Friday, February 11, 2011

Shootout loss to Wild leaves Blues frustrated, stunned

Last-minute goal caps Minnesota's
comeback from four one-goal deficits

ST. LOUIS -- This one hurts.

Whether the Blues can rebound from fumbling two points away Friday night against the Minnesota Wild ... well, they won't have much time to dwell on it. The two teams go right back at each other in Minnesota tonight.

The Blues had four different leads in Friday's game. There were numerous opportunities to make a difference. But each time, the Wild was able to find a way to get back to Square One. In the end, the Wild, in a hotly contested fight in the Western Conference with the Blues and numerous other teams, found a way to win.

John Madden's shootout goal in the ninth round ended in utter disappointment for the Blues as the Wild grabbed a 5-4 victory after winning the shootout 4-3 in front of another sellout crowd (19.150) at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (24-20-9) did gain a point out of the game and are now up to 57 points on the season, but they were less than a minute away from winning the game in regulation and taking both points in this contest before Martin Havlat poked a rebound past Jaroslav Halak with 57.6 seconds remaining to tie the game 4-4.

It was the fourth time in which the Wild (29-20-5) overcame a one-goal deficit and they were finally able to win the battle in the shootout to stake claim on a crucial second point when they arguably didn't deserve to gain one or the other.

"It's a tough one to swallow," Blues coach Davis Payne said.

Added forward Andy McDonald, who scored his first goal since Nov. 26, "It's beyond frustrating."

A 2-2 game with 20 minutes on the line went to the Blues -- decisively. They dominated in time of possession, chances, shots (16-8) and momentum.

A pair of David Backes goals reinvigorated the crowd, pulling them to the edge of their seats. But each time, the Wild was able to respond, bursting the home squad's bubble and turning the fans' excitement to agony and disappointment.

When Backes gave the Blues a 3-2 lead 19 seconds into the third period, Cal Clutterbuck tied it 22 seconds later when Halak made an unthinkable gaffe, losing the puck trying to rim it around the goal but instead fired it into Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak, who fed Clutterbuck in the slot staring into an open net.

Backes again gave the Blues a lead, as Alex Pietrangelo's shot from the blue line caromed off the power forward's skate and high over the right shoulder of Jose Theodore 6:20 into the period.

The Blues had a pair of power plays in the third that could have iced the game away but to no avail despite good looks at the goal. They carried the edge in the offensive zone and did everything right -- but win.

"There was a lot in the third period that we liked," Payne said. "We set a goal of 15 shots coming out in the third period. ... I thought in the third period, we finished our plays to the net. Opportunities on the sticks of the right guys at times, the power play had some looks. We end up with a bad change, too many men and they find a way to get the thing tied."

Late in the game, the Blues took an egregious penalty, a too-many-men on the ice penalty, believed to be their seventh such kind of the season.

The Blues had to go on the penalty kill with 3:02 to play and they did kill off the penalty but the Wild were able to gain Havlat's goal with Theodore pulled five seconds after the penalty elapsed after Halak couldn't handle Mikko Koivu's sharp angle shot from the right circle. The puck fell in the crease and Havlat moved in and poked the puck in.

"Four guys were jumping on and two guys were coming off when we were still playing the puck," Backes said. "We need to be on our toes, doing a job, solidifying a win and we didn't do it.

"Davis hates those penalties. I can't imagine it sitting very well with him. ... That just really is unacceptable, especially at that stage in the game."

Payne said, "Just an early jump, puck comes in that area. You have to avoid it."

And then came the back-breaking goal.

"They just throw a puck at the net and get a good bounce," Pietrangelo said. "Sometimes that's just the way it goes."

And when regulation ended, the Blues had to be wondering why they had to continue on.

"That's how the sport is," Pietrangelo said. "Sometimes, you think you deserve to win and you don't come out on top. I thought we played a pretty good game tonight."

The Blues actually had multiple opportunities to win the game in the shootout and at least gain one point in the standings on the Wild.

McDonald, Matt D'Agostini, Backes, Erik Johnson and Patrik Berglund all had the hammer with chances to win the games. All were denied by Theodore. Halak also had the game on his hands yet again. A save on Koivu on Minnesota's third attempt could have ended the game. Yet Koivu went high glove side to keep the shootout going.

"It's tough to really be happy," Backes said. "There's no moral victories. We can't get that point back ever. It stings the way it happened. ... It's time to think about tomorrow."

McDonald added, "Good hockey teams find a way to shut the door on those situations. We have to learn how to do that if we want to be a team that gets into the postseason and play for the Stanley Cup, we have to find a way to do that. For whatever reason, we've had a tough time doing that here in the last year and a half."

The Blues can only hope to duplicate the third period's effort, not the result.

"There's always things we can clean up, but if we play with the direction we played with in the third period, that's what we're going to need," Payne said. "It's a tougher place to play in their building. We know how crucial this is. This is a point we've got to grab back.

"We had this victory right where we wanted it. We have to finish it."

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