Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blues suffer rare home loss to Bruins

Mistakes lead to wild first period as St.
Louis suffers first regulation home loss in 22

ST. LOUIS -- Maybe it was what the Boston Bruins forced them to do. Maybe it was the Blues' own doing.

The end result was the Blues' first two-game regulation losing streak since the end of October ... and it's not going to get any easier with 13 of the next 16 games away from the friendly confines of Scottrade Center.

The Blues made mistakes, the Bruins pounced. A wild opening 20 minutes ended with the Bruins skating away with a 4-2 win over the Blues Wednesday night, a rare loss for the home side at 14th and Clark.

The Blues (36-17-7) now head into Nashville tonight for a pivotal divisional showdown on the heels of arguably one of their worst executed games in some time.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Jason Arnott (middle) battles for position in front
of Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (left) and Dennis Seidenberg.

They were careless with the puck from the middle of the ice into their zone and the Bruins (36-20-2) were ready to pounce.

Brad Marchand scored twice and Milan Lucic and Chris Kelly each had a goal and an assist to help the Bruins snap a two-game road losing streak.

I think it was a little bit of both," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of the game. "They're pretty good at kind of taking away options. They're kind of aggressive with two guys and then they sit over top with a third guy and read the play very well. We had a lot of pucks that were bouncing up and down and going off sticks that just weren't clean plays and they were corralling and using against us."

Tim Thomas knows what the Bruins accomplished here has been a rarity in the NHL this season.

"They have very few home losses. They're a good team, period," Thomas said of the backstopping 30 shots in only the Blues' fourth regulation home loss of the season.

"You can see by where they're at in the standings that they're a good team," Thomas said.

This just doesn't happen to the Blues. Much like their Central Division counterpart Detroit Red Wings, home wins are as good as gold.

However, it did happen ... for only the first time in 22 home games the Blues, who got goals from Chris Stewart and Ryan Reaves, were not able to pick up at least a point on home ice.

The Blues dropped to (26-4-4) at home in the process. They were 18-0-3 in the previous 21 and last lost in regulation on Dec. 3, a 5-2 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks. It's the Blues' first back-to-back regulation losses since dropping two at Calgary and Edmonton Oct. 28-30.

"They bring a lot of pressure and they've got big bodies that forced us to probably make plays before we were ready to or plays we weren't comfortable with," captain David Backes said of the Bruins. "They're obviously an explosive team. They got three goals off turnovers and another one that we got our pocket picked.

"We're trying to make plays and there's good things about that. But making the right play at the right time and not giving our opponent anything is something that we need to definitely put in the memory bank because they're a team we're hopefully not done seeing this year."

And it was uncharacteristic turnovers that cost the Blues.

"I thought we waded into the game tentative and then I thought we really started to get going once we scored our first goal," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team fell behind 2-0 and 3-2 in the first period and lost to an Eastern Conference foe for the first time this season (12-1-2). "I thought we played really well the whole second period.

"The mistakes we made, we made big errors. We turned the puck over in the neutral zone and made a couple big errors there and they took advantage of it."

It was indeed a wild first period between teams in the top five in team goaltending statistics that saw a total of five goals -- three of them by Boston.

The Bruins grabbed a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Marchand and Lucic. Marchand stole a puck by Kevin Shattenkirk at the Blues' blue line and snapped a quick shot from the slot over Brian Elliott's glove hand 2:29 into the game. Lucic's redirection of Joe Corvo's shot 6:19 into the game made it 2-0. David Krejci's crushing shoulder check of Blues defenseman Kris Russell behind the net created the opportunity from the right point.

"Most of the time, they're coming really hard and then when you do move it, you think you have some time," Jackman said of the Bruins. "They do a really good job of coming over the top and closing that out.

"They're a big, physical team and they come and try to push you out of your own building. I thought we did a pretty good job of pushing back and staying on our toes, but in the end, some turnovers and some bounces cost us."

