Thursday, March 10, 2011

Halak, D'Agostini triumphant as Blues down Canadiens

St. Louis runs winning streak to three games, halts Montreal's at five

ST. LOUIS -- The buildup of this matchup between the Blues and Montreal Canadiens was the obvious main attraction between Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price. One goalie that was let go to give the keys of the car to the incumbent.

But flying under the radar was Matt D'Agostini.

Remember him?

He also played for the Canadiens. It was not only Halak facing the Canadiens for the first time, but D'Agostini's chance to bite the hand that once fed him as well.

Halak was solid, backstopping 27 shots in the Blues' 4-1 victory over the Canadiens, but D'Agostini's goal and assist was equally as important as Halak throwing up a brick wall in front of the Blues' goal.

D'Agostini was part of the Canadiens organization for four seasons but was cast off to the Blues a year ago in March for prospect Aaron Palushaj.

When the radar finally shined on him, D'Agostini was a key component that helped the Blues (31-28-9) win their third straight game and keep their very faint playoff hopes alive.

"That Halak-Price showdown, that's what everyone was talking about," D'Agostini smirked. "... I had my opportunities in Montreal. I'm not going to say I didn't have my opportunities, but I just have found my groove hopefully here in St. Louis. I'm getting better game-by-game, day-by-day as a player. Hopefully, we'll make a run at this playoff thing here in the final (14) we've got left."

It's not to say D'Agostini wasn't as pumped about the matchup as Halak was.

"We were talking about it on the plane coming back (from Columbus)," D'Agostini said. "We were pretty excited about it. We still keep in contact with a couple guys on the team. It's just fun to play your friends."

The Blues got a three-point game from Andy McDonald to go with the 27-save effort from Halak, who slammed the door shut after allowing Jeff Halpern's first-period goal in the Canadiens' sixth shot.

"It was emotional. It was a weird feeling before the game," said Halak, traded for Lars Eller, who made his return to St. Louis in a Canadiens uniform. "Right now, I feel great. I couldn't be more happier.

"Obviously when you play for a team and then you get traded, you want to beat them every time you play them. We play Montreal only once a year, so that was my chance this year. I needed to make sure I gave it my best."

David Backes netted his team-leading 24th goal to tie the game late in the first period, then McDonald, who has 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 19 games since returning from a concussion, picked up a loose puck created when D'Agostini forced Benoit Pouliot into a turnover and beat Price 1:06 into the second period.

"Kind of a game within a game," McDonald said of facing the Canadiens and helping their teammates down their former mates. "We know the situation with the trade. For us, playing back-to-back, we needed a big effort.

"We're aware of the situation. We have injuries, younger players being called up ... it was a great overall effort. We're obviously going to need this with the injuries we have and the youth of this team."

The game stayed tight until the waning moments of the third period when McDonald stripped picked off a bad pass from Scott Gomez that was intended for P.K. Subban and created a 2-on-1 with D'Agostini. McDonald flipped a pass in tight but D'Agostini was able to swat out of mid-air past Price, who stopped 23 shots, with 1:29 remaining.

"It's a great play by him, terrible pass by me," McDonald joked. "Great hands by him."

D'Agostini and Price are good friends. He admitted he was poking at Price with text messages before the game. There was no stare-down on the goal, but on McDonald's goal ...

"After Andy's goal, I kind of stared him down," D'Agostini said of Price. "I skated by and stared him down for a good five seconds. I didn't want to taunt him anymore after that.

"I was kind of chirping (at) him today, texting him a bit in the afternoon. I told him I had one (a goal). I didn't actually think I did, but I got one."

T.J. Oshie added a shorthanded, empty-netter with 23 seconds to help halt Montreal's five-game winning streak.

But as much as the Blues need wins, the night belong to a couple former Canadiens.

"Obviously when you get traded, there's always those types of emotions and energies that you go through," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "But most important to us and to me is the complete 60 minutes and how we communicated on back-to-back nights, how we worked, how we played and how we got on the right side of things. Guys stuck to it the whole way, and we got saves out of Jaro when we needed it. We got possessions and pressure when we needed it. It's a solid game for our club."

Following his interview, Halak was going to go visit some of his friends on the team. He may not have as many after his performance.

"Probably when I get a chance to see them right (after the game), I might do that," Halak joked following his 27-save effort. "During the game, you just want to focus on hockey. You don't want to think about the friends on the other side or ex-teammates.

"It obviously feels good to win the game, especially against the former team of mine. We did a great job. Guys were on the same page all night long."

* NOTES -- The Blues announced before the game that winger Alex Steen (high ankle sprain) and defenseman Barret Jackman (broken index finger) would each miss 4-6 weeks.

Jackman's injury was the biggest surprise, but Blues President John Davidson said the veteran was hit on the hand by a shot Wednesday with roughly six minutes remaining.

Steen was injured late in the second period when he lost balance and fell awkwardly on his right leg.

The team recalled Dave Scatchard from Peoria on an emergency basis.

The team did get winger B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) as well as defenseman Roman Polak (foot) back into the lineup.

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