Thursday, February 6, 2014

Oshie OT winner gives Blues 3-2 triumph against Bruins

Halak sharp with season-high 36 saves; St. Louis 
squanders third straight two-goal lead on home ice

ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock never had a second thought who was going to play goal Thursday night.

Jaroslav Halak historically has a strong penchant for bouncing back when the chips were against him the previous game.

Halak wasn't necessarily poor in a shootout loss against the Ottawa Senators Tuesday, but the Blues' No. 1 netminder wasn't a difference-maker either.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
T.J. Oshie celebrates his overtime goal Thursday night in a 3-2 victory
against the Boston Bruins.

Halak was a difference-maker Thursday night, and the Blues needed him to be against a strong Boston Bruins team.

Halak's season-high 36 saves, coupled with T.J. Oshie's overtime goal with 1:31 remaining gave the Blues a 3-2 victory against the Bruins before 19,671 at Scottrade Center.

The ability to bounce back was never in doubt with Hitchcock, and he came back to his top guy again.

"Always does," Hitchcock said. "He's got great ability to just drop it and move onto the next day, and that's what you love in a goalie.

"Our most competitive player tonight was the goalie. The goalie was outstanding, and he helped us a lot."

Oshie called it luck. The Blues called it two points.

After squandering a two-goal lead on home ice for the third consecutive game and losing the last one, the Blues were determined not to let it happen again.

Oshie would pick off a Carl Soderberg pass, as the Bruins forward was trying to rim the puck around the boards. The puck popped to the side of goalie Tuukka Rask, and Oshie got to a loose puck. After a couple whacks, Oshie jammed it inside the near post for his first career overtime goal.

"It was a lucky bounce that it went there," Oshie said of his 14th goal of the season. "I saw it laying there and kind of started jamming. It might have went under his arm or something. A lucky bounce and we'll take the point for sure."

Rask never could quite get a firm grasp of where the puck wound up after Soderberg's play.

"It hit Oshie's skate and it hit the back of the net and it was on his stick," Rask said. "Then he backed it off my pad, I guess."

Alexander Steen and Jaden Schwartz also scored for the Blues. Halak improved to 8-3-0 in his career against Boston, including winning four straight.

The Blues nearly lost the game early in the overtime period, but Alex Pietrangelo, who blamed himself for the Bruins' tying goal, was able to thwart Jarome Iginla's effort on a wide open net with 3:09 remaining.

After the puck came into the crease, Pietrangelo was able to turn and throw his stick in the direction of Iginla, who tried to coral a bouncing puck before knocking it into an empty side.

"Whoa, I had to make up for the second goal there," Pietrangelo said. "I'm lucky I just got stick on stick. Just turned around ... that's a big one at that point. It felt good after the second goal.

"I knew (Iginla) was sitting back there. I just didn't know if he had it or not. I just turned, he took the extra second I guess and I got lucky."

The Blues (38-12-6) moved within two points of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division and three points of the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks. 

The Blues are 42-11-7 against Eastern Conference teams since 2010-11, the League's best record in inter-conference play over that span. They're 18-4-2 against the East this season, 10-0-1 at home. 

The win gave Hitchcock 110 wins as Blues coach, tying him with Scotty Bowman for fourth on the franchise's all-time wins list. 

Boston (36-16-4) got goals from David Krejci and Brad Marchand, and Rask stopped 24 shots.

St. Louis came out of the second intermission on top 2-0, but Boston came on strong in the third period. 

Krejci finally got the Bruins on the board with a wrist shot from the high slot past a screened Halak at 9:16. Milan Lucic was in front providing the screen on the play. 

Marchand scored his 18th goal 2:08 later after Johnny Boychuk's blast from the point caromed fast off the boards and Marchand snapped a shot home from a sharp angle to tie the game 2-2.

Pietrangelo was in position to make a play on Marchand but was not able to.

