Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tkachuk celebrates birthday in style

Veteran, who turned 38 Sunday, nets
game-winner in 2-1 victory over Edmonton

ST. LOUIS -- The wily, grizzled veteran still has the touch around the net.

Keith Tkachuk, grey-breaded and all, who was celebrating his 38th birthday on Sunday, came into the Blues' game against the Edmonton Oilers with 537 career goals, and many of them came in typical Keith Tkachuk fashion: tip-ins, redirections from fighting for position around the goal.

Tkachuk was true to form with the game-winner in the third period, his 538th career goal, 13th of the season and first in 14 games as the Blues continue to breath on a respirator as far as their playoff lives are concerned with a 2-1 win over the Oilers at Scottrade Center.

The goal broke a 1-1 tie when Alex Steen threw the puck towards goal from the blue line before Brad Winchester got a tip on it, then Tkachuk also redirected it between his skates past Oilers netminder Devan Dubnyk 7 minutes 36 seconds into the third period.

"It was a great shot and a great high screen by Winchester and a great shot by Steen," Tkachuk said. "It was a critical part of the game.

"We didn't start off very well tonight in the first, but we started getting more shots, more bodies to the net and I think we wore them down."

The Blues (36-30-9) kept their slight playoff hopes alive by downing a floundering Oilers team that boasts the worst record in the NHL, which now stands at 24-44-7. St. Louis now has 81 points, eight less than eighth-place Colorado, which fell 4-3 at San Jose Sunday night. The Blues have seven games remaining.

Erik Johnson scored his eighth goal of the season, and Chris Mason stopped 23 shots as the Blues improved to 14-18-5 at home but 5-2-0 in their last seven here.

"It's a big win at home. We're still alive, and you get on the board finally," Tkachuk said. "It seems like a long time, so it's nice to contribute."

The Blues were sluggish from the outset and paid for the sloppy start when Patrick O'Sullivan intercepted a poor Barret Jackman outlet pass, skated in alone on Mason and beat the Blues' netminder with a backhand five-hole 10:22 into the period for a 1-0 Oilers lead.

The Oilers outshot the Blues 10-7 in the first, and some reassessing needed to be addressed between periods.

"We were terrible after the first period and coach (Davis) Payne came in and let us hear it that we really needed to step up our game," Johnson said. "We came out better in the second and closed it out in the third. We were very much improved from the first period. We got a good wake-up call from him."

"I think the feeling in here was a little intense," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I think we just needed to settle down and play confident and do the things that we were accostomed to be known for doing; moving the feet, hitting the body and playing to our level and not theirs."

Payne said it wasn't just the fact that the veteran Jackman tried to go cross-ice with the puck from the left boards, but many other aspects.

"It was probably not just the goal we were dissatisfied with," Payne said. "I don't think we played a very intent first period. It wasn't the type of puck possessions, wasn't the type of support, it wasn't the type of defensive intensity we were looking for. We made special mention of that after the first period and made sure we got to our game in the second."

The announced crowd of 19,150 did not have much to cheer about through the first half of the game, but Johnson finally woke them up with a slap shot from the blue line that beat Dubnyk, a power play goal 10:43 into the second to tie the game 1-1.

"I got a nice pass from T.J. (Oshie) and just set it up and had a great screen in front by Brad Winchester, which made the whole play happen," Johnson said. "It was nice to see it go in."

The Blues outshot the Oilers 16-6 in the middle period and carried some momentum into the third, which finally paid off with Tkachuk's game-winner.

"He'll tell you how many goals he's scored, and I'm sure he's scored a high percentage of them with his back to the net," Payne said of Tkachuk. "There's an art to it. There's body position, there's willingness to go there. He's given up a few teeth, we know, in order to get there and score some. Just a typical Keith Tkachuk goal."

Edmonton intensified its game, and even tried to stir things up when Marc Pouliot tried to take on Colaiacovo, which turned out to be a bad move.

Colaiacovo caught Pouliot with a clean right-handed haymaker that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd.

"The time of the game, I was just sticking up for myself," Colaiacovo said. "The guy hit me real late there. It was a nice way for me to respond."

Edmonton pulled Dubnyk with 1:33 to play and was hovering around the Blues' goal in the waning seconds but could not pot the equalizer.

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