Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blues blow another lead in Chicago, fall in shootout

Hawks rally from 3-1 deficit; Kane nets
shootout winner as Blues' PK streak snapped at 51

CHICAGO -- The Blues just can't seem to get it right in Chicago. In one form or another, they find a way to lose a game at United Center.

For the third time in five games, the Blues built a two-goal lead against the Blackhawks. For the third time, they lost the lead, and lost the game.

Patrick Kane's shootout goal was the only tally in the extra rounds, as the Blackhawks overcame a two-goal first period deficit to rally past the Blues 4-3 Tuesday night before 21,349 happy spectators to snap the Blues' five-game winning streak.

The Blues (45-18-8), who salvaged a point from this debacle thanks to another heroic effort from Jaroslav Halak, who made 43 saves, fell to 0-4-2 against the Blackhawks (38-25-8) in the last six games played here, winning once in nine overall here (1-6-2).

(Getty Images)
The Blues' Barret Jackman (5) and Andy McDonald go to tie up Chicago's
Patrick Kane for possession of the puck Tuesday in Chicago.

And a troubling trend has crept into the game for the Blues: taking too many penalties, and it dropped them to 36-0-1 when scoring three goals or more this season.

For the fourth time in five games, the Blues have taken four or more penalties, including 14 shorthanded situations in the last two games. They got away with going eight-for-eight in Sunday's 2-1 win at Columbus. Tuesday night, not so much even though they killed off five of six and saw their consecutive streak of penalties killed end at 51, two shy of the Washington Capitals' NHL record of 53 straight set in 1999-2000.

Brent Seabrook's power play goal in the third period tied it 3-3.

"It's all discipline and hard work," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're kind of half in, half out. We're not there, we're not sharp. We've got too many of the same people taking the same penalties. Our work ethic's not sharp because we're not checking well at all for a consistent period because we're not managing the puck properly. When you don't manage the puck properly, it ends up burying you, and that's what's happened."

The Blues blew a 3-1 lead, scoring all three goals in the first period. They got scores from Jamie Langenbrunner, Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund. But even though they were up 3-1, they were outshot 13-6 and then began playing on their heels because of mistakes and trips to the box.

"The last three or four games ... the penalties are one thing, but all of the sudden, you're taxing the killers, and all of the sudden there's a penalty that we needed to take to take a scoring chance away," Blues captain David Backes said. "... They pounded us down, pounded us down and finally they capitalized. I don't know if it was their sixth or seventh one, but finally in the third period, too many of those and we had eight against Columbus the other night. That's too much. We need to play for each other, stick up for each other, but you can't have train tracks to the box all night."

Said Hitchcock: "The lead came too easy to us. We didn't have to work for it, and then when we got on our heels, we couldn't get back off our heels. They were coming at us, we were on our heels and we stayed on our heels most of the night.

"When we had the lead 3-1, we started playing with skill over work, started turning the puck over at the offensive blue line and that gave them all the momentum. When you turn it over against this team, they're so good offensively, they killed us. And that's what happened. They got all the momentum off of us mis-managing the puck. When you mis-manage the puck in this building, they come at you in waves."

The Blues got it to a shootout thanks to Halak, but after Andrew Brunette's first period goal, Chicago got a second-period goal from Viktor Stalberg and Seabrook's tying goal 12 minutes 19 seconds remaining in the game.

"We had the game right there for us winning 3-1," said Halak, who saw his eight-game winning streak snapped. "It seemed like we started doing the opposite things. We started taking penalties and that can't happen. We can take one (or) two but not so many. We did and that cost us the game tonight. We have to try to stay out of the box and keep skating and move our feet.

"I didn't see (Seabrook's shot) at all. There were two guys in front of me. I had a tough time to see it, but it happens.

"On the second goal, a lucky bounce for them, but the last game we had some lucky bounces our way. Not tonight."

