Monday, February 14, 2011

Desperate Blues knock off Canucks 3-2

Pair of power play goals help St. Louis
pull within seven points of eighth place in West

ST. LOUIS -- A lack of desperation Saturday brought out every ounce of desperation the Blues needed against the NHL's best Monday night.

Forty-eight hours after one of their most uninspiring efforts of the season, the Blues turned in one of their best efforts of the season in downing the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 at Scottrade Center.

"I think the desperation was there," said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose squad improved to 25-21-9 on the season, good for 59 points. "I think there was a basic understanding how important this hockey game was to us. But I think more important to that was the collective effort. I didn't think anybody was out there trying to put the team on his back. I thought it was five guys going over the boards making sure we made the right play defensively, the right read and the right decision with the puck. Time and time again, we were able to build off of shifts and this is something we have to make sure we stay committed to."

The Blues received many key elements in downing the Canucks (36-12-9). The power play scored twice, the Blues were disciplined in only taking one penalty while keeping the league's top-ranked power play off the ice, Jaroslav Halak was sharp in stopping 23 shots and most importantly, the team skated with urgency and a purpose knowing their season is on the line.

While the Blues still have a way to go in their mountainous climb towards eighth place in the West, they will not go away quietly in intense search for points. They sit seven points in back of Calgary with 27 games to play.

"Good teams can bounce back and I think that's what we did tonight," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who picked up a pair of assists which included a highlight reel assist on Patrick Berglund's game-winning goal. "We're playing the best team in the league here in terms of points. I thought we played a pretty strong game -- 60 minutes -- and it just shows what we're capable of."

The Canucks, who came in winners of seven of their last eight, saw goalie Roberto Luongo's streak of games without a regulation loss snapped at 21 games. Luongo was 16-0-5 in his last 21 starts, and coincidentally, his last regulation loss was against the Blues (3-2 in Vancouver on Dec. 5).

"Tonight I thought we did a good job of understanding where we are and how hard we need to work," said forward Alex Steen, who scored his fourth goal in three games against the Canucks this season. "Tonight, we played a good game. ... The situation where we've put ourselves in right now, we've got to win. Tonight was a good win for us."

Andy McDonald gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 5 minutes 10 seconds into the game when he redirected Nikita Nikitin's pass from the blue line past Luongo just nine seconds after the Blues' first power play started.

Nikitin, inserted into the lineup to give the Blues seven defensemen in the game, took a feed from Pietrangelo and found McDonald in the slot.

"Great look by him," McDonald said of Nikitin. "We struggle on the power play and he kind of comes in there and makes a confident play, especially because their forwards pressure on the PK. To walk across the line and make a great play in front, it's a big boost for our team. We need more of that on the PP."

A fortuitous bounce off B.J. Crombeen enabled Henrik Sedin to tie the game at 10:15 of the first, but Steen netted his first in 12 games when he stepped in front of Luongo's pass in the left circle and fired a backhand into an empty net at 12:17 of the opening period.

"I think it was kind of just a lucky play," said Steen, who has five points in three games against Vancouver. "... I thought we were going pretty good. I thought we had good pace to our game. We limited their chances and when they got them, Jaro played very well for us tonight and made some huge saves for us. ... We got some power play goals. I thought there were a lot of good things."

A problematic spot for the Blues has been their second periods and instead of wilting with a one-goal lead, the Blues took initiative and got Berglund's power play goal with 2:31 left in the period for a 3-1 lead.

Pietrangelo made the play by weaving his way through three Canuck players then backhanding a pass to Berglund on the opposite side of the net. It was Berglund's 15th of the season, fourth in five games and seventh in 11.

"Great play by Petro today," Berglund said. "Obviously, he dangled something like three guys and put it backdoor to me. Obviously, it was a big goal and nice to score."

Pietrangelo joked, "I've just worked on it over the years. I guess it came out of nowhere."

The Blues knew there would be a push from the Canucks, and after Jannik Hansen scored 1:47 into the final period, there was a sense from the 19,150 of "here we go again."

However, the Blues stayed composed and were able to thwart off the Canucks, who came on fast and furious in the game's final minutes.

"They stayed focused very well," Payne said. "I thought the bench was good, the right things were being said by the right players. It was very important that leadership steps up in those situations vocally and actively on the ice. I thought our guys at that moment knew a good team was going to make a push. They got one, but let's get back to work."

The Canucks thought they may have had the game-tying goal, but Alexandre Burrows' could be seen kicking the puck in. Plus, there was a whistle and also an intent to blow the whistle with a huge pileup in front of Halak. There was a review but officials ruled no goal.

"I thought we did a really good job bouncing back and got back to our style of play," said Pietrangelo, who fittingly broke up the Canucks' final attempt at getting a puck deep into the Blues' zone. "When we play like that, we're going to get rewarded."

Added McDonald, "We stuck to our game plan. We kind of got off track there in Minnesota. We rebounded well tonight. We realized who was coming in here and how big of a game it was for us.

"With the down time we've got now, it's encouraging and hopefully it can give us some life."

The Blues are off until Friday when they play at Buffalo before hosting Anaheim on Saturday that begins a stretch of six games in eight days.

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Barret Jackman played in his 500th career game Monday night, all with the Blues. ... The Blues snapped the Canucks' streak of 36 straight PK's killed on McDonald's goal. Coincidentally, the Blues scored two or more power play goals in a game for the first time since Dec. 16, a span of 25 games. "We got a lot of PP time," Berglund said. "We were skating, putting pucks on net. It was really good for us to get two power play goals. We've been struggling this year, so obviously it was really good for us." ... With Nikitin reinserted back into the lineup, the Blues went with 11 forwards and Cam Janssen was the lone healthy scratch. ... David Backes was whistled for the only Blues penalty of the night, a roughing penalty in the second period. "We kind of had that one figured going in that we had to keep that group of five off the ice as much as possible," Payne said of the Canucks power play. "I thought our guys kept their feet moving, I thought we stayed composed. It's crucial against good power plays but more importantly to stay composed and even-keeled through a hockey game at a high level." ... Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts left the game in the second period after an offensive zone hit by David Backes, and coach Alain Vigneault said afterwards Alberts suffered a broken wrist and has been placed on injured reserve.

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