Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blues finding ways to win even when not at their best

Team overcame two-goal third period
deficit to win in shootout Saturday

ST. LOUIS -- They're not all going to be pretty, but they can become a sight for sore eyes if the Blues can win the kinds of games that have L's written all over them.

Like Saturday night's game against Atlanta.

The Blues probably had no business winning it, but their 4-3 shootout victory over the Thrashers saw the Blues flat-footed in the first period and looking individualistic trying to get back into the game in the second period. However in the third, even after having to kill off 1 minute, 16 seconds of a 5-on-3 Thrashers power play, the Blues somehow willed themselves back into the contest.

Then, they snatched the extra point up that suddenly became up for grabs.

From zero points to two points, those are the kinds of games successful teams are made of. They seem to find a way.

"We're not going to play 82 games and play at our top every minute," said winger Matt D'Agostini, who along with linemates Jay McClement and Alex Steen produced all three regulation goals. "What's more important is we hung in there when we weren't at our best. We tried to stick with it. As the game went on, we were getting better and making smarter decisions. It's good that we stuck with it."

McClement recorded his first National Hockey League hat trick, in his 402nd career game. And he did it by becoming a net junkie. His second and third goals of the game came late in the third period that helped the Blues erase a 3-1 deficit. All three goals came from the front of the Thrashers' goal.

"Any time you come back, it's going to boost the guys' morale," McClement said. "Any time you're in that situation again, you're going to know that it is possible and you have that opportunity if you turn your game around. That's always good to have that experience like that."

The Blues seemed to be stuck in neutral in the first period, a period in which the Thrashers scored twice late to take a 3-1 lead. A goal with 2.7 seconds, after an error by defenseman Eric Brewer trying to bat a puck out of his zone in mid air was the capper to a lethargic 20 minutes.

"We just didn't have our feet under us, whether it was work, whether it was intention," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I just didn't think we were at our level. We weren't at our standard. We got there, got there just in the nick of time."

Added McClement, "We just kind of looked like we were spinning our skates out there. Everything we tried just wasn't working. When that happens, we need to get back to our game and simplify. We didn't do that until probably the last little bit of the second and the third. It was a bit of a wake-up call. Our goalie bailed us out a few times and kept us in it."

Jaroslav Halak, who saw his consecutive shutout minutes snapped at 160:08, slammed the door shut on Atlanta's final 19 shots before the McClement, Steen and D'Agostini line began to work those hard areas in the Thrashers' D zone.

"Just be around the puck. Have support," said D'Agostini. "One guy's there, just have a quick out for him and make sure we're not stuck in different situations. I think we did a good job of that tonight. We got pucks to the net and Jay was in the right spot."

The trio was plus-9 in the game, each going plus-3, but it was the resiliency they showed that is a prime example of what this hockey team is turning out in the early stages of the season.

"That's what we were talking about in the (second) intermission. We're not going to give up, we're going to keep playing and keep at it and hope we can bang a couple in," D'Agostini said. "It went well for us, but it's not always going to be like that, so we can't put ourselves in a deficit like that."

The Blues (6-1-2) are off to their best start since going 7-1-1 in the 2002-03 season, but they're displaying that even in those games maybe they don't deserve to win, they have the ability to go out and grab them.

Like Saturday's game, because it would have left a sour taste until the next game, which is Thursday against San Jose.

"It would have been a tough one to sit on for that long," McClement said.

* NOTES -- The Blues optioned defenseman Nathan Oystrick to Peoria on Sunday. Oystrick made his Blues debut Saturday and picked up an assist on the tying goal and was plus-2 in the game. The Blues are hopeful that since they don't play again until Thursday, defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (headaches/neck spasms) can return to the lineup. ... Blues forward T.J. Oshie saw his seven-game point streak snapped Saturday. Oshie did score one of the Blues' two goals in the shootout. Brad Boyes had the other.

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