Saturday, April 5, 2014

Avs blank frustrated Blues 4-0

Tensions flared near end of game as both teams 
combined for 12 game-misconducts; Roy calls Backes "gutless"

ST. LOUIS -- Should the Blues and Colorado Avalanche clash in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, expect there to be plenty of unpleasantness in a seven-game series.

There's no denying how flat and poor the Blues were in a 4-0 loss Saturday afternoon at Scottrade Center, but the ongoings of the third period is what will be remembered.

It started after Colorado fourth-liner Patrick Bordeleau hit Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk with a hit along the boards near center ice. Bordeleau, who only got a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct after Shattenkirk teammate Barret Jackman went after him, got a high elbow on Shattenkirk, who was incensed and was restrained by trainer Ray Barile after slowly getting up and going towards the Colorado Bench. This all happened at 7 minutes, 59 seconds of the third period of a 3-0 game.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) made 31 saves in helping Colorado shut
out the Blues and Steve Ott (29) 4-0 Saturday afternoon.

It got better as Brenden Morrow was tossed from the game 10:49 into the third period when he was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for cross-checking Colorado's John Mitchell.

Blues captain David Backes drew the ire of Avs coach Patrick Roy after he tussled with 2013 No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon with 5:17 left, that left Roy calling Backes "gutless" afterwards.

When the Blues went after Bordeleau with 2:08 left, it started a melee on the ice with Steve Ott, who earlier in the period called out Bordeleau from the bench, going after the Colorado ruffian. But officials wouldn't allow the fight to proceed.

The Blues were not happy with what happened to Shattenkirk, and it escalated from there, prompting Roy to say, "To me, it's gutless from Backes. It shows what kind of leader he is. If you're going after an 18-year-old and he could go after (Maxime) Talbot in the first ... not very impressed. Gutless in my opinion."

To which Backes replied, "He's entitled to his opinion, that's OK."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't thrilled when an Avalanche reporter broached the subject in his postgame press conference.

"Tell Patrick he can talk to you; don't come in here and comment on him," Hitchcock said. "I've done my commenting on him. 

"He can say whatever he wants. He always has something to say after every game. You guys pick up what he wants. I'm worried about my team, the way we play."

As for the Bordeleau elbow, well, the Blues weren't going to allow that to slide.

The only regret Hitchcock had after the game was not having Ryan Reaves on the ice.

But with the Blues (52-18-7) playing against the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday at 11:30 a.m., there was some logic to Hitchcock's thoughts there.

"The league will deal with Bordeleau, so whatever," Hitchcock said. "Whether he left the feet, they'll go over all their stuff and decide what they're going to do. Down the line, we'll answer Bordeleau. It's all the debris. He'll have to fight somebody and we'll get rid of that debris or if we feel he went after Shatty, then there'll be a response from us on their defenseman. It's just part of the culture. 

"I think the thing I probably should have done is put Revo out there and made for an even bigger explosion. That looking back is probably one thing I could have done, but that's not the issue. The issue is scoring goals. We didn't create enough offense the second half of the game. We looked slow, we didn't execute on all the 2-on-1's we got. That's the bigger issue for me." 

Hitchcock continued: "To me, it was more we play tomorrow. There's another game tomorrow. We don't get these guys ... if we get these guys later in a situation in the playoffs. I'm trying to get the game for tomorrow because I knew there was going to be a suspension coming. Because I knew there was going to be something dramatic and how long the suspension was going to be for and how long it was going to happen. It could have been very ugly. Probably looking back on it, maybe if you give me a couple days, I'll think differently, but right now, we've got a hockey game to play tomorrow and then we get a day off, then we play again. That to me is more important, to be honest with you than having a reaction or calling Landeskog gutless or whatever."

Backes' message was in response to the hit Shattenkirk.

"The hit on Shatty and our response is what it is," he said. "It's their player, who he is, going after Shatty, who he is. And the power play, and a 3-goal lead, there were some liberties I feel like (were taken). 

"It's a competition. I drop my gloves and never throw a punch and end up with whatever many penalty minutes out of the ordeal. It's frustration, everything boiling over for a lot of guys after they don't respond well."

Jackman was one of 12 players who got game-misconducts in the third period.

"Shatty goes down and takes one to the face. I haven't seen a replay, but any time a guy's injured, you stick up for him," Jackman said. "We probably carried it too far and let our emotions get too high and that's something you can't do."

All in all, the Blues received 99 minutes in penalties (91 in the third period) and the Avalanche got 68 minutes in penalties 56 in the third period).

"It's one thing to release (the tension), but you can't let it to continue to boil and get away from your game," Jackman said. "It's something ... it happened. We should have focused energy on going to their net hard and banging their top players instead of maybe reacting too much."

As for the game itself, the Blues had a chance with a win Saturday and Sunday against the Blackhawks to clinch the Central Division title.

Those plans will have to wait.