"I've just got to find a way to eliminate the stick," Pietrangelo said. "It was a strange bounce at a weird angle, but at the same time, I found a way to make up for it there in overtime."

The Blues didn't panic. They felt like they had played a strong third period despite allowing the lead to evaporate.

"I think we played a really good third period," Halak said. "Although they came back and scored two goals, the first goal, it was a really good shot; even the second one, it was a helluva shot from almost the goal line putting it off the post. 

"I don't think we could have done anything different about those two, but I think we responded the right way after when they scored. We skated hard, we battled hard and we didn't give them any easy chances after."

On Tuesday, the Blues blew a 3-1 lead against the Ottawa Senators by allowing three goals over a 2:35 span of the third period on their way to a 5-4 shootout loss. They lost a 2-0 lead Saturday against the Nashville Predators before rebounding to win 4-3 in a shootout.

"We don't want to get into a habit of this," Oshie said. "We work hard to get the lead and we've got to hold it, especially in our home barn."

Steen scored his 28th of the season when the Blues broke out on an odd-man rush following a Bruins line change. Steen stepped into a slap shot just inside the right circle and beat Rask above the right pad with 4:12 left in the first for the lone goal of the period. 

Julien was upset on the play, as the officials missed a high stick on Blues forward Maxim Lapierre, who clipped Loui Eriksson moments before the goal. Eriksson went to the Bruins' locker room and did not return for the remainder of the period.

"Well it wasn't so much that it wasn't called," Julien said. "The linesman saw it and the rule is the linesman can call it if it's a high-stick and there's blood. We thought it was going to get called because he told us he had seen it but that the whistle had to be blown right away and it wasn't. 

"We had a player that lost some teeth and had quite a few stitches in his mouth. He's just taking his lumps so it's a little disappointing, but it's a game and you move on." 

The Blues increased their lead when Schwartz scored his 18th goal 3:32 into the second. Schwartz skated into the Bruins zone, used Kevan Miller as a screen, and fired a shot between Miller's legs that Rask didn't see before it grazed off his left shoulder and went into the top of the net. It was Schwartz's eighth point in 10 games. 

Halak was sharp, making a number of key saves when he saw 13 shots in the second period and 24 through two periods. 

Halak made the first save of the third period 5:40 in, and it was a good one. He gloved down Dougie Hamilton's wrister from the slot with the teams playing 4-on-4.

"I felt really good out there, especially after the last game," said Halak, who has a 1.90 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in his career against the Bruins. "I knew I had to be better for our guys and help them. I'm happy that I was able to do it tonight. I'm even more happy we got two points tonight."

"We were under siege in the second period ... got away with it," Hitchcock said. "I know we let in two goals in the third, but I thought we competed harder. When the game got tied, I thought we really started to compete. I thought our sense of urgency throughout our lineup ... our puck battles, our board battles really increased and carried on into overtime especially. The overtime was our most competitive part of our game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brenden Morrow (right) played in his 900th career game Thursday night
against the Boston Bruins.

"We had some people step up today and compete at a high level. We still have to drag more into the fight. ... I think when you play Boston, it's a great evaluator. It's just a fun evaluator. It gives you a real good read on your competitive level personally, it gives you a great read on your execution under pressure. Their forwards put so much pressure on you ... skating, physicality, tenacity, board play. They really force you to evaluate how things are. We're happy we won. We took four points from them in this series. We're real happy about that, but it also gives us a chance to know what we need to get better at. I think that's what you're looking for as a coach."

The Blues are now 32-1-4 when they score first, 23-0-3 when leading after one period and 26-0-4 when leading after two. The Blues improved to 54-0-2 in the past 56 games when scoring three or more goals on home ice, 19-0-1 this season.

It didn't come without a fight.

"They're a hard team to play against," Oshie said. "They maybe belong in the West, I think. They play hard, they skate hard. It seems like everyone on their team works hard, back-checks, goes hard. We have tough battles against them and they're a great team. It's good to get this extra point tonight."

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