Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blues snap losing skid as Steen provides shootout winner

Victory over Blue Jackets comes on heels
of honoring Berenson, Unger, Mullen, Tkachuk

ST. LOUIS -- Like a school kid studying for an important test, Alex Steen paid close attention to his teammates during the shootout round Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jackets goalie Steve Mason was opening up, exposing his 5-hole.

"Don't fix what's not broken, right? Try it again," Steen said.

Steen saw T.J. Oshie do it with success. Andy McDonald also did it with good results. He figured why not? Make it a trifecta of goals.

Steen converted in the fourth round, or first round of the sudden death shootout round, then Ben Bishop made a left pad stop on Antoine Vermette's attempt to give the Blues a 5-4 victory over the Blue Jackets at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (29-28-9) outscored the Jackets (31-26-8) by a 3-2 count in the shootout on a night that started off by the Blues honoring a quartet of greats to wear No. 7 in a Salute to No. 7 night, honoring Red Berenson, Garry Unger, Joe Mullen and Keith Tkachuk. It ended with the Blues snapping a four-game losing streak in the process.

Steen, now 5-for-12 in his career on shootout attempts, streaked down the ice, pulled the puck to his left and got Mason to commit, leaving the 5-hole exposed.

"I saw Osh's first one kind of froze him and Mac's second one, as he went to the left, I thought (Mason) kind of opened up," Steen said. "... We showed some character today I thought coming back. It's easy to fall out of your game when it falls that quickly for you, but we stuck with it."

The game began with a bang, as Patrik Berglund opened the scoring quickly, then the physicality began, as Chris Stewart and Columbus' Derek Dorsett squared off, with Stewart winning handily before Cam Janssen and Jared Boll went toe-to-toe in a lengthy bout.

The teams have a history of physical play and it was apparent the tone that was going to be set.

"We knew we had to answer back from some poor play in recent games," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We wanted to come into our building and show that we're not going to be pushed around. We wanted to come out physical ... not necessarily fighting, but the two fights happened and definitely got the building electrified.

"You've got to wake up the team. Sometimes, the bounces don't go your way, but things you can control is your work ethic (and) your physicality. Lots of times, when one line starts doing it, the next line goes out there and feeds off it. It goes on an on throughout the lineup. We really wanted to emphasize being physical, moving our feet and we did that."

But a Matt D'Agostini turnover in his own zone began a string of three Columbus goals in a 2-minute, 24-second stretch of the first period that saw the Jackets take a 3-1 lead and chase starter Ty Conklin, who allowed those three goals on eight shots.

Ben Bishop entered the game at that point as Blues coach Davis Payne made yet another goalie switch.

"It was kind of like deja vu, going in with the Anaheim game," said Bishop, who also relieved Conklin on Feb. 19. "I just told myself I've been there before, just play like that again."

"We hung Conks out there a little bit," Payne said. "Sometimes, you need a guy to step in there and give you saves. I thought that Ben did that. ... I thought Ben made the saves that we obviously needed him to make. Each time, he's faced a little bump. We created that bump in New York (on Saturday in a 5-2 loss). He came in here in relief duty and did a bang-up job."

The Blues did respond with power play goals by Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie to tie the game 3-3 before the first period was over.

"We struggled early in the year with (the power play)," said McDonald, as the Blues were 6-for-8 on the power play in three home games against the Jackets this season. "I think the consistency helps. We've kind of stayed with the same groups the last little while and we've had some familiarity with each other. You're kind of using your instincts where guys are gonna be. That helps out a lot."

McDonald did score his second of the game and 16th of the season to give the Blues a 4-3 lead when his first shot was stopped by Mason after getting a pass from David Backes, but McDonald stayed with the play and was able to coral a puck near the side of the Columbus goal and quickly curl it into the near side.

"Backs made a great pass through the seam there to me," McDonald said. "I was able to get a shot on, but the way the puck kind of came off, I got good position with the puck. I was able to pull it back up front. I think it might have went off (Mason's) skate, but I just kind of caught him out of position."

Derek MacKenzie equalized the game midway through the second period and the teams finally tightened things up and there was no more scoring.

"You can see both teams get the picture after the 3-3 tie," Payne said.

The Blues did lose Berglund, who arguably was the Blues' best forward, to a lower-body injury along with T.J. Hensick (lower-body). Payne said both are listed as day to day.

"I thought his game was excellent," Payne said of Berglund. "You're down in the later minutes of the third period and wishing you could put him out there but he was unable to go.

"For Bergy, I thought his control of the low ice in the middle and staying available for the outlets and driving with possession in the right ice, I thought he made right reads in those decisions very, very well. He was probably our best forward and best centerman in providing that support."

Neither squad could get the overtime winner, so a shootout was necessary. The Blues got their goals from Oshie, McDonald and Steen. Columbus countered with Rick Nash and Fedor Tyutin, who scored in the third round to keep the shootout alive after the Blues failed to seal it with Stewart.

"I'm not really familiar with any of these guys," Bishop said of the Columbus players, facing his second-career shootout. "I knew Nash was going to do something crazy, but other than that, I didn't really know much about the other guys."

When Bishop kicked out that left skate on Vermette, it was quite the adrenaline rush for a team that won for only the second time in nine games.

"It showed some character in our guys," Jackman said. "With the type of emotion that was going through this building with the guys and the No. 7s here, it was good resolve. We stuck to our game plan even when things didn't go our way. We battled back and fought all the way to the end tonight."

Added Bishop, "We needed this win, especially for this crowd."

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled Hensick on Monday from Peoria on an emergency basis, as B.J. Crombeen missed the game with an upper-body injury. ... Also, defenseman Roman Polak (foot) missed his second straight game. ... Goalie Jaroslav Halak (hand) could come off injured reserve on Wednesday in the rematch between these two teams in Columbus. He's been out since Feb. 14.

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