Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winchester's goal difference in 3-2 victory over Devils

Blues remain unbeaten in regulation at home
despite average effort; Halak rebounds with 35-save effort

ST. LOUIS -- Maybe it wasn't their best game. However, if the Blues can get wins, that's all that matters.

Playing a New Jersey team that's one point away from the bottom of the league and one night removed from a home win that snapped a five-game winless skid, the Blues had to restart the batteries and embrace another challenge.

A pair of fortuitous bounces kept the Blues at bay, then Brad Winchester, who was first elevated to the third line, then to the second line, found himself in one of those customary spots on the ice that a power forward needs to occupy.

Winchester, who got perfect position near the front of the net, redirected Tyson Strachan's point shot past St. Louis native Mike McKenna 5 minutes, 15 seconds into the third period and that goal stood up to give the Blues a 3-2 victory over the Devils before 19,150 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (11-5-3) are now 8-0-1 on home ice and are the league's only remaining team without a regulation loss at home after Vancouver was beaten by Chicago late Saturday night. They also now own a 12-game winning streak against Eastern Conference opponents dating back to last season.

But this win didn't come without some anxious moments.

First, Jaroslav Halak, who came into the game on a personal 0-3-1 streak, allowed a goal on the first shot he faced. Then, the Blues were struggling throughout the night with the Devils' forecheck and attack mode.

But in the end, the Blues were able to persevere even when they may not have been their best against the Devils (5-13-2).

"Tonight, it was just a matter of finding a way," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We really didn't have the jump that was necessary. We made some mental errors, we made some positional errors.

"There was lots of try, there was lots of intent, which is something we talked about at great length, but Jersey came in and had a lot of possession, had a lot of skills players that we had to expend energy defending. We just found a way. It was really that simple."

Winchester, who has two goals in three games, saw Strachan get into position to fire a puck and was able to redirect a shot that appeared to go wide past McKenna, a Parkway South product who was making his Devils debut after being recalled on emergency conditions Friday.

"It was a great shot by (Strachan)," Winchester said. "Certainly that's something I work on a lot in practice. It doesn't even have to be on net, just in an area where you can get a stick on it. I was able to get the tip there, so it's good."

Halak, who gave up 19 goals in his previous four starts, was able to brush off the goal by David Clarkson that gave the Devils a lead just 26 seconds into the game.

Halak would go on to stop 35 shots.

"After the first goal, I was trying to reset and trying to start over," said Halak, who collected his ninth win of the season exactly two weeks after his last victory. "... That's not the start you want to have, but it was early in the game. You can't let your teammates down."

The fortuitous bounces came in goals from Alex Pietrangelo and Eric Brewer.

Pietrangelo potted his first goal of the season and second of his career as he swooped in a puck that was sitting under McKenna in a pile of players.

The Devils around the play had thought the puck was frozen and the whistle was going to blow, but the referee behind the goal indicated that the puck was loose.

Pietrangelo seemed to be the only one who knew and tied the game 1-1 9:22 into the opening period.

"It was kind of a scramble play sitting in front," Pietrangelo said. "It was just sitting there right behind (McKenna). He was in his butterfly, and all their guys were kind of on a bad angle, so they didn't see it sitting there. I heard the ref say it's between the legs, so I just slid it in."

Mattias Tedenby gave the Devils a 2-1 lead 9:53 into the second period, converting a breakaway chance after a Jay McClement turnover in the Devils zone, and the visitors were poised to get a two-goal lead with pressure throughout much of the period.

But Brewer, who also scored in Friday's 5-2 win over Ottawa, netted his second in two games after his shot from near the blue line caromed off the back boards, hit McKenna in the backside and into the net with 1:02 to play in the second to tie the game 2-2.

It was the kind of break the Blues desperately needed and one that had been going against them during their losing streak.

"They happen sometimes," Brewer said. "We've had a few against us lately. The hockey gods are watching, I guess. Just got a lucky bounce.

"It was good for a game like tonight because we were struggling to get our speed and kind of take over the pace of the game. It was good to kind of come in and know that we had to play well for 20 minutes and we'd have a really good opportunity to win."

McKenna, who stopped 24 shots in his Devils debut, found himself in some bad-luck situations playing in front of family and friends.

Especially on Brewer's goal.

"I saw it come off the boards like a rocket and I couldn't either get out of the way of it or control it," McKenna said. "You know it's frustrating. I don't know if we could script something like that even in practice if we wanted to.

"I'd be lying to you if I didn't tell you I was as nervous as I had ever been tonight," McKenna added. "We tried to stay as even-keeled as possible knowing how many people were coming and how many people were happy for me and how many people just wanted to see me succeed. It's overwhelming, but it was a lot of fun. But once the game gets rolling, all that goes away."

NOTES -- Blues center David Backes has a six-game point streak. Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund had five-game point streaks snapped. ... McDonald, Backes and Brad Boyes have 21 points in the last five games, including two points against the Devils after Backes and Boyes assisted on Pietrangelo's goal. ... The Blues were without defensemen Barret Jackman (knee) and Roman Polak (wrist), left winger David Perron (concussion) and right winger T.J. Oshie (broken ankle).

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