Friday, April 18, 2014

Steen scores another playoff OT goal in 4-3 win against Blackhawks

Tarasenko scores in return, Cracknell, Schwartz also net first career 
playoff goals, Miller rebounds after slow start to give Blues 1-0 series lead

ST. LOUIS -- April 30, 2013 was the date. Alexander Steen was the hero in a 2-1 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Kings.

Thursday night, it was a feeling of deja vu. But this time, the result was just as dramatic, but a marathon was needed for the same result.

Steen's goal 26 seconds into triple overtime, set up by Steve Ott's flip pass to the slot, helped the Blues rally past the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Game 1 of a Western Conference First Round matchup at Scottrade Center in the longest game in Blues franchise history (40:26 of overtime).

The Blues lead the best-of-7 series 1-0. Game 2 is Saturday at 2 p.m.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues teammates David Backes (second from left), Steve Ott (29) and Alex
Pietrangelo (27) celebrate with Alexander Steen (left) after Steen scored
in triple overtime to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 Thursday.

David Backes got the puck to Ott, whose flip pass to Steen in the slot gave the Blues' right wing a chance to snap a shot over the right shoulder of Corey Crawford and send the Scottrade Center crowd into delirium.

"He kind of had a peek right before I came in," Steen said of Ott. "I felt like he knew I was coming. Both 'Backs' and him, great plays on that goal.

"Obviously it's a good feeling. I'm happy to get the first win. Big plays by 'Backs' and 'Otter.'"

It capped a night in which the Blackhawks, who scored all three goals in the first period on their first seven shots, were stymied the rest of the way by Ryan Miller, who grew better as the game moved along. He stopped 39 shots.

Adam Cracknell, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz all scored their first career playoff goals. They helped the Blues erase a season-ending six-game losing streak. Chicago got goals from Johnny Oduya, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, "Steener is not going to miss it from the ladies tee there. He's not going to miss that." 

But Hitchcock, who spoke earlier on Thursday of the necessity of putting Ott on the line with Backes and Steen because, "I think from our standpoint, he's a player that allows us to use Steen and Backes in a more offensive role than maybe even they have all year." Well, Ott had his moments, but when a necessary play was needed, he provided it at an ample time.

"He played well all night," Hitchcock said. "He gave a big boost to us. 

"That's the first time we moved him up, through necessity, but he helped us a lot tonight. He played the way we thought he could play. He adds a lot of elements to us. When he plays at that tempo, that type of energy, with that type of focus, he's a good player.

"For a 3-3 hockey game, man there were a lot of scoring chances, or it felt like there were a lot of scoring chances. Because both coaches played four lines so much I thought both teams group of forwards, as the game went on really started to control the tempo of the game. They seemed to have the breakaways and we seemed to have a lot of 3-on-2s just because there was so much being put into the game by both sides. I think both teams realized that the knockout punch was going to be needed and both teams put a lot into this game."

The Blues started rough, waded through the second period and rode some key and timely saves by their netminder, then poured a lot into the third period before getting the equalizer.

A five-goal first period saw the teams settle into the game until the third period, when the Blues attacked and finally got the equalizer down a goal.

Oduya tried to throw a backhand around the boards from behind his net to defensive linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson, but Schwartz pinched and poked the puck loose, got it back from Derek Roy and beat Crawford with a backhand five-hole past Oduya with 1:45 remaining.

"We never stopped working," Schwartz said of the Blues, who outshot the Blackhawks 14-6 in the third. "We never stopped believing. We kept rolling the lines. We had chances. There was never a doubt. It was a big goal. To stand here and say I knew I was going to score, I'd be lying, but I wanted to do everything I could and it was definitely nice.

"I just tried to create havoc on (Hjalmarsson) as much as I could. I knew the middle forward was open, but I took my chance going down the wall and it ended up working out."

The Blues had the first great crack at winning in overtime, when Chris Porter had a couple whacks at the puck to the right of Crawford, and then when the puck squirted through the crease, Tarasenko whiffed on a bouncing puck that would have ended it.

