Halak earns 100th career win; Hitchcock earns first
win in Nashville since 2001, Blues snap two-game skid
By LOUIE KORAC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blues were made for third periods -- at least for much of the season.
The last two games ... not so much.
Thursday night against the Nashville Predators on their home ice, another situation presented itself to win a game. All the Blues needed was a winning final 20 minutes of play.
The Blues played dead-even through the third period and at least picked up a point, but they were able to gain a huge second point on when T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald solved Blues nemesis Pekka Rinne with two shootout goals as the Blues collected a huge road win with a 3-2 win over the Predators Thursday night before 16,828 at Bridgestone Arena.
Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) beats Nashville's Pekka Rinne with a shootout
goal Thursday night. The Blues won the shootout 2-0 and the game 3-2.
It's the third time this season between the teams the games have gone to a shootout, and the Blues (37-17-7) won their second straight shootout after losing six of their first seven this season, including two against the Predators (35-19-7).
With the Blues shooting first, Oshie was able to come to his backhand and beat Rinne high, while McDonald came in with speed, also tucking a puck through the pads of Rinne.
Oshie took to the video to learn something new to use. He made it 1-0 in the shootout.
"Doing video beforehand, (Boston's Tyler) Seguin had a similar goal," Oshie said. "I just wanted to try to beat (Rinne) to the post. He's a real hard worker, one of the hardest working goalies in the league. I don't want to get into a little thinking match. I just wanted to beat him to the post as fast as I could. Fortunately, I was able to get it up.
"I think last time we were in here, maybe it got to me. ... He's a great goaltender. He can frustrate scorers, he can frustrate the other team. You've just got to stick with it and that's what we did here tonight. It took us all the way to the shootout, but it's fine. We beat him."
McDonald came flying in and gave Rinne no room to react. His goal made it 2-0 and forced the Predators to score, which they didn't.
"For me, I have maybe three or four things I do and try to pick what matches what's best against him and that's what I tried to do," McDonald said. "When you watch video and you've seen him before in the shootout.
"Personally, I have three or four things I do on a regular basis and you try to pick the thing that's going to work best against that goalie. It's the same move I've done on him before. Probably if there's another shootout, I'll have to find something else to do. I've got some time to work on it."
Jaroslav Halak, who earned his 100th career win by beating nemesis Rinne, stopped Colin Wilson while Martin Erat's attempt slid wide of the goal as he lost control of the puck.
"We knew it was going to be a tight game," said Halak, who played for the first time in nine days after battling the flu over the weekend. "Every time we play these guys it seems like it's a shootout or a one-goal game. ... We got a little sloppy in the second period when they scored the two goals, but I think overall and for us in the third period, we did a great job. We just wanted to start the road trip with a win. I'm happy and I'm glad we got it.
"It doesn't matter where we get (the 100th win). It was special. It would have been more special for me to get it in Columbus because my first win came in Columbus. It didn't happen, but I'm still happy that I got it, finally."
It was a game in which the Blues did what they've done a lot of lately: play well in spurts but fall off for a stretch. But this time, they were able to regain themselves and move four points clear of the Predators in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference.
"The first period, we played exactly the way we wanted to," said defenseman Barret Jackman, as the Blues outshot Nashville 13-6 and got the only goal from Chris Stewart. "We were fast, we were putting the puck in behind them at the blue line, we were putting pucks on net. They came with a push in the second. We didn't respond all that great, but we stuck with it. We were battling and we kept clawing and clawing. Jaro played great. Made some big saves for us, especially in the shootout.
"There's momentum swings. There's different times in the game where mistakes happen. But for the most part tonight, we did a pretty good job of sticking with it and helping each other out."
The win for the Blues was coach Ken Hitchcock's first in this building in the last 19 tries (he was 0-11-6-1 dating back to Feb. 13, 2001).
