Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blues battle back, fall in shootout to Penguins

Berglund's two goals gain at least a point;
St. Louis heads into All-Star break in good shape

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues fell behind by two goals Tuesday night, would the response be a thud like Monday night in Detroit or would they respond only like Ken Hitchcock's teams have done throughout this first half of the season?

Even though the Blues weren't able to grab that second point it arguably deserved in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night at Scottrade Center, they were able to keep from going into a prolonged break with two bad losses to linger.

Kunitz scored in the fourth round after the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo did not convert for the Blues as the Penguins took a victory against one of the NHL's hottest teams on its home ice.
(Getty Images)
Blues winger Scott Nichol gets a shot off on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre
Fleury Tuesday night.

The Blues (29-13-7) fell behind 2-0 midway through the game against a quality team in Pittsburgh (28-17-4) that has now won seven in a row after dropping six straight. But they got their game going on two Patrik Berglund goals, including a shorthanded penalty shot goal that tied the game 2-all and brought life into the 18,471 in the building.

"What we can take away from this is the way that we raised our level as the game went on," winger T.J. Oshie said. "(Monday) night against Detroit, that's where we fell down. That's where we struggled. They kicked it up in the second period and third period and we didn't respond. I think tonight, we were that team. We were the team that was kicking it in."

The Blues did kick it in. They got some close-range chances, especially late in the third period and in the overtime, but Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury literally stole a point from the Blues and hoisted it on his back.

Fleury, playing in his 22nd straight game (20 of them as a starter), stoned Berglund, David Backes and Vladmir Sobotka from in tight on redirections that would have ended the game.

"It was a great pass by Perry," Backes said of David Perron. "I'm backdoor and I get a lot of wood on it. (Fleury's) just go-go gadget leg all the way to that post ... another good save.

"I wish I could have got it right under the bar, but those bang-bang plays are tough. We had a few other chances in overtime that don't go our way."

The game went to a shootout and Kunitz lifted a backhand shot high over the glove of Brian Elliott, who made 37 saves, as the Penguins won the shootout by a 2-1 margin.

"Its something I used to do a little bit and I kind of got away from it," Kunitz said of the shootout. "(Elliott) is a goalie who is trying to challenge quite a bit and I tried to make a move."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said in his postgame interview that Fleury "made five 10-Bell saves to keep the game (tied). Otherwise, we've got it salted away.

"We had a little bit of a soft spot there when they went up 2-0," Hitchcock said. "We weren't very good, but then we started to really ramp it up."

Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins in the shootout, but Oshie evened things up for the Blues in Round 3 before Kunitz -- who is now 11-for-29 lifetime in the shootout -- won it for Pittsburgh.

"It's something I thought about and it worked out," Kunitz said. "It feels nice and hopefully there's more of them to come."

The Blues were coming off a 3-1 loss Monday to the Red Wings, a game that saw the Western Conference's top spot up for grabs. The Wings took it, and the Blues had to turn it around and play their fourth game in six nights. But even after falling behind, the Blues were able to take the game over and evening it out before nearly pulling it off if not for the theatrics of Fleury, who stopped 32 shots.

"It wasn't too technical but they didn't go in and I'm happy with it," Fleury said. "It feels good definitely because just before that, we had a tough stretch with six losses in a row. To be able to battle through that and come back and with these seven wins, they're huge. It gives us a better position in the standings also and we can relax a little more, a little better."

Berglund scored twice for the Blues, the fourth two-goal game of his career. Elliott was strong in his first game since Jan. 12 as the Blues earned a point in 16 straight home games, going 13-0-3. They're not 21-3-4 on home ice and 9-0-2 against the Eastern Conference.
(Getty Images)
Blues defenseman Roman Polak (right) hauls down Pittsburgh's Chris
Kunitz during Tuesday's game at Scottrade Center.

"We had to work for it," Backes said. "... Fleury's a pretty good goalie. They're a team that's got some resiliency as well and that's why they're in the playoffs every year."

Down 2-1, Berglund was hooked at on a break-in by Kris Letang and awarded a shorthanded penalty shot 5:04 into the third. Berglund curled to the right, froze Fleury and snapped a shot to the stick side for a 2-2 game. The last Blues' successful penalty shot came on Dec. 18, 2010 by David Backes against San Jose's Antero Niittymaki.

"It gave us a lot of energy," Berglund said. "We had a lot of good scoring chances, but I still think we're struggling a little bit with burying our chances because I think we got plenty of them. That's an element that we've got to work on."

The Penguins broke through when Neal snapped a shot from the left circle through Elliott's left side after a backhand feed from Paul Martin 3:26 into the second period. It was a power-play goal that was Neal's 100th goal of his career after David Backes was called for pulling down Malkin. It was also Neal's 11th point in the last seven games (six goals, five assists).

Sullivan, who scored his 23rd career goal against the Blues and 51st point of his career against St. Louis, was able to somehow bat in a puck past Elliott after Deryk Engelland's shot deflected off the skate of Carlo Colaiacovo, Colaiacovo then batted the puck away from his net but Sullivan caught it in the right spot and got enough to put it back on goal and in12:16 into the second.

The Blues got back to within 2-1 on Berglund's 11th of the season and first in eight games. The Penguins turned the puck over at center ice, and Stewart was able to saucer a tight feed to Berglund, who deked Fleury and slammed home a forehand with 4:44 left in the second. It broke a streak of 86:04 minutes without a goal.

Both teams go into the break now before reconvening next week. Both teams look like solid choices to be primed for playoff berths.

"Just to be able to relax a little bit and be re-energized and come back after (the break) will be good," Fleury said.

"This one's good (to go into the break on)," Hitchcock said. "... When we scored our (first) goal there, we really started to ramp it up. It was a hard game. They're sitting here rested, great hockey team and to play like we did ... pretty impressive."

The Blues ended January with an 8-1-2 mark, which is quite in contrast with last year's 2-8-2 January that threw the Blues right out of the Western Conference's top eight.

"It was a helluva point, a helluva hockey game," Hitchcock said. "We had everything there for us at the end of the third ... all the chances, all the chances in overtime to win it. ... We were on the hunt the whole third period. This one's good."

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