Kris Versteeg had a chance late in overtime to win it for the Blackhawks, but Maxim Lapierre was in the right place at the right time on the one-timer, as the shot beat Miller but Lapierre was behind his goalie to make the stop with his body.

"We talked about it, but like I've got to work on my rebounds a little bit," Lapierre joked. "It went right back into the slot, but that's playoffs. Guys like me take pride in blocking shots and doing the little details. I think the two guys I played with tonight were unreal. They just work really hard and we keep it simple and we had success."

Miller, who stopped the final 35 shots he saw, robbed Patrick Sharp on a breakaway attempt, making a sliding save with 2:41 remaining in the second overtime. 

"I didn't think he had it set up to go backhand," Miller said of Sharp. "He's quick with that little chip glove, so I just tried to stay close to him  and he didn't get it up. Fortunately for me."

Both teams had power play attempts in the second overtime (Chicago also had one in the first overtime, both delay of game penalties on the Blues), and Alex Pietrangelo had the best chance to score for the Blues but missed a bouncing puck in the slot.

A wild first period saw the Blues go ahead, fall behind, tie it, then fall behind late.

Cracknell's first career playoff goal put the Blues ahead 1-0 as the fourth line generated zone time. Pietrangelo, who played a career-high 44:08, kept the play alive with a diving pass to Porter, whose backhand to the net saw Cracknell crash the crease and knock home the first goal of the series 4:40 into the game.

Chicago tied it 1-1 when Johnny Oduya's shot from the left circle after a cross-ice pass from Brandon Saad beat Miller off the pad. The Blues got caught with too many men on one side of the ice that allowed the pass, and Oduya tied it at 11:14.

Seabrook'spower play goal, a one-timer from the right circle after Versteeg found him from behind the net, gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead at 14:39.

Tarasenko, playing his first game since March 15, tied the game 2-2 when Kevin Shattenkirk fed him with a cross-ice pass into the left circle. He snapped a puck into the open side at 15:52.

"Oh he was huge," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "I mean, now all of a sudden we look like we're dangerous off the rush again. We've been struggling with that since he's gone out and a couple of other guys, but we look dangerous off the rush again."

But the Hawks reclaimed the lead moments after Derek Roy snapped a shot from the slot off the cross bar, and Patrick Kane, playing in his first game since March 19, got a stretch pass from Jonathan Toews, also playing his first game since March 30. Kane beat Miller five-hole on a breakaway with 1:36 left in the period, Chicago's third goal on only seven shots.

After an average first, Miller kept the Blues at bay with some key saves early in the second when Chicago applied pressure.

"I had to enter the battle sometime," said Miller, who went the final 82:02 without allowing a goal after giving up three in a span of 7:10. "They had a couple nice shots there in the first. I didn't set up the breakaway on Kane very well, as you might have seen. I thought I could get him in a situation where I could give myself an advantage that totally backfired.

"I had to come out and battle. Luckily I got a hold of a few of them. I feel good overall. The first was, I was just going to try and shrug it off and keep going and know it wasn't about one period. It was about a culmination of four (wins) in seven games. I try not to change my approach for any one period. Nice to come out on the right side."

Crawford, who only saw three shots on goal in the second, needed to be up to the challenge on two of them. He stopped Tarasenko with a sprawling stop roughly seven minutes into the period, then was able to corral Ott's one-timer from the left circle after a feed from Steen.

In the end, the Blues accomplished something they hadn't done in two weeks: win a game.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Chris Porter (32) checks the Blackhawks' Nick Leddy during play
in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series Thursday. 

"We get such great support here and from our standpoint we needed to at least get the game into overtime," Hitchcock said. "By doing that I think it engaged us, I think it engaged our fans in believing that we're a good team because of everything that's happened. I think sometimes people don't look at who is in and out of the lineup, they look at the crest on the sweater. I think the players really put a lot into this because they don't want this season to just wilt away. They're going to put up a fight here. Whatever happens happens, that's a great team over there, but we're going to put up a fight, hopefully."

The Blues, who played without forwards T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund (upper-body injuries) lost defenseman Jay Bouwmeester for most of the first overtime and all of the second overtime with what Hitchcock termed "dehydration." But he returned for the third overtime and Hitchcock said he was fine.

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