Three goals in the first 10:25 of the second period, scored by Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon and Nick Holden, gave the Avalanche the lead, and Semyon Varlamov made 31 saves. 

The Avalanche (50-21-6) won their 50th game for the second time in franchise history (they won 52 in 2000-01). They are within five points (111-106) of the first-place Blues with five games remaining.

Stastny had one goal and two assists and MacKinnon had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, who defeated the Blues for the first time in four games this season. Colorado scored two power play goals and got great goaltending.

The Blues ended a five-game homestand 3-2-0. But in the final three games, they scored only two goals (both against the Buffalo Sabres) and were shut out twice. After beating the Minnesota Wild 5-1 to open the homestand, the Blues finished with four goals over the final four games.

"For me, it's inactivity on the power play," said Hitchcock, whose team was 0 for 4 on the power play. "When you're not scoring goals, it put's a lot of pressure on a lot of areas. To me, it's getting our best players, helping them along to get them to play better at this time of year. 

"We look slow offensively and we've got to get more energy built up there. Our top players are on the power play; we've got to get them playing better. We've got to look and be a lot more creative than we are from a goal-scoring standpoint. It puts a lot of pressure in other areas."

"It's nothing that's un-fixable," David Backes said. "It's bearing down and making sure with 5 games left we need to get in playoff mode. Let's start to play the way we need to be successful and start bearing down. You take a game like tonight in the playoffs and all of a sudden it can be a difference-maker in a series. That's a playoff team."

Stastny, who's had his way against the team in the city where he grew up, scored for the 11th time in 24 games against St. Louis (30 points) when he knocked in a rebound at the side of the goal past Ryan Miller 1:14 into the second period after Vladimir Sobotka received an extra minor at the end of the first period for cross-checking Gabriel Landeskog.

"It seemed like things weren't falling in place for us," said Miller, who stopped 25 shots. "We got a little bit frustrated and let things kind of get away. ... To a man, we can all be better, myself included. Can't let that get away from us. Rebound on the second one and I've got to battle through and come up with some saves.

"Once you get a lead in this league, you can kind of dictate a little bit more. The second period, they definitely looked a little more confident than they did early on. It's hockey. You've got to go through those stretches. You've got to have a response for it."

The Avalanche made it 2-0 off another rebound goal, when MacKinnon one-timed a shot from the left circle past Miller 6:20 into the second, following up Jamie McGinn's shot from the top of the right circle. 

Holden completed the three-goal period when he crashed the net and knocked the puck into the net with his skate at 10:25. The play went to review, and although there was a distinct kicking motion, the goal counted because, as Rule 49.2 explains, "a kicked puck that deflects off the stick of any player (excluding the goalie's stick) shall be ruled a good goal." 

Ryan O'Reilly scored a power-play goal off a Stastny feed at 15:55 of the third. 

"I think we went silent tonight," Jackman said. "They were playing us hard. They came at us with the fight that they wanted the two points. I think when things went tough, we got stuck in our zone because we weren't talking to each other. We kind of got off the page of moving the puck short little distances and working as a team to get it out. We were a little more as individuals tonight and that's not going to win you games."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues forward Brenden Morrow (10) looks to redirect a puck in front of 
Colorado defenseman Andre Benoit.

Varlamov came into the game with a .936 save percentage lifetime against the Blues despite a 4-4-1 career record.

It just boiled over for the Blues, who are missing injured forwards Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko, and their offensive woes.

"For me, it's inactivity on the power play," Hitchcock said. "When you're not scoring goals, it put's a lot of pressure on a lot of areas. To me, it's getting our best players, helping them along to get them to play better at this time of year. We look slow offensively and we've got to get more energy built up there. Our top players are on the power play; we've got to get them playing better. We've got to look and be a lot more creative than we are from a goal-scoring standpoint. It puts a lot of pressure in other areas. 

"We played very well the first period, but then when we got the special teams, we didn't execute worth a darn. We fumbled the puck. We weren't good. We weren't crisp with our execution. It allowed a team like Colorado, which wasn't in the game in the first period, it allowed them to stick around, and then they got a couple goals in the second."

What will Hitchcock do?

"We've got to change the lines," he said. "We've got to blow it up, start over. We'll figure it out."

Derek Roy, a healthy scratch Saturday, 

"We've got to get (Roy) going," Hitchcock said. "He's got to get himself going, we've got to get him going. He's a skilled guy, we've got to get him going. He's a skill guy. We've got to get him going. It's like any other team at this time. Your best skill players have to be productive at this time if you're going to win hockey games. We've won a lot of close games."

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled goalie Niklas Lundstrom, who was the team's fifth round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.

Lundstrom, 21, appeared in 26 games in the Swedish League this season, including stints with AIK and Sodertalje SK.  

He's 6-foot-2 and 187-pounds  and has posted a 7-15-0 record, including a 2.94 goals against average and a .893 save percentage and one shutout.

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