Thursday, November 6, 2014

Seventh Heaven for Blues, who hold off Devils 4-3

Tarasenko stays hot; Allen nearly records third straight shutout in victory

ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko has been professing that as long as the Blues continue to win, the points he's accumulating are an added bonus.

His Blues teammates are even joking as much as marveling at his skills. Right now, Tarasenko is helping carry the Blues on his Russian shoulders, and the wins are right there next to him.

Tarasenko extended his torrid goal-scoring pace for the Blues, who defeated the New Jersey Devils for the second time in three days, 4-3 at Scottrade Center on Thursday night. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (middle) receives congratulations from teammates after
scoring in the first period Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils.

Tarasenko scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season and assisted on another for the Blues (9-3-1), who won their seventh straight game. They had last won seven in a row last season (Dec. 28, 2013-Jan. 9, 2014).

"We work hard every day," Tarasenko said. "It's not about the scoring, it's about the wins. We have seven in a row? So let's make it eight and prepare for the next game." 

Blues goalie Jake Allen had his shutout streak stopped at 184:01, allowing three late third-period goals.

"Those happen," Allen said. "I definitely have to learn from it. Luckily, we got that fourth goal, but that is something we can learn from. It’s good that it’s still early in the season. It’s going to be pivotal down the end to put that killer instinct and finish a team off."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who eerily picked up his 666th career victory against -- coincidentally -- the Devils, agreed.

"Jake was the story after two periods," Hitchcock said. "I feel bad for him. I feel like we let him down. It's a win but it feels a little bit like a loss because we let the guy down because he was so good. 

"Jersey came in with real purpose; they really pushed us hard. We pushed hard back in the third period, but I feel bad for him. He played a great hockey game." 

Jaden Schwartz had a goal and an assist, and Jori Lehtera had two assists for St. Louis.

Lehtera, who played with Tarasenko in the Kontinental Hockey League, made the jokes afterwards about being Tarasenko's press secretary.

"I don't know why I have to do his interviews and he's not here," Lehtera joked. "It's fun to play with him, and it's fun to take his interviews. I can't complain."

The line of Tarasenko, Schwartz and Lehtera has 14 points in four games in November.

"I like playing with those two, for sure," Schwartz said. "I’ve played with Tarasenko for a couple of years now. Whoever I’m playing with is fun and I enjoy it, but right now, there’s chemistry there."

The Devils (6-5-2) got two goals from Michael Ryder and one Marek Zidlicky, all in the final 3:25. Cory Schneider made 22 saves before he was replaced by Keith Kinkaid with 12:10 remaining in the third period.

"You lose you lose. This League is about points," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I thought tonight we needed to be opportunistic, we had some opportunities and didn’t cash in. They cashed in on theirs.

"They probably let their guard down a little bit with a 3-0 lead and we found a way to find the net a little bit. It wasn’t enough."

Tarasenko scored another highlight-reel goal, weaving through three Devils (Andy Greene, Michael Ryder and Damon Severson) and putting a sharp-angle wrist shot past Schneider with 4.8 seconds to play in the first period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.

"It was a good pass from Jaden," Tarasenko said. "I forgot about the time. ... It was four seconds left. It was kind of lucky.

"Nothing special. We practice a down low, 3-on-3 game in our practices. I just do like our stuff there." 

Schneider said Tarasenko is a hard player to defend these days.

"He came in with speed," Schneider said. "He's probably the hottest player in the League right now and you can't deny his skill.

"I tried to out-wait him and he's real patient and got it up at the end to which I wasn't sure he was going to be able to. Another nice goal from him."

The timeliness of Tarasenko's goals seem to be giving the Blues a jolt. Not just Thursday but in recent games.

"We expect that. He's a great player. He's a helluva player," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "It's a good line. We expect that. He's a difference-maker. 

"The thing that's impressive ... there's probably players in the league that have got as many goals as him but not as many important goals. If you list his important goals, it's terrific. That's what's to me more valuable than the amount of goals he's got, because those goals either win us hockey games, bring us back in hockey games, things like that. Overtime games, shootouts ... it's his important goals. His sense of timing, for me, is the most important part for the team. He's done a great job."

Schwartz gave the Blues a 2-0 lead after getting a stretch pass from Barret Jackman and beating Schneider over the right shoulder on a breakaway 11:05 into the second period after the Devils got caught on a bad line change. It was the first goal scored by a Blues player other than Tarasenko in 101:32. 

"I kind of knew they were changing. I didn't think I had that much time," Schwartz said. "It looked like on the replay I could have made a move or two if I needed to. They got caught in a bad change and Jax obviously had his head up and made a great pass."

Alexander Steen's power-play goal 7:10 into the third period, off a feed from Lehtera to the crease for a quick redirection, gave the Blues a 3-0 lead. 

Ryder snapped Allen's bid for a third straight shutout with a wrist shot from the right circle with 3:25 to play to make it 3-1. David Backes scored a power-play goal for the Blues at 17:28 to restore the three-goal lead before Zidlicky made it 4-2 with 1:51 to play. 

Ryder made it 4-3 with 50.5 seconds remaining off a feed from Jaromir Jagr.

Hitchcock said it wasn't so much what the Blues did wrong in the third period that got them in late trouble. 

"I saw it in the second period," Hitchcock said. "They outplayed us in the second period. They were better than we were. I thought we really grabbed it in the third. We did a great job. That was the best that we played the whole game, until they scored their first goal. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes scored what turned out to be the 
game-winning goal in the third period of a 4-3 
win against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.

"We played outstanding. The things we needed to do, our shifts, everything. It was outstanding. And then when we took the penalty, we had the power play killed. We had a chance to have a real clear, like we were in a perfect position, but we didn't communicate it off the boards and then we made some mistakes. And then on the second goal, we didn't sell out on the point shot. We had to sell out on the point shot. ... That score, that time, you've got to sell out. You've got to do whatever you've got to do, put your face in front of it to block it. You've got to do whatever you have to do."

But a win is a win, and that's what matters to the Blues.

"Obviously not ideal. You don't want to finish a game like that," Schwartz said. "But at the end of the day, it's a big two points. You can't let off the gas pedal there. They made a couple nice plays. We'll touch on that for sure."

Paul Stastny made his return to the lineup after missing eight games. He played 15 minutes, 37 seconds.

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