Saturday, October 30, 2010

Blues overcome slow start, top Thrashers in shootout

McClement first career hat trick key to
franchise-record 11th straight home victory

ST. LOUIS -- These are the types of games the Blues would have lost in recent memory.

But these are new Blues. New attitude. New approach.

Forget that the first period was crummy. Forget that there was a two-goal deficit late in the third period.

Plug in a new name when it comes to clutch performances. These new Blues are prevailing.

Unheralded center Jay McClement stepped to the forefront Saturday. It was his time to shine. And he sure made one heck of a grand entrance.

McClement netted the first hat trick of his National Hockey League career, Jaroslav Halak stopped the last 19 pucks he saw, then T.J. Oshie and Brad Boyes supplied the necessary results in the shootout as the Blues rallied past the Atlanta Thrashers 4-3 before 19,150 Halloween-happy spectators at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (6-1-2), winners of a franchise-record 11 in a row at home -- including five this season -- trailed in the game 3-1 when McClement, along with linemates Matt D'Agostini and Alex Steen took matters into their own hands. McClement was the benefactor of some net play, and his two third-period goals -- including the game-tying one with 4 minutes, 25 seconds -- helped the Blues overcome a sloppy first period and as penalty-infested affair.

"A couple good plays by my linemates and I got kind of lucky to be in the right spot at the right time," said McClement, who picked up his first three goals of the season. "I was just trying to get (to the front of the net). ... It just kind of went good for me."

The start for the Blues was reminiscent of the game they played in Nashville a couple weeks ago -- their only regulation loss. The Blues couldn't overcome that 3-1 deficit, but they were able to do so here.

"Getting to a reason or getting to a way that defines our game," Blues coach Davis Payne said of what it took to overcome the slow start. " ... I thought in the second period we came out and had some intention. But work has to come with a plan and we were trying to get the game back tied on an individual basis. We were turning pucks over at the blue line, not applying any pressure at Atlanta's D, so consequently, Jaro had to be super-good in the second period in order to keep the game at 3-1. We were thankful for that and finally got ourselves defined as a group coming out for the third period."

Halak, who came into the game off back-to-back shutouts, saw his shutout string snapped at 160:08 when Rich Peverley scored a power play goal 8:58 into the first period.

The Blues allowed power play goals on two of their first three kills, then killed off a key power play sequence at the start of the third period -- including 1:16 total on two separate power plays.

McClement was a focal player on those kills.

"It's nice to contribute offensively for sure, but first and foremost, (killing penalties) is our job," McClement said. "I was a little disappointed in the first (three) kills. It was big for us to keep us in the game with the 5-on-3 in the third period. It gave us a chance to come back."

Payne agreed.

"Big credit to our PK there," he said. "It stings sometimes when the first couple power plays, two out of the first three go into your net. It's hard to get back out and have real confidence in what you're trying to accomplish out there as a PK unit. They regrouped really well."

McClement scored his first goal while on his behind in the crease -- the puck somehow hit him -- to tie the game 1-1 with 8:02 left in the opening period, a pinpoint shot by D'Agostini. But the Thrashers (5-4-2) got goals from Nik Antropov to make it 2-1 and then Niclas Bergfors took advantage of an Eric Brewer error trying to bat a puck out of mid air with 2.7 seconds left in the first to make it 3-1.

"I didn't think that we were very sharp in the first period," Payne said. "It was clearly evident. Not a lot of good play with the puck, not a lot of good energy, not the work ethic or level that meets our standard."

The Blues were dealing with penalty issues most of the game, but they found a way when McClement scored goals 1:46 apart in the third period. He banged in D'Agostini's shot from the right circle at 13:49 after Ondrej Pavelec made the initial stop, then got to the front of the goal and tipped in Alex Pietrangelo's point shot at 15:35.

"Jay was in the right spot at the right time," said D'Agostini, who along with McClement and Steen were +9 for the game (+3 each). "That's where we're going to score our goals. Put them there and get bodies there."

Added Pietrangelo, who led the Blues in ice time with 27:56, "I seen the lane and took the shot. When a guy's got a hot hand, he's got a hot hand. Lucky enough, it found the back of the net. ... When a game's that tight, those are the goals you want to get."

The Blues buzzed in overtime, but Pavelec, playing in his first game after collapsing on the ice in the Thrashers' opener, made the necessary stops and send the game to a shootout.

Oshie beat Pavelec with a curl move to give the Blues a lead, then Peverley had a puck roll off his stick to preserve the Blues' lead.

"The first shooter, he made a good move, but he lost the puck fortunately for us (and) for me," Halak said.

Boyes then snapped a shot top shelf to make it 2-0 in the shootout, leaving the game in the balance to Atlanta rookie Alexander Burmistrov. But Halak was up to the challenge and made the stop to give the Blues the win.

"The second guy, I just waited for him and made the save," Halak said. "The guys did a great job. They scored two goals and made it real easy on me to stop at least one puck."

It was Halak's key stops in the second period that kept the Blues within striking distance.

"I just came out, I just tried to go puck by puck," Halak said. "That's what I did. I didn't worry about what happened in the first period. I was trying to keep us going the same way through the whole game."

The Blues now don't play until Thursday, so it feels nice to be able to sit on this victory instead of dwelling on losing it.

"It's more important that we hung in there when we weren't our best," D'Agostini said. "As the game went on, we were getting better and making smarter decisions."

Added Payne, "They aren't all going to be pretty, but you take them all anyway."

* NOTES -- Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (headaches/neck spasms) missed the game after being hit by Nashville's Jordin Tootoo in the third period of Thursday's 3-0 win over the Predators. He's listed as day-to-day. ... Defenseman Nathan Oystrick made his Blues debut. He collected an assist in 11:28 of ice time and was +2 for the game. ... Halak's goals-against average is now 1.71 and save percentage is .932, third-best in the league in both categories. ... Former Blues goalie Chris Mason was the backup for the Thrashers tonight. Mason spent the previous two seasons in St. Louis. ... Pietrangelo and David Perron are tied for the team lead in plus-minus at +6.

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