Saturday, October 23, 2010

Johnson OT winner lifts Blues over Penguins

St. Louis wins 10th straight at home; beat last
two Stanley Cup champs in span of 24 hours

ST. LOUIS -- Erik Johnson was asked if some of his best hockey he had played came in the shifts leading up to an overtime-winning goal Saturday night.

"Yeah, and probably the year, too," Johnson said after scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night. "I kind of found my stride offensively in the zone and it's just hopefully a springboard for me and the team. Hopefully we can put a streak here together and hopefully I can continue to contribute. It feels good to get the monkey off my back."

Johnson converted his first goal of the season after T.J. Oshie stripped Penguins defenseman Paul Martin of the puck in the left corner, found a rushing Johnson in the slot and Johnson beat former Blue Brent Johnson through the pads 50 seconds into overtime in front of 19,150 delirious fans at Scottrade Center.

"I just cycled down the wall and went to the net, called for it from Osh," Erik Johnson said. "He made a great play right on my tape and I just tried to get it through the defender there (Kris Letang) and it found its way through Brent Johnson. It was a great hockey play by Osh. It was great zone entry time by us."

Said Oshie, "It was kind of the end of my shift. I saw there was still a little bit of time to put on some pressure in the corner. ... I kind of saw (Martin) turn his head and look so I angled my skates a little bit and fortunately hit him. I heard (Johnson) yelling, 'To the net,' so I threw it out there and there it was."

The Blues, who won their 10th straight at home dating back to last season, have allowed two or fewer goals in none of those games. They improved to 4-1-2 on the young season and after beating Chicago 4-2 here on Friday, downed the last two Stanley Cup champs in a span of 24 hours.

"The players that came into this building here with Chicago and Pittsburgh, our young guys being able to play even or get offensive chances or zone time against some of these guys and not give up a heck of a lot, I think is a great step for our players," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Knowing that you're going out there against the best, having to be at your best and passing that kind of test, it's real good. Our guys should expect that. They've put in the work, they've prepared and this is what they're capable of. The simple message is yeah, we beat two good hockey teams and we're going to be back at work on Monday."

The only down side to the game -- and weekend -- was the Blues losing defenseman Roman Polak. Polak was cut by a skate blade, according to Payne, late in the second period.

The task was daunting enough trying to contain the high-octane Penguins offense led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with six guys, but to do it with five guys for more than 20 minutes speaks volumes for the Blues' defensive unit, led by veterans Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman.

"With Malkin and Crosby, you've got to play your best and you've got to be ready for everything," Jackman said. "We had to play in their face, limit their time and space and we were able to do that for the most part tonight."

Added Payne, "I thought Jax ... best game of the year. I thought he was outstanding. I thought his ability to step up and shut down real good skill on the rush. I thought his ability to move his feet and find weakside outlets was outstanding. I thought his composure under pressure was excellent and Brew ... same thing. A really good lead by those two guys."

Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves for his 10th career shutout and he continued his mastery of the Pittsburgh Penguins after eliminating them from the playoffs a season ago when Montreal stunned the Penguins in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He lowered his goals-against average to 1.81.

"You still need to be aware of their guys because they got skill guys and they can score any time when they get a chance," said Halak, who improved to 4-1-1 on the season. "It's been fun so far, but we've got plenty of games left to keep on the same pace."

Brent Johnson, who played parts of five seasons with the Blues starting in 1998, stopped 23 shots for the Penguins. He lost for the first time in five games this season and said the overtime goal happened so fast, it was tough to react to.

"It was just one of those plays that the forechecking just pinned us down in our zone for a little while," Brent Johnson said. "I think they just moved it down to the guy coming from the top. I went out to challenge and I think it hit our (defenseman) and it went through my legs."

The Blues are 4-0 at home this season after winning their final six last season.

"We're not a team that's going to be all hyped up because we beat two of the better teams in the league," Jackman said. "We have to take the approach with every team that we play that we're just as good or better. If the opposition wants to think of us as the underdog, that's good for us. We'll go through the whole year being the underdog and keep improving ourselves."

Crosby, who along with Malkin had 17 points between them in five previous games coming into this one, had a chance in the third period on the Penguins' fourth power play, but his snap shot from the right circle popped off the outside of the goal post with 9:34 left. He is now scoreless against the Blues in five career games, one of five teams he does not have a goal against in his career.

"In the second, I thought we outplayed them and generated a lot of chances," said Crosby, as the Penguins outshot the Blues 19-7 in the middle period. "In the third, it was kind of 50-50. Both teams had their fair share of chances. Unfortunately for us, they got the winner in overtime."

The key to containing the Penguins' dynamic duo? Simple according to Brewer.

"We're trying to take away space," said Brewer, who logged 22 minutes 44 seconds of ice time. "We played a lot of tough lines. They'll take the space if they can get it. They've got lots to offer so try and limit that and give Jaro some good looks at the puck. Forwards coming back all the time makes a huge difference as well."

Added defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who led the Blues in ice time with 23:12, "You want to be hard on them. Certainly, you're talking about some of the best players in the league. You want to make sure you take away their time and space."

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