Sunday, November 10, 2013

Preaching 60-minute games, Blues needed one vs. Penguins

Timely goals, air-tight defense, strong goaltending
help seal 2-1 victory that begins series of tough challenges

ST. LOUIS -- If there's an old adage that Ken Hitchcock and the Blues' players consistently use, it's a 60-minute game.

Not only does the Blues' coach harp on a strong game from start to finish on a daily basis, it might be a phrase that echoes throughout locker rooms throughout the NHL.

And on Saturday, when the Blues needed a 60-minute effort against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defenseman Ian Cole said is chalk-full of world class talent, they came through with one.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (left) made sure players like
the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (right) did not get much free real estate.

"That was our best all-around game that we've played," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman, who assisted on the game-winner, said after the Blues defeated the Penguins 2-1 Saturday. "We played hard for 60 minutes. We didn't give up after they got that power play goal. We just kept sticking to our game plan trying to get turnovers in their zone.

"It was one of those games where you just stuck with it and got the win."

The Blues (11-2-2) had no choice but to bring their 'A' game. With a cast of players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Chris Kunitz along with a world class goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury as well as a cast of others, the Blues could ill-afford to have any slip-ups on a night in which the Penguins had the ability to pounce at a moment's notice.

"I think Pittsburgh's competitiveness made us play 60 minutes," Hitchcock said. "I think across the board, we got a lot of good efforts from a lot of people. I thought we got stronger and stronger as the game went on. Our third period was our best, our second was awfully good, too. I thought we played a really smart, strong, hard hockey game. Both teams competed at a very high level.

"They were hard on our top players, they were all over Steener (Alexander Steen). We were hard on their top players, tried to make it as hard as we could. It was a playoff game and we scored the big goal in the third period, but we played a heck of a third period."

That came off the stick of Kevin Shattenkirk, who literally sliding back away from the goal and towards the blue line, fired a wrister past teammate Vladimir Tarasenko and Malkin and the puck had eyes.

Fleury got a piece of it, but the puck squirted through Fleury and trickled across the goal line midway through the third period.

The Blues then clamped down and didn't allow the high-flying Penguins any time to free-wheel with the puck. As a matter of fact, they did their best to simply keep the puck away from the Penguins altogether.

"It's nice to get good teams like this to come in because it keeps you on your toes the entire game and you have to be aware of who's on the ice at every second and I think we did a great job of that tonight," said Shattenkirk, who extended his points streak to eight games (one goal, eight assists).

And if that wasn't enough, the Blues were energized by their fourth line players. Ryan Reaves gave the crowd of 18,685 a jolt with a fight three seconds into the game, then scored his second goal of the season and 11th of his career off a nice high-slot redirection of Maxim Lapierre's feed.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
It was that kind of night for Penguins star Sidney Crosby (left), who had the
Blues' Maxim Lapierre (40) draped all over him.
"Our line wants to drive the net," Lapierre said. "It's a pretty simple play and great job of Revo driving the net. ... Maybe I got lucky, but this is what I was trying.

"I think it was an unreal team game tonight. The focus was on little details. Everybody was blocking shots and working really hard. I think we're really proud with ourselves."

The Blues have tough conference challenges in Phoenix (Tuesday) and surprising Colorado (Thursday) coming into town the next two games. In a three-phase series of games, the Blues passed the opening test.

"This was a game I said two days ago we needed," Hitchcock said after the game. "We get a good evaluation off our team. We get really significant Western Conference opponents coming in now. They'll be hard opponents to play and we'll get further evaluation then."

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