Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blues earn hard-fought 2-1 shootout win over Canucks

Hitchcock collects 600th coaching win; McDonald, Steen provide shootout goals

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock looked as exhausted as his players following a hard-fought 2-1 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night.

But the 61-year-old Blues' coach could muster up enough energy to reply only how he knows after finally earning his 600th coaching victory in the NHL.

"It's basically because I'm old," Hitchcock said, getting a laugh from the media gathering. "If you last long and you're old, you get this.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Alexander Steen (kneeling) battles for a puck with
Vancouver's Derek Roy as teammate Jordan Leopold (33)
looks on.
"I was telling the guys a story ... last time something like this (happened), it was my 1,000th game in Columbus and Detroit came in and I think we lost 9-1 or something. This is a much better feeling to be honest with you."

Hitchcock became the 11th coach in NHL history and second active (Joel Quenneville) to reach 600 victories. Along with Hitchcock, six of them have coached the Blues at one point including Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Jacques Martin, Quenneville and Mike Keenan.

Hitchcock remembers his first win just as well. It was Jan. 22, 1996 with the Dallas Stars, who beat ironically the Canucks 6-4 in Vancouver. Ironically, Hitchcock's Stars beat his current goalie coach who was manning the Canucks cage, Corey Hirsch.

"Yeah I sure do, because [Stars goalie] Allan Bester stole the puck," Hitchcock said. "It was my game puck and he stole it because he hadn't been in the league for about six years and he took the game puck.

"We had a wrestling match in the locker room after the game. He won. So I never saw that game puck."

The Blues (24-16-2) got the winner on Alexander Steen's shootout goal, which provided the winning margin at Scottrade Center.

Steen was the third and final shooter for the Blues, who got a goal from Andy McDonald in the first round. Steen snapped a shot upstairs, beating Cory Schneider.

Derek Roy hit the post for the Canucks, and Brian Elliott stopped Alexandre Burrows in the second round.

"I didn't really get to pre-scout Roy there, but sometimes you get them and sometimes you don't," Elliott said. "Us scoring at the other end is huge for me. You just make a couple stops and you get the win. Those goals were huge.

"I think we played pretty well out there."

Jay Bouwmeester scored his first goal with the Blues, and Elliott stopped 21 shots. St. Louis improved to 24-16-2, good for 50 points in the Western Conference.

The Blues got the kind of game they needed from their captain, as David Backes led by example with six hits -- although it seemed like 60 -- in 19 minutes, 27 seconds of ice time while winning 15 of 21 faceoffs.

"He's taking charge of our team now, which is exactly what we need," Hitchcock said of Backes. "There's an edge that he plays with and sometimes the edge gets blurred at times ... I don't really care. The edge gets blurred a few times, we'll live with it.

"He's hungry and desperate and wants to play in the postseason and he's dragging a lot of people with him. We had a lot of good followers today, a lot of people who followed well today."

It was the kind of physical game that plays right into Backes' hands. Late in the second period, after checking Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard, the two were ready to square off until Backes was grabbed from behind by Vancouver's Alexandre Burrows. Burrows took Backes down that ultimately gashed the top of Backes' head, which led to five stitches.

Ballard got a high sticking penalty, Burrows got four minutes for roughing and Backes was whistled for cross checking and roughing.

"Me and Ballard are taking our helmets off to fight and we're squaring off and all of the sudden, there's a third man in an altercation who's still got all his gear on and all of the sudden, my head goes into the ice and I get split open for five stitches," Backes said. "It seems like an injustice to me. I wasn't real happy with that play. I think the guys responded pretty well in the third with some good emotion and some really concerted efforts to win that game."

Alexander Edler scored for the Canucks, and Schneider was stellar in goal stopping 35 shots. The Canucks (24-12-7) had won five of six games and are 5-1-1 in their past seven but just completed three games in four nights.

"It was exactly what I think everybody expected, a tough game, a hard fought game," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "St. Louis came real hard at us and I thought for the most part we responded the way we were supposed to."

The Blues outshot the Canucks 14-5 in the first period, and very reminiscent of Sunday's 2-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, had a very spirited first 20 minutes but nothing to show for it. Schneider was the difference in keeping the home side of the scoreboard.

The Blues dominated all aspects of play in the second period as well, outshooting the Canucks 11-6, but Edler was able to give the visitors a 1-0 lead when he snapped a wrister from the right point with Daniel Sedin screening in front; the puck caromed off the left post past Elliott with 12.2 seconds left in the period.

The Blues were given four power-play attempts through two periods but their inability to convert again haunted the offense. The Blues are 6-for-76 in their past 28 games. The last time they scored more than one power-play goal in a game was Feb. 15 at the Calgary Flames.

Since scoring on their first shot 1:26 into the game Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blues went 92 shots without a goal before Bouwmeester's. It snapped a drought of 169:24.

"We've been having trouble scoring goals and we've been in some tight games," Bouwmeester said. "It always feels good when you score and you contribute."

In the defenseman's eighth game for St. Louis, he took David Perron's flip pass into the zone, went in on a 3-on-1 with Alex Pietrangelo and Andy McDonald, and instead of dishing off, beat Schneider from close-in 10:50 into the third period to tie the game 1-1.

"It was kind of a lucky play where the guy didn't know where the puck was and it just bounced down," Bouwmeester said. "It was sort of a 2-on-1. I didn't know what to do but shoot it and it was good.

"The [defenseman] was kind of playing over towards [McDonald], so it was a pretty good angle to shoot. You'll take those when you get them, I guess. Tonight was a real good effort against a real good team."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' David Perron (57) and Canucks' Cam Barker
battle along the boards Tuesday night.
Hitchcock felt like the goal vindicated Bouwmeester, who was on the ice for the Canucks' power play goal.

"I felt really good for Bouw because he was (on the ice) for the penalty killing goal and I think he felt like he could have been in a better spot to probably block the shot, and then to come back and play like he did in the third period ... to me, he really started taking the game over in the third period," Hitchcock said. "I thought he did a great job."

Once the Blues got it squared away, they felt good about their chances of getting the two points. If they somehow came away without the two points, it would have been an empty feeling.

"It's not always fair in this game," Backes said. "I think regardless, we would have said that would have been a big step in the right direction but at this point in the year, there's no moral victories because including tonight, seven games left in a tight race where we needed this in the worst way.

"Yeah, there might have been some feelings like that, but luckily you can write the other story for tomorrow. ...
Make it ugly, make it pretty ... it's probably going to be more ugly than pretty out of this room. When it goes our way, we like our chances."

* NOTES -- The Blues announced Tuesday that right wing T.J. Oshie underwent successful left ankle surgery and is listed as week to week.

Oshie, who has played in 30 games and posted seven goals and 13 assists, has skated in the past week and even said that he was close to a return to the lineup, will be sidelined indefinitely.

Oshie, who was originally placed on injured-reserve April 2, was hurt blocking a shot in a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings March 28. The Blues initially diagnosed the injury as a lower-body bruise.

Just on Monday, Oshie declared himself "close" to returning to the lineup, and Hitchcock called Monday's practice Oshie's "best day."

. . . The Blues' penalty killing streak, which entered the night 23-for-23, saw it end after 24 straight kills on Edler's goal. ... The power play, which was 0-for-4 on the night, is now in a 6-for-76 funk over 28 games. ... Bouwmeester played in his 629th consecutive game, which is the NHL's current ironman streak. ... 2011 second-round pick Dmitrij Jaskin made his NHL debut. he only played 6:32 with one hit.

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