"I thought it was like two different games," said Hitchcock, whose team responded after a tough 4-2 home loss to Boston the previous night. "We were better than they were in the first and the overtime. They were better than us in the second and first half of the third. They were better, they had more energy. We seemed to hit the wall from the second period from obviously last night's game, but man, we came back and gutted it out in the third. Great way to start the (six-game) road trip.
"What happened (Wednesday) night was we put so much into the damn game and got no reward for it. It was a helluva hockey game, it was really physical, very demanding and then to come and have to play in this building off of a back-to-back is not easy. I'm really very proud of the team. This was not pretty at times, but this was a gutsy effort that we needed. We got it and we're in the 80's now, and that's a big step. Hopefully, we can clear into the 90's."
Stewart and Vladimir Sobotka scored for the Blues, while Nashville countered with second-period goals from Roman Josi and Wilson.
Stewart got his second in as many games when former Predators' captain Jason Arnott fired a shot in tight off the left post and Stewart was in the slot as the puck caromed off his skate and past Rinne. The officials ruled a goal but went to video review and concluded that there was no kicking motion to give the Blues a 1-0 lead 4:13 into the game.
Arnott was able to get to Kris Russell's shot from the left point and keep the play alive.
Jason Arnott (right) battles Nashville's Hal Gill during Thursday's game.
Arnott had an assist in his return to Nashville in a 3-2 shootout win.
The Blues have lately followed up a solid period with a poor period, and the front part of the second seemed to be the case in this game.
The Predators grabbed the lead on goals by Josi and Wilson. One came off a odd-man rush when the Blues got caught on a 2-on-1 after Roman Polak's skate blade broke off. Josi tied it 1-1 just 2:53 into the period.
Wilson's goal came off a scramble behind the goal, as the puck was eventually centered into the slot. Polak lost sight of the puck and lost Wilson, who backhanded a short shot past Halak 12:52 into the period to make it 2-1.
"It's a matter of playing 60 minutes on the road," Arnott said. "We'll play little bits and pieces there, come out and give it a good 20 minutes, but then we'll have that little lapse. Good teams just don't have that lapse.
"What we've got to learn, especially coming into the playoffs, you can't have lapses ... at all. It's got to be a solid 60 minutes whether you just play sound defensively for that little lapse and keep the puck out of the net and then move forward or just keep pushing forward on the offense."
Added Hitchcock: "We had some poor reads today pinching-wise. We had some poor reads. It's something we need to address and it's something we need to get better at. We're going to play with some pressure and we need to get better at pressure."
The Blues were able to push forward, and Sobotka's fourth of the season late in the period -- 34 seconds after Wilson's goal -- got the Blues back on square ground at 2-2. David Perron's initial shot was blocked but Sobotka was in the high slot and picked up the loose puck and quickly got off a backhand that Rinne never saw.
"We just said in the locker room that we need to put the puck deep and go chase the puck and force some turnovers," Sobotka said. "We (made the Predators) turn it over and I just saw the puck there and I hit it and it ended up in the net.
"It bounced. It was flat. I just tried to hit it."
The goal certainly lifted the Blues' spirits, since the Predators seemed on the verge of taking the game over.
"We've been talking about responding when the other team comes back," Oshie said.
Stewart had the go-ahead goal on his stick just 3:57 into the final period near the top of the crease but couldn't lift a backhand that Rinne was able to slide and make a stop on. He also got a great feed from Oshie in overtime that Rinne stopped, which was the only shot of the overtime period.
But the Blues were able to persevere and move onto Winnipeg for the second of a six-game leg.
"We played really hard tonight," McDonald said. "We knew it was a big matchup coming in and we knew it was going to be a tough game. We responded well."
Added Oshie: "This is a tough team. It's tough to come into this building and play. They play for a full 60 and then some it seems every night. That's where we want to get to. We've been struggling on the road, but tonight, it's a step forward."
* NOTES -- The Blues lost Russell to an undisclosed injury in the third period. Hitchcock said the team would know more about it Friday and the severity of it. ... Halak is 14-3-3 in his last 21 starts. ... Scratches included defenseman Kent Huskins and forward T.J. Hensick.