Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blues use strong start to down Red Wings

Berglund leads way with two goals; Halak preserves win with 35 saves

ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues are to make any kind of noise in the Western Conference, these are the types of games -- and types of teams -- they are going to have to overcome.

Not only overcome but beat.

Setting the tone early, the Blues were able to establish the kind of pace they wanted. They got an early lead, helped by a pair of Patrik Berglund goals, before the Detroit Red Wings came on fast and furious.

But in the end, Jaroslav Halak exorcised some of his demons he faced against the Red Wings and came on sharp, stopping 35 shots that included all 15 in the third period as the Blues held off the Wings 4-3 Thursday night before a packed house at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (17-12-5), who have won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 5, blitzed the Wings (21-9-4) and goalie Chris Osgood with three first-period goals as Osgood, a former Blue, was looking to become the 10th player in NHL history to record his 400th career win.

He'll have to remain at 399 for at least a couple days.

That's because the Blues, who outshot Detroit 14-9 in the first period, got it going on the power play, they got it going 5 on 5 and they pushed Detroit back in their own end and came out of the first 20 minutes up 3-1.

"We came out of the locker room knowing that we wanted to set the pace of the play," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We wanted to make sure that (we were) skating, we were the team that (was) getting the first hits and we were the team getting the first shots. I thought we did a real good job of that. Detroit had to turn around and defend some pucks towards their net."

Erik Johnson, stuck on one goal this season, picked up his second of the season and first in 26 games with a power play goal on a shot straight away from the blue line. The puck hit the right post and got past Osgood 13 minutes 21 seconds into the game.

"Part of my game is contributing offense and it's obviously been a little bit since I scored a goal, so it's nice to contribute and help the team out any way I can," said Johnson, who led the Blues in ice time at 21:29.

Even though Johan Franzen tied the game 30 seconds after the Johnson goal, Berglund got it going by scoring a pair. The first came on a shot from the high slot that caromed off Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall at 14:27 and then his second came as a power play expired, just firing a puck from the left corner with 1:13 left in the first for a 3-1 lead.

"You get more confidence when you score an early goal obviously," said Berglund, who netted his second career two-goal game and first since March 24, 2009. "That's what I got today.

"The second one, I just took a shot on the power play. I was pretty tired. I wanted to just take it and go change, but it went in and it's a good feeling."

Payne said when Berglund is involved in the Blues' end, it bodes well for his game.

"If he's got that type of awareness in our own end, it usually translates to that first stride," Payne said. "When he gets that first stride going and heading north, he's a load. He gets the space, he's skating past people and all of the sudden, he's got confidence to take another step to win another battle, to drive through a seam. When he's playing like that, now it translates to him finding the shots and taking them and rewarded twice tonight for a couple pretty good plays."

The Blues got the fourth goal -- which was the game-winner -- from Matt D'Agostini 5:51 into the second period for a 4-1 lead.

Eric Brewer was able to pick off a puck, get it to David Backes, who sprung D’Agostini to go in alone on Osgood. D'Agostini got Osgood to bite in the forehand before pulling it to his backhand and tuck it into the open side.

"It's a good job by Brew," D'Agostini said. "He kind of quick-upped it right away. There's a little turnover there at the blue line and he got it going and me and Backs were kind of just turning in transition there, so it's a good play.

"I just kind of waited. I was going to snap it early and I kind of felt a little pressure, so I didn't want to bring the puck back to much, so I just kind of held it out in front of me. I don't know if I gave him too much of a fake, but he kind of just opened up on the blocker side there."

All appeared to be safe for the Blues.

But these are the Red Wings. Too much firepower to keep them down. Give them a glimmer of hope, and they can pounce.

Detroit made a game of it when Nicklas Lidstrom scored with the Red Wings holding a two-man advantage and then Patrick Eaves scoring late in the second to make it 4-3.

Detroit got the two-man advantage when Johnson was called for illegal use of a stick to give the Red Wings 1:30 of 5 on 3 time.

Johnson was trying to pick up the stick of Barret Jackman and hand it back to him, but when the puck came back towards the net, Johnson dropped the extra stick and got called for the infraction.

"I heard Jax yelling, 'Go to the right side,' but I had already picked his stick up and I was trying to hand it to him," Johnson said. "It was just a bad play by me not dropping it or handing it to Jax. That's my fault."

Eaves pounced on a Blues turnover and got the Red Wings feeling like they had a shot.

"All of the sudden we look around, that thin air caught in a little bit of gasp and Detroit came on," Payne said. "Mistakes were made, they got close enough but not all the way."

Despite allowing the two second-period goals, Halak rose to the occasion when the Blues needed him most. Not only did he snap a personal four-game winless streak (0-3-1) but he also wiped out losses suffered in Detroit earlier this season that saw his numbers at 5.55 goals-against average and .836 save percentage.

"It's always nice to win against a divisional rival, especially against Detroit," Halak said. "They've got a great team. Especially in these games, we need to get the points. I'm really happy with the effort tonight. Even though we were up 4-1, they came back, but we were still able to keep the score tight and win the game at the end of it.

"The first five minutes (of the third period) were huge. We didn't want to give up a goal early in the period. From then on, we had a few chances and we started skating a little bit better."

Detroit came on hard early in the third and then again at the end. They outshot the Blues 15-4 in the final period, but Halak made key stops, defensemen blocked shots and the Blues (now 11-4-2 at home) picked up two huge points.

"We showed up at the rink here tonight intending to go 60, whatever that game looked like," Payne said. "We were going to play a full 60 minutes. The fact that a good hockey club closed the gap, we shouldn't be surprised. Our intention was to play 60 minutes to our standard. We'll add up the results at the end of that. We liked the results."

"We knew that they had a high-powered team and that they can come back at any time if we're not on top of our game," Johnson said. "We definitely had to be sharp at the end and make sure they didn't get the tying goal there."

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