The Blues battled back and got two of their own when Stewart got his first in seven and second in 18 games, beating Thomas from a sharp angle 58 seconds after Lucic's goal to make it 2-1. Reaves got his second goal in three games after tipping home Crombeen's shot with traffic in front of Thomas to tie it 12:15 into the period. Crombeen picked up two-thirds of a Gordie Howe hat trick, needing only a goal.

"The way it started out, I didn't know what it was going to be like," said Thomas, who stopped the final 27 shots he saw. "I didn't know if we'd have to win one of those 5-4 games or something like that. That's the way it seemed to be going with screens and funny bounces, good opportunities both teams were getting. As a goalie, I'm happy with the way that it turned out."

But the uncharacteristic poor defensive zone play led to Kelly's go-ahead goal with 39.4 seconds left in the period. A turnover in the neutral zone by David Perron and subsequent failure to rim the puck around the boards in the defensive zone by Perron ended up on the Blues' goal. Lucic feed Kelly in front for a quick snap shot past Elliott to make it 3-2.

"I thought the third goal allowed them to breathe again," said Hitchcock, who demoted Perron during the game to the third and fourth lines before bringing him back to the top. "We couldn't get the goal that we needed to get in the second period when we had all the play in their zone. We had all kinds of chances, all kinds of play, but we couldn't get the third goal to tie it up, which would have made it a little bit different game ... and then they got to breathe after the intermission. They came out with a good push at the start of the third."
(Getty Images)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (right) moves the puck away from
Boston's Gregory Campbell Wednesday night.

Said Perron: "You don't want to make plays like I did, but there was still a lot of time in the game. It's pretty frustrating when you don't have the chance to recover from that mistake. There's going to be nights like that. It wasn't one of my best, for sure, but at the same time pretty frustrating not to get the chance to change things up.

"I understand there is changes to be made when it's not working well, and I'll just live with that and work hard and hopefully I'll get another chance."

It was Elliott who made a crucial right skate stop on Kelly just 40 seconds into the game from in tight that kept another Boston goal off the board.

"The first period, a couple mistakes and a bad bounce just leads to opportunities," said Elliott, whose goals-against average jumped up to 1.65 and save percentage fell to .937. "I have to come up with a couple saves. We need to generate some offense and come back from a period like that. I think we did to a point. We just couldn't get anything going by them.

"We knew that was coming. We knew they were going to come hard off the bat. We wanted to counter that. To a point, we did, but I think we just need to be better all around ... myself included for sure."

The Bruins, despite getting outshot 13-4 in the second, had the closest chance when Johnny Boychuk's shot from the point was double-deflected off two Blues sticks. Amazingly, the puck caromed off both the post and cross bar, but stayed out as evidenced by a video review with 12:26 left in the period.

The Bruins are unbeatable when leading after two periods. With their 3-2 lead, they went into lockdown and shutdown mode and made it a perfect 24-for-24 this season with second-period leads (24-0-0).

They extended their lead in the third when Marchand scored on a breakaway, going to his backhand and beating Elliott five-hole 9:14 into the third for a 4-2 lead on only their 16th shot of the game.

"We weren't really sure what to expect coming in," Marchand said. "We knew they play very hard and we knew they play very well at home.

"We thought it would a little tighter checking in the first period. We had a few goals, especially that third one late was big for our team. Definitely a little more wide open than we thought it was going to be."

After allowing two goals on his first five shots, Thomas settled in and stopped the final 27 St. Louis shots.

The Bruins have not lost in regulation at St. Louis since dropping a 4-0 decision on Dec. 18, 1999. They are now 3-0-4 in their last seven in the Blues' building.

"We'll take it," Thomas said. "We should be very happy with our effort."

* NOTES -- The Blues reinserted defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo back into the lineup after missing three games, one with a wrist injury. Kent Huskins and T.J. Hensick, recalled from Peoria Tuesday after the injury to Jamie Langenbrunner (broken left foot).

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