Friday, April 5, 2013

Led by Backes, Allen, Blues outlast Blue Jackets 3-1

Captain nets second goal in as many games, Allen sharp as
St. Louis puts distance between them and conference contenders

By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- With so much emphasis on each and every game for the Blues from here on out, big players need to step up in crucial times.

Blues put a little space between themselves and the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Western Conference playoff race Friday night.

Their captain had a lot to do with lifting his team on his shoulders to gut out a victory 24 hours after a tough road game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Jay Bouwmeester tallied two assists in his home debut.

David Backes scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and his spirited play that typically includes hitting everyone in sight helped lift the Blues to a 3-1 victory over the red-hot Blue Jackets at Scottrade Center.

"The best player on the ice was our captain," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Backes, who now has goals in consecutive games after failing to score in 14 straight. "He needed to step up with everything that's gone on here. He really stepped up. Good to see."

After the Blue Jackets had gotten a goal late in the second period to tie the game 1-1, Backes quickly restored the Blues' lead -- just nine seconds later -- when Alexander Steen flipped a puck into the slot and Backes sprawled to the ice and beat a surprised Bobrovsky from the seat of his pants.

"Well I'm not going to tell you all my secrets," Backes joked when asked how he was able to put it in sitting on the ice. "It's just a play where Steener throws it in to the middle to where [Jaden Schwartz] and I go to the net, I go down and I just find the puck on my back and I said, 'Hey, I might as well whack this towards the net somewhere.'

"I've had enough blind luck where I'm hitting posts or cross bars or missing the net. I'm due for a few that will go in that maybe shouldn't. We'll take it any way we can right now."

Said Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson: "That's sports. Sometimes goals like that go in. Nine out of 10 times that doesn't go in, but it did tonight."

Chris Stewart scored his first goal in six games and Patrik Berglund scored a shorthanded goal into an empty net with one second remaining as the Blues improved to 3-0-0 against their Central Division rival. Rookie Jake Allen was solid on goal, picking up his ninth win of the season by stopping 26 shots as the Blues (20-14-2) won their third in a row. With 42 points, they momentarily jumped over the Detroit Red Wings into seventh place in the Western Conference, but the Red Wings, who will host the Blues Sunday, downed Colorado 3-2 in overtime.

"We knew that we had another two points in a tight race in the Western Conference," Backes said. "We're in a spot where if we lose that game, they leap-frog us and we're on the outside looking in. (But) we win the game and ... not pull away, but we get to maintain our spot and keep the momentum from the last two big wins.

"They didn't make it easy on us by any means, and Jake made some great saves to bail us out at key times, but it's a good character win on the second of back-to-back for both teams. That was a battle for both teams to stay with it. Credit to a lot of character in here."

The Blue Jackets (16-15-7), who came in one point behind the Blues in the battle for eighth place in the West, had their three-game winning streak stopped in defenseman Adrian Aucoin's 1,100th career game. Artem Anisimov scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 16 shots one night after making 38 saves in the Blue Jackets' 3-1 road win against the Nashville Predators. St. Louis was back home after a 4-3 shootout win against the Blackhawks 24 hours earlier.

The Blues, who began the night 5-for-56 on an anemic power play in the last 21 games, finally got one on their third try of the game when Stewart converted Alex Pietrangelo's feed from below the goal line with 4:02 left in the second period to break a scoreless tie.

Pietrangelo maneuvered around former Blue Nikita Nikitin to find Stewart in the low slot, and the Blues' power forward was able to slip a backhand between Bobrovsky's pads.

"They don't give up much," Stewart said of the Blue Jackets. "This time of the year, you're going to have to score those ugly ones. I think that's what we did tonight. Perfect example was me and Backs going hard to the net and putting (the puck) home."

The Blues were lifted by the play of Allen, who made a number of key stops, including stopping Mark Letestu's shorthanded breakaway in the first minute of the second period.

"I just tried to be as patient as I could," Allen said. "I think he tried to go five-hole on me. If they would have scored that, it would have taken our momentum away.

"That's a huge save. That's my job, but it's a big boost for me as well. That was early in the second. It got my feet wet early in the second."

Columbus did get the equalizer when Anisimov skated out from behind the net and was able to beat Allen on the short side with 1:24 left in the second to tie it 1-1. Marian Gaborik picked up the assist, his third point in two games since joining the Blue Jackets in a trade deadline deal.

However, Allen would thwart the Blue Jackets the rest of the game. He even got the benefit of a call when the Blue Jackets thought they had the equalizer with 13:20 remaining. Cam Atkinson's shot from the slot got past Allen, but the officials immediately ruled no goal because Matt Calvert was ruled to be in the crease interfering with Allen.

"I thought it was a brutal call," Atkinson said. "There were a couple bad calls."

But Columbus center Ryan Johansen chose to credit Allen's play in net.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (left) makes a save on a breakaway attempt
by Columbus' Mark Letestu Friday night.

"He was good at directing pucks to the corner," Johansen said. "We were getting the main chances. You always want those second and third chances but their defense did a good job of clearing pucks or clearing bodies."

The first period was pretty indicative that both teams played the night before had to travel. There were few scoring chances -- Atkinson had the best ones, but he was denied twice by Allen from point-blank range with 5:17 remaining.

It was Allen who had something to prove after being lifted from his last start against Edmonton March 26 when he allowed three goals on seven shots.

"It was unfortunate what happened in the Edmonton game," Allen said. "Those games happen. they're bound to happen. I really couldn't do much about it after the game, so I was like whatever.

"When I got my next opportunity, I was going to make the most of it. I did tonight. Not just for myself, but for this team. Every point's huge."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold both made their home debuts Friday night. Bouwmeester collected two assists and now has three assists in two games as a Blue. Leopold is still looking for his first point. ... The Blues are now 15-2-1 on the season when Stewart registers at least a point, 5-12-1 when he's held scoreless. ... The Blues, who had only five power play goals in their last 21 games (5-for-56), were 1-for-3 on the man advantage. After killing both Columbus power plays, their penalty kill has killed off 24 of 25 in the last 10 games, including 13-for-13 in the last five games. ... Steen's assist on Backes' goal was the 300th point of his career. ... Columbus is now 11-3-3 in its last 17 after starting season 5-12-4.

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