Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blues clinch playoff berth with 3-1 win over Avalanche

Stewart, McDonald, Elliott lead charge to second straight postseason berth

ST. LOUIS -- The
Blues had another opportunity to take matters into their own hands.

Forget about relying on outside help; the Blues took care of business and punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We played more of a complete game," Blues wing Alexander Steen said after Tuesday's 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at Scottrade Center. "Throughout our full lineup, from goaltender out, I think we've been inconsistent in having everybody on the same page through the course of the year."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues celebrate with goalie Brian Elliott (top) after knocking off the
Colorado Avalanche 3-1 to clinch a spot in the postseason.

And the Blues did it with their power play, which at times has been abysmal lately, but Tuesday was successful twice in the same game for the first time in 32.

Chris Stewart got his 100th career goal, 100th career assist and 200th career point; Jordan Leopold added his first points since joining the Blues; and Brian Elliott redeemed himself by stopping 17 shots. The Blues lost 5-3 at Colorado Sunday, a game in which Elliott was pulled after allowing four goals on 19 shots.

"I think it's always better to control your own destiny," said Stewart, playing with a heavy heart on his mother Susan's birthday, who she passed away six years ago. "You never want to get in on someone else's account. I think it feels better when you control your own fate and that's what we did tonight.

"... It's always something I'll remember. She was always like, 'Score me a goal.' I had that in my mind tonight. It's a bit of an emotional day. It's been six years now [since her passing]. I'm glad my family got to watch tonight."

The Blues (27-17-2) also got a goal and an assist from Andy McDonald as they reached the postseason for the second straight year and remained in sixth place after the San Jose Sharks rallied past the Dallas Stars 3-2.

"You never want to get in on someone else's account," Stewart said. "I think it feels better when you can control your own fate. That's what we did tonight."

The Blues pulled within one point of the Los Angeles Kings for fourth place after the Kings lost 2-1 to the Minnesota Wild. The Blues, Kings and Sharks each have two games remaining.

"We grabbed it big-time today," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We played a great hockey game. We could have scored 10 goals today. We missed empty nets, we shot it over the net ... we played a hard, heavy hockey game. The way we defended is the way we need to play to defend. We occupied the offensive zone and killed the clock that way, and that's our game."

The Avalanche (15-24-7), who came in with the worst road record in the NHL, dropped to 3-16-4 away from Pepsi Center. Cody McLeod scored, and Semyon Varlamov stopped 31 shots and lost to the Blues for the first time in regulation in his career after going 4-0-1 with a 1.56 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in five previous starts.

Stewart, a former first-round pick of the Avalanche, deflected Leopold's left-point shot past Varlamov to give the Blues a 1-0 lead 11:19 into the game. Leopold, also a former member of the Avalanche, earned his first point with the Blues in his 13th game after arriving in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

Patrik Berglund's first goal in 10 games, on the power play, gave the Blues a 2-0 lead 2:55 into the second period when he was able to redirect Jay Bouwmeester's right-point one-timer.

"It's really important, especially on the power play," Berglund said. "We've been struggling there and it's really important to have the power play going when you go into the playoffs. I think that was a confidence boost for all of us."

McDonald added his sixth of the season at 5:13 when he skated in from the left side of the ice and tucked a shot under Varlamov's stick paddle for a 3-0 Blues lead.

McLeod scored his fifth goal in five games after getting three in his first 43. Off a delayed penalty, he took Paul Stastny's feed and snapped a shot from the left circle past Elliott with 4:47 left in the second to make it 3-1.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Andy McDonald (10) had a goal and an assist in Tuesday's win over the
Colorado Avalanche.

Varlamov did make three stellar stops in the game. He kicked out Alexander Steen's breakaway attempt in the first period, gloved Vladimir Tarasenko's wrister from the slot late in the second, and thwarted McDonald early in the third with a glove save from the slot.

But the Blues won't rest on their laurels the final two games. They still have something to strive for. The remaining games Thursday at home against Calgary and Saturday at home against Chicago have meaning. And they will go into them on the heels of one of the more complete wins of the season.

"We've got a couple games here to push for home ice advantage," Steen said. "
We played more of a complete game. I think throughout our full lineup from goaltender out, I think we've been inconsistent in having everybody on the same page during the course of the year. We've had our power play disguise some of our problems in the beginning, and then our goalies ... I felt like tonight we took a big step. We played some playoff hockey and now we've got to continue. We've got two big games coming up."

The Blues did lose defenseman Barret Jackman in the game after blocking a shot midway through the game on Gabriel Landeskog. Hitchcock said Jackman should be fine but isn't sure whether he'll play against the Flames Thursday.
* NOTES -- The Blues made it official with the announcement that they have reached a three-year affiliation agreement to make the Chicago Wolves the Blues’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.

The Wolves, who joined the AHL in 2001, play their home games at the Allstate Arena in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois. In their 12-year AHL history, the club has never had a losing season and has qualified for the postseason eight times, appearing in the league championship final three times and winning the Calder Cup twice (2002, 2008).

The Wolves were formerly affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers from 2001-2011 and Vancouver Canucks from 2011-2013, and prior to joining the AHL, the Wolves were members of the IHL from 1994 to 2000 and won the Turner Cup twice (1998, 2000).

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