An inauspicious start saw the Blues fall behind 1-0 when Brunette broke in after a pass through the middle of the ice and beat Halak high and tight just 2:51 into the game for a 1-0 Chicago lead.

But the goal that may have jump-started the Blues in the first was Langenbrunner's first goal since Feb. 10, a slap shot from the top of the right circle that seemed to handcuff Hawks starting goalie Ray Emery 59 seconds after Brunette's goal.

Then, the Berglund line got to work, accounting for the next two goals as McDonald's wrister at 6:49 gave the Blues a 2-1 lead after pretty pass plays by both Berglund and Perron.

(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald (right) celebrates his goal with Carlo Colaiacovo that
gave the Blues a 2-1 lead in the first period Tuesday night in Chicago.

Berglund then redirected in Barret Jackman's shot-pass from the low slot on their fifth shot of the game at 15:59 for a 3-1 Blues lead after one period and the end of the night for Emery, who allowed three goals on only six shots. he was replaced by Corey Crawford to start the second.

McDonald now has nine points in six games, Berglund and Perron with five points each in four games, giving the trio 19 points in the last six games.

Stalberg's tip, after Berglund had a chance to clear the puck out of the zone, came after Marcus Kruger threw the puck towards the net. The puck hit off Stalberg's skate after Halak made the initial save but without a kicking motion with 5:47 left in the second that made it 3-2.

That's when the Blues got careless and put themselves on the penalty kill too many times in the third. Chicago had three of its six power plays in the third period and cashed in on their fifth as the Bleus got tired.

"Obviously because when you're using the same people killing penalties and using them for the power play, obviously at the end of the game or third period, they'll be tired, and that's what happened," Halak said. "We started making tired mistakes in the third period. ... That cost us the game tonight. We have to try to stay out of the box and try to keep it five-on-five."

Berglund is one of those two-way special teams guys.

"It's obviously tough to win the game when we're in the penalty box a whole lot today, too," Berglund said. "We play the same guys on the penalty kill as much as we do on the PP. It's frustrating. You get tired, especially when you're in the box that long. We were giving them momentum to get back in the game. We didn't respond back. This is what happens.

"We've been talking about it every day. We need to stay focused on our mission and don't get discouraged. It happened today, too. We were in the box and they get the third goal to tie it up. We've got to get better."

After a scoreless overtime, Kane's goal five-hole on Halak came on the advice of Marian Hossa, Halak's Slovakian countryman. The Blues were shut out by Crawford, who stopped all 18 shots in relief of Emery. Perron's last attempt rolled off his stick to end the game.

"Trying to make a move. Tried too quick ... I don't know," Perron said. "It's just tough because you've got the game on your stick and you know if you score, it keeps going. If you don't, then it's over.

"Not getting a shot off is probably the worst thing you can do in shootouts. You've got to try to do something and hope it goes in."

Added Backes: "The overall play was carried by them. We thought we were going to sneak by with minimal effort and trying to just cruise through that game. They're a team playing well and desperate. Finally the volume got to us.

"The penalty kill can't keep it in all the time on those penalties. We just need more guys buying in and playing as a team game. We've got too many stray strands that are trying to make the easy game trying to do fancy stuff. We're not that team. We need to play that blue-collar, hard-nosed type of game."

* NOTES -- Jaden Schwartz, signed by the Blues Monday to an entry-level contract, was not in the lineup against the Blackhawks. Schwartz, the Blues' first-round pick in 2010 (14th overall) left Colorado College after his second season, which was just completed. He had 41 points (15 goals and 26 assists) in 3 games for the Tigers this season. ... Along with Schwartz, defensemen Kent Huskins (bruised hand) and Kris Russell (concussion) did not play. Russell is still on injured reserve but shed the red no-contact jersey for the first time in the morning skate Tuesday. Wingers Alex Steen (concussion) and Matt D'Agostini (concussion) are not on the trip. Steen is still in California getting treatment.

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