Friday, February 4, 2011

McDonald fuels 5-3 win over Oilers

Forward helps Blues snap four-game skid after missing
24 games; Conklin stops 29 shots in surprise start

ST. LOUIS -- It was pretty obvious early in the game just what getting Andy McDonald back into the lineup meant for the offensively-starved Blues.

McDonald's presence not only instantly offered quality bonafide chances but also helped the Blues snap a losing streak and desperately pick up two needed points.

The stat sheet says McDonald only had an assist, but his play in all areas of the ice certainly rubbed off on his teammates. The Blues got goals from five different scorers, Ty Conklin stopped 29 shots in a surprise start and the Blues downed the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 Friday night at Scottrade Center.

Playing with David Backes and Brad Boyes, McDonald picked up where he left off after missing 24 games with a concussion. He dazzled the 27th consecutive sellout by juking a pair of Edmonton skaters along the half boards and then the corner boards before slotting a puck to Erik Johnson that deflected off Patrik Berglund. Brad Boyes was on the doorstep for the fourth goal in the second period.

"Physically, I felt good," McDonald said. "My legs felt strong and my conditioning's good. It's just timing-wise, there's times where I felt like I was one step behind. It's the nature of being out for that long with the injury.

"You use your strength and that's an area that I can use my strength, that quickness in the corner. EJ made a nice play to come down and get the shot. It was a big plus for us."

The Blues (23-20-7) pulled within six points of eighth-place Phoenix for eighth place in the West by playing in their 50th game, the fewest in the league. It was a game that the Blues needed against the team in the bottom of the West in Edmonton (15-28-8).

"This was certainly one of the bigger games for us," McDonald said. "We realize the importance of it. We know we've kind of been sliding back in terms of points and that last playoff position. I think the guys recognize that. We had great moments, but we also had some areas we can clean up. There were some spots defensively and Conks was there to bail us out. That's a huge win for us, and we obviously needed the two points."

T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Matt D'Agostini, Boyes and Brad Winchester netted goals for the Blues, who built a 4-1 second-period lead only to see the Oilers close to within one at 4-3 after two periods on goals by Taylor Hall and Theo Peckham. Then, it became gut-check time in the third period and the Blues prevailed.

"Coming in between the second and third kind of helped out a little bit," Oshie said. "Guys got to regroup and realized we need to get more shots to the net. I think that kind of opened up our game a little bit.

"We came into this after a long break and we were excited to play again. We got back to the basics in practice and worked on some special teams, which did very well tonight and obviously having No. 10 back in our lineup is huge."

Blues coach Davis Payne agreed.

"He had some real good poise with the puck," Payne said of McDonald. "When Andy skates the way he does, he's able to apply pressure. He created some loose pucks for that line and just the poise to be able to move to areas to extend plays ... I'm not sure who ended up with the goal, but Erik came down on the backside, that's just pace and understanding where the next offensive play was. I thought Andy had a real solid game for a first game back. It's not easy to do to play at that kind of level, but a guy who prepares and understands what is necessary did a great job tonight."

Conklin, who started when the Blues announced early Friday afternoon that Jaroslav Halak (upper-body) would not make the start and is listed as day-to-day, would make some key stops throughout the game. None was bigger than a sprawling left skate stop on Edmonton's Magnus Paajarvi early in the third period that preserved a 4-3 lead.

Moments later, Winchester was scoring to give the Blues a two-goal lead 5 minutes, 58 seconds into the period.

"I felt good for the entire game," Conklin said. "I got some shots early, and I felt fine. ... I don't know if (Winchester's goal) happened on the same play, but we came out strong in the third period.

"We had a little mental lapse there in the last five minutes of the second. We got away from our game a little bit and it cost us, but other than that, I thought we pretty much did everything we wanted. The game was quick there for everybody the first couple minutes, but we buckled down and got some bounces too."

Pietrangelo's goal can be classified as a good bounce, as his shot from the high slot caromed off the stick of the Oilers' Ales Hemsky that gave the Blues a 2-1 lead in the first. D'Agostini got a deflection of Nikita Nikitin's shot from the Blue line for a 3-1 lead, which was Nikitin's first NHL point, and Boyes' 11th of the season.

"Those are tough ones to get, to take away from Bergy," Boyes joked. "If it lays there, their guy is just gonna whack it out. That's a tough one. ... It's tough to see how fast it's going in. If their guy whacks away or their goalie gets over or something, it could be a tough one. I'm taking the heat for it. It's par for the course, I guess."

McDonald, who said he only was dealing with timing issues and some decision-making, certainly gave his team a major boost.

"When you get a guy like Andy back, it helps us a ton," Boyes said. "He was moving, he was getting back into what he does out there, controlling the puck and making good plays. ... I think our line played in the offensive zone for the most part, which is important for us and a couple goals, too."

* NOTES -- The Blues were without the services of defenseman Eric Brewer, whose wife Rebecca went into labor and delivered the couple's second child. Tyson Strachan took Brewer's spot in the lineup. ... Payne would not disclose what Halak's injury is but did say it occurred here recently. "It was a pregame skate when we were getting ready for the Colorado game. (He) tried to work through it, tried to get himself ready to go today and wasn't able to. Nothing serious. Just take a little time."

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