four, and they were rapidly sliding down the playoff mountain and fading fast.

But then there were three home games to round out the stretch that would take the Blues into the Olympic break.

But wait, wasn't home ice what the Blues didn't need? After all, they had one of the worst home records in the NHL this season.

What a difference a week makes.

The Blues, facing Detroit, Toronto and league-leader Washington, ended things with a bang. Faced with the notion that they would need all of them to stay in the Western Conference race, the Blues got that highlight win of the season Saturday night, downing the Capitals 4-3 in a shootout before 19,150 happy Scottrade Center faithful.

The Blues (28-25-9) stood toe-to-toe with the explosive Capitals (41-13-8), who now are winless in three straight (0-2-1) after winning 14 in a row.

David Perron scored the lone shootout goal in the first round of sudden death after both the Blues' Chris Mason and Washington's Jose Theodore slammed the door shut in the best-of-3.

"It was a big win for our hockey team obviously against a quality opponent with a lot of offensive pressure, but I thought we defended pretty well as a group of five," said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose team is four points in back of eighth-place Calgary. "Mason was great and we found a way to get it done in the shootout."

The Blues got goals from Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and Erik Johnson and took one-goal leads on each occasion, but the Capitals were able to counter with two Mike Knuble goals and one from Alexander Semin.

But instead of being awe-struck, the Blues stuck with their game plan and would earn the second point.

"We couldn't change our approach from shift to shift," Payne said. "Even if we built a big lead going into the third period, we talked about making sure we stayed the course and stayed the game plan. They've come back on a lot of teams over recent history here in the last month. Two, three, four goals is not out of reach for this hockey club."

Perron, who was 0 for 3 in shootouts this season, went to the backhand and lifted the puck off the post, but the puck caromed off Theodore's shoulder and into the net. Mason would then make the clinching save on Brendan Morrison.

"It feels good because we ended up winning the game on that," Perron said. "I was kind of lucky, too. It hit the back of the post and his back and it went in, but I'll take it. We'll build on that hopefully."

Perron did not know immediately that the puck went in.

"When the referee pointed at the net," he said when asked when he knew. "I never saw the puck go in the net. It was a good feeling, but let's keep building on that."

The Blues were thwarted by Theodore on shootout attempts by Berglund, Oshie and Brad Boyes, but Mason -- who was in goal when the Blues beat Detroit earlier this week in a shootout -- was equally up to the task when faced with the talented Semin, Alex Ovechkin, who was held to a rare pointless game and Nicklas Backstrom.

"Those guys can hurt you sometimes," Mason said of the Capitals. "I'm just thankful of the way it went.

"It's tough when you don't play teams often. Obviously you know their skill level and the guys they have on their team. You see the highlights and things like that, but we've had a few shootouts lately and it helps. ... You just have to be patient and you have to stand your ground."

It was a game when the Blues' young guns are at their best, results usually tend to lean towards victories.

Berglund arguably played his best game Saturday. Oshie was all over the ice with a goal and an assist and Johnson played 25 minutes, 36 seconds and was part of a defensive unit that shut down the one of the game's dynamic players in Ovechkin.

"They're a great team, but I think we're proving to each other in this locker room that we're a good team as well," Oshie said. "When we play within ourselves, we win hockey games."

Ovechkin did lead the Caps with eight shots for the game, but the key to success, according to Payne, was limiting his space.

"You saw him a couple times there in the third period and overtime wind those jets up," Payne said. "Not a very comfortable feeling. You've got to make sure you angle, you've got to make sure you've got people coming back on him. When he doesn't have possession, there becomes the battle away from him and you have to be aware of the areas he's finding on the ice. You don't do it individually, you do it with all five guys on the ice and then sometimes have to rely on the goaltender as well."

Maybe the Blues don't need a two-week layoff. Why mess with momentum?

"Regardless of who it's against, those points are huge for us," Mason said. "We've been up and down so far all throughout the season and these wins at home are absolutely huge.

"That's a huge win, especially the situation with the standings and all that and the opponent we had tonight. Going into a break, it's tough sometimes. Your mind wanders beyond the game. Guys did a great job."

* NOTES -- The Blues used the same lineup from Friday night, as Keith Tkachuk (upper-body) was out for the second consecutive game, as were D.J. King and Darryl Sydor (healthy scratches). ... Blues forward Cam Janssen received a five-minute interference penalty and a game-misconduct after a hard check on the Capitals' Matt Bradley, who could not get off the ice on his own power. "I was just coming back and (Bradley) had the puck," Janssen said. "He cycled it back, and he was looking back like he felt the puck was still on his skates. I finish my hits. I thought it was a good opportunity. His head was down and I was just trying to get the boys into it. I hope (there's) no suspension, but we'll see what happens. If it happens, it happens and that's the way it is." ... The Capitals have now dropped eight straight games here, with their last win coming on Oct. 26, 1996. ... The Blues are now 12-16-5 on home ice, including 6-2-2 in the last 10. ... Since being snubbed for a spot on the US Olympic team, Oshie has six goals and 17 points in 22 games. ... Since allowing five goals on 15 shots in Monday's loss at Colorado, Mason went 3-0 with one shutout and allowed six goals on 106 shots.

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