Monday, March 17, 2014

Backes pair helps Blues down Jets 3-1

St. Louis first team to eclipse 100 points, 
tempers flare at end of game between teams

ST. LOUIS -- It's that time of year.

Games are intense. Tempers are prone to flare up a time or two.

Or in the case of the Blues and Winnipeg Jets it was a plethora of fisticuffs at the end of a game in which the Blues won 3-1 Monday night at Scottrade Center.

As Chris Porter thought he scored into an empty-net with 0.1 seconds remaining in the game that would have given the Blues a three-goal lead, a moot point considering they had the game won. But back at the other end, a brawl began that ended with 100 penalty minutes being handed down to Blues players Barret Jackman, Ryan Reaves, Maxim Lapierre and Roman Polak as well as Jets players Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Olli Jokinen.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Chris Porter (left) attempts to fend off the Jets' Bryan Little
Monday night at Scottrade Center. The Blues defeated the Jets 3-1.

After a lengthy review, the war room in Toronto initially ruled Porter scored, but upon further review, the officials at the far end of the ice were blowing the play dead before Porter scored.

Porter and Lapierre were in the Winnipeg zone celebrating a goal when teammates were banging their sticks on the ice to get back in the defensive zone to help their teammates who had already been engaged.

"I don't know what happened behind the play," Lapierre said. "I guess both teams just stick together. I guess nothing bad happened.

"The main thing at the end like that, nobody wants to get hurt. Both teams stuck together and it's good to see that."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, "End off the game is the end of the game. It happens.

"They've got scoring players on there. I don't view that as any big deal. Those things happen. I thought it was a physical game." 

All in all, it was two more points for the Blues, who were playing without two of the top-six forwards. It didn't faze the team leading the NHL in points. 

The Blues will be without Vladimir Tarasenko for six weeks with a right hand injury, and T.J. Oshie missed the game against the Jets because of the birth of his first child, a daughter, earlier in the day. It left the Blues void of 38 goals Monday night. 

But, David Backes' power play goal with 6:51 remaining snapped a tie game and the Blues remained hot by defeating the Jets for the fourth time this season (4-0-1). 

Backes had two goals, Brenden Morrow scored and goalie Ryan Miller stopped 16 shots to remain unbeaten in regulation with St. Louis (7-0-1). 

The Blues are the first team in the League to hit the century mark in points (101), moving four points ahead of their closest competitors, the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. 

St. Louis improved to 47-14-7 on the season and is 8-0-1 in its past nine games, 7-0-2 in the past nine home games and 20-0-2 against Central Division opponents. 

It's the sixth time in franchise history that the Blues have reached 100 or more points, the last being the 2011-12 season.

The Blues have played without key players throughout the season but missing 

"'Vova' with his injury, we're hoping he's back sooner than later and then our thoughts are with 'Osh,' Lauren and the new baby in the hospital," Backes said. "Hopefully he'll be back with us soon. We miss a guy like that, all his energy. 

"We had to fabricate a little energy in the locker room before we went out. He's quite a spark plug for us. You miss a guy like that, not just in the room but on the ice too making plays all over the place. They're both missed, but we're going to have little instances like that throughout the year, throughout the rest of the season, throughout the playoffs. Different guys stepping in to fill those roles, it's good to see."

Eric O'Dell scored for the Jets, who remained four points behind the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes for the Western Conference's second wild-card spot in the race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Jets goalie Al Montoya stopped 22 shots in the loss.

After Evander Kane took a slashing penalty in the offensive zone, Backes gave the Blues the lead with their only shot with the man advantage after he took a caromed puck in the slot off a shot from Ian Cole and beat Montoya five-hole at 13:09 of the third period.

"I wish I had a beautiful explanation for you that it was all planned out and great hockey sense," Backes joked. "At that time of the game, power play late, power plays for both teams weren't real spectacular to say the least earlier. Just kind of dumbing it down, shooting the puck, getting bodies to the net and I was able to find a loose one and swatting at it and rolled her through there."

Jets coach Paul Maurice lamented that Kane took an offensive zone penalty and against the Blues' Chris Porter.

"We just can’t be in the box there," Maurice said. "That’s the bottom line on that play."

O'Dell had tied the game for the Jets (31-30-9) 1:55 into the third after taking a pass from Kane in a 4-on-4 situation and beat Miller, who dove out to try to poke-check the puck.

It was a game then, and not because the Jets fought their way back in, according to Hitchcock, but more so because the Blues failed to capitalize when the chances were there in the second period.

"For us, we made a game of it because we couldn't pull away because of all the scoring chances," Hitchcock said. "That made a game of it. 

"We really played well in the second period and kind of got a little bit sloppy in the last four, five minutes. But the first 15 minutes, 16 minutes we played in the second period, we could have had four, five goals if we would have salted it away and gave them a chance to play in the third period."

Backes was given credit for an empty-net goal with 1:11 remaining when he was taken down by Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba while trying to go for the empty net to make it 3-1. It's Backes' first goal without actually putting the puck in the net.

"I think it is," Backes said. "That doesn't happen a whole lot. Sometimes when things aren't going perfect for you, you'll take them any way you can get them. Hopefully that's the start of a little streak here." 

"I don’t think that game should have gone to 3-1," Maurice said. "I don’t think that’s an automatic goal. I don’t think it’s a slash. He goes down, maybe they locked feet. But it’s not unimpeded progress. 

"That game should be still 2-1 in my mind. But 2-1 is still a deficit for us."

Morrow snapped a 10-game scoring drought when he one-timed Derek Roy's centering feed past Montoya 1:44 into the second period to break a scoreless game. 

After Jay Bouwmeester's point shot got blocked, a bouncing puck eluded Jets wing Devin Setoguchi, and Roy was able to slot a pass to Morrow. Bouwmeester broke a 12-game pointless streak and Roy also snapped a 10-game drought. Bouwmeester had two assists in the game.

"The whole line there had five, six scoring chances, which is what we're looking for," Hitchcock said of Roy, Morrow and Steve Ott. "If that's our third line, especially with Roy in the middle, that should be an advantage for us. We've got to make it an advantage. We've got to get them playing collectively better and helping out because those are experienced players who can score points.

"Strong on the puck in the offensive zone, patient, strong, not throwing it away, being determined, supporting each other, the whole thing. They were skating. They skated with the puck, they skated from the first touch with the puck instead of standing still and inviting contact. They moved their feet and created seams and openings because of it."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (left) scored twice to lead the Blues past the Jets Monday
night. Here, Backes fends off Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom.

"Every line helped contribute throughout the night in their own way," Ott said.

Miller only saw five Jets shots in the second period but was up to the task on a couple quality shots, including saves on Wheeler after a neutral zone giveaway and Bryan Little after a Blues line change that could have produced disastrous results. 

An uneventful first period produced only 13 shots between the teams, hardly any stoppages in play and zero penalties. The Jets' Anthony Peluso had the best chance with a point-blank backhand that Miller was able to get his paddle down to make the stop.

"We had a lot of good players," said Hitchcock, whose team improved to 38-1-5 when scoring first and 30-0-4 when leading after two periods. "We didn't finish like we normally would have but we had a lot of good players in the game today. I thought we managed the game well. We got up to speed more and more. ... We had all six defensemen contribute. We had four lines chip in when we had to. You like to see rewards for working this hard, getting that many scoring opportunities."

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