Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stewart stays hot, helps Blues double up Sharks

Power forward leading team in scoring; home
victory a bit overshadowed by Oshie injury

Good things are happening for power forward Chris Stewart. When they do, they usually parlay into victories for the Blues.

And it's a good thing because if the news on T.J. Oshie isn't good on Wednesday, the Blues are going to need all they can get with forwards falling quicker than crumbling rock off a cliff.

Stewart continued his torrid scoring pace by scoring twice -- his team-leading 22nd and 23rd points -- as the Blues returned home from their longest trip of the season and downed the San Jose Sharks 4-2 Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) celebrates Chris Stewart's goal to
open the scoring Tuesday night against San Jose in a 4-2 win.

The Blues (14-10-2) got two big points after another night that seemingly sees the rest of their remaining 22 games be of vital importance, but if the Blues lose another forward due to injury, it will force them to dig down into their depth.

The Blues lost Oshie to an upper-body injury midway through the game. Oshie connected on a hit against San Jose's Brent Burns 8 minutes 36 seconds into the second period and immediately went to the bench. He did not return, and Hitchcock said afterwards the team will know more Wednesday after consulting with doctors for a lengthy period of time.

"He's ... upper-body injury," Hitchcock said. "We'll have more evaluation on it (Wednesday). We'll give you a better report sometime around noon (Wednesday) and let you know."

The Blues are already missing Alex Steen (upper body), Andy McDonald (knee) and Vladimir Tarasenko (concussion); Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) is out for the season.

As for Tuesday's game, which vaulted the Blues into a fourth place tie with Los Angeles, which lost at Phoenix Tuesday, it was the Blues' second win over the Sharks in four days and came with much more resistance. Stewart is helping carry a team that right now is void of some key components due to injury. Add in the fact that Stewart, coming off an off-year in 2011-12, is playing for a contract this summer. Good things are helping him state his case.

"I got some fortunate bounces tonight," Stewart said. "... I'm not going to read too far into who I'm playing with. I think I've got chemistry with a few guys on the team. I'm just going to worry about myself, compete hard out there, going to the net. I've been getting some good bounces lately."

Hitchcock agreed.

"He's competing at a higher level," Hitchcock said of Stewart. "Conditioning's one part, but he's just competing at a higher level.

"He was disappointed in his second period ... we were disappointed in his second period, and then he really stepped up in the third. He did a great job. When you compete and you have skill, you have success and that's exactly what he's doing."

David Perron and Chris Porter added goals, Barret Jackman collected two assists, and Jake Allen improved to 6-1-0 by making 39 saves. The 41 shots were a season-high allowed by the Blues, who overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit Saturday in San Jose and won 4-3 in overtime.

"We played with a lot of heart," said Hitchcock, whose team was playing its eighth game in 13 days. "We hit the wall. We knew we were going to hit the wall. We kind of thought it would be a little later, but we played a great first period ... one of the best first periods we've played and couldn't extend the lead. They came at us absolutely harder. They got a beat on us in the second period. ... Once we settled down and played in the third ... I thought we were really controlling and playing well.

"... We needed the goalie in the second period, he came through for us, and we needed our best players to be our best players. Stewy gets two (goals) for us, (David) Backes was a horse, (Patrik) Berglund was a horse. We were missing five forwards -- almost half your hockey club -- and still we get the win. It’s a good sign."

The Sharks are 0-2-2 in their past four games and have just two regulation wins in their past 20 games. San Jose got goals from Brent Burns and Dan Boyle, and Antti Niemi stopped 17 shots.

"Our job is to win games," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We didn't do that tonight, but I really liked the effort and I really liked the commitment level. I liked a lot of things about the game except the score at the end of the night. It's the loss that goes into the important column. It's not the effort and the commitment so that stings."

Allen also had a lot to do with that, as he saw a high volume of shots throughout, including 32 over the final two periods [19 in the second].

"He played a tremendous game," McLellan said of Allen, who also beat San Jose Saturday. "Your goaltending has to do that for you throughout the season. He's got to be able to steal games. Our goaltender has done it for us. The good goalies come in and steal games and that's as simple as i can put it."

Allen added, "It doesn't matter if I get 15 shots or 40 shots. You've still got to stop the puck. Some games, I might get 15 shots, but that's part of learning. ... I've learned a lot, especially those situations. You've got to be ready for everything.

Stewart scored his 10th of the season when he took a nifty touch pass from David Backes to spring him on a 2-on-1 with Jaden Schwartz. Stewart elected to fire a wrist shot from the right dot and beat Niemi to the far post with 6:18 left in the opening period for a 1-0 lead.

The Blues increased their lead to 2-0 when Berglund's cross-ice feed to Perron from a sharp angle caromed off Perron's skate and into the net at 10:39 of the second. The officials looked at the play and deemed there was no kicking motion -- ruling that while Perron did turn his skate in an effort to control the puck, he never pushed it towards the net. It was Perron's seventh point (three goals, four assists) in six games.

Burns got the Sharks back in it with his first of the season just 1:02 later, one-timing a shot from the high slot that squirted through Allen's pads to cut the San Jose deficit to 2-1.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues goalie Jake Allen makes one of his 39 saves in Tuesday's 4-2 win
over the San Jose Sharks.

But Porter's first of the season and ninth of his career with 6.8 seconds left in the period gave the Blues a 3-1 lead. He slammed home a rebound from the left dot after Niemi kicked aside Jackman's shot from the right boards.

"They came pretty hard at us .. they came hard all night," Porter said of the Sharks. "They're a desperate team and we knew we were going to get their best, so it ended up being a pretty big goal. At the time, I'm just trying to help the team win for sure."

Boyle cut the Blues' lead to 3-2 when his 5-on-3 goal beat Allen with 6:28 remaining after Scott Nichol (holding) and Jackman (roughing) were sent off 67 seconds apart. The Sharks won the faceoff and Boyle blasted a slap shot past Allen for his fourth of the season.

Stewart added his ninth point in five games and 19th point in 16 games by hitting the empty net with 1:16 remaining after the Sharks pulled Niemi for an extra attacker.

The Blues improved to 6-5-1 on home ice. They feel like it's time to get the home ice swagger back.

"To be a good team, you've got to dominate at home," Stewart said. "I think we showed that last year."

* NOTES -- Blues have won 10 of last 12 meetings between the two teams, including playoffs in 2012. ... The Blues' penalty kill is now 33-39 in the last 11 games; the power play, though, is only 3-32 in last 11 games after going 0-for-3 Tuesday.

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