Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Steen's OT winner helps Blues rally past Pittsburgh 3-2

Former Penguins have hand in all St. Louis goals, which ends six-game trip 3-1-2

PITTSBURGH -- The reunion of former players between the Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't have been scripted for the Blues any better if they would have wrote it weeks ahead of the game.

It was the classic biting the hand that once fed you.

And good thing the script played out accordingly because goals by former Penguins Robert Bortuzzo and Marcel Goc dug the Blues out of a hole and Zbynek Michalek's shot-pass in overtime to set up Alexander Steen's game-winner helped the Blues end a grueling road trip taking eight of a possible 12 points.

Steen scored 35 seconds into overtime as the Blues erased a two-goal deficit and earned a huge 3-2 victory against the Penguins on Tuesday at CONSOL Energy Center in a game not so much fun for former Blues Ian Cole, Maxim Lapierre and David Perron.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues celebrate an overtime victory Tuesday in Pittsburgh on a goal
by Alexander Steen (second from left).

The Blues (46-21-7, 99 points) kept their hold on first place in the Central Division by one point over the Nashville Predators, who also won 3-2 in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, and five over the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues and Predators each have eight games remaining. Chicago has 10 games left.

But after getting down two goals within seconds in the second period, the Blues didn't buckle. They just reloaded, regrouped and used some much-needed momentum from crafty veteran Steve Ott, who dropped his gloves with Penguins veteran Craig Adams and sparked his teammates in a spirited fight.

The Blues fed off it, eventually evened the game and won it in the end.

"This is hockey; it's small margin and they got a couple breaks and they ended up in the back of our net," Steen said. "We weren't playing bad by any means. We felt like we (should) stick to it and then a lot of credit to 'Otter.' His fight changed a lot of the momentum right away off the draw. That was a huge, huge part of our win tonight. Character guys ... can't say enough about these guys. Bortuzzo has been unreal since he's got here, Otter quietly going about his business, but doing everything right, 'Gocher,' 'Portzy' (Chris Porter) ... these guys are unreal.

"(Ott's) so underrated with those things. Just how he handles himself out there on the ice, how he gets the guys on opposing teams, how he regroups our boys in the room. He's so important to our team."

Linemate Ryan Reaves, who assisted on Goc's tying goal, said, "It was a game-changing play in the game. I think they're up 2-0 and I think right in front of their bench, he catches him with a couple and I think momentum swings or gets our bench going."

The Penguins scored twice in a 17-second span in the second period to go up 2-0, getting goals from sudden Blues killer Blake Comeau and then from Steve Downie.

Comeau's third against the Blues this season came after Daniel Winnik came out of the box following a 4-on-4 and fed Comeau, who had a step on Michalek. Comeau squeezed a shot past Allen at 8:41.

Downie scored after a Jay Bouwmeester turnover on an outlet pass that was picked off by Nick Spaling, who fed Downie in front of Allen. Downie whirled and shot the puck off the goal post and Allen's sprawling right pad inadvertently kicked the puck in at 8:58.

Allen didn't flinch, however.

"It's two quick goals on their part. They're a quick-strike offensive team," Allen said of the Penguins. "For us to be able to be down 2-0, battle back and grind this to overtime, get a huge goal ... it wasn't the prettiest game in the world, but from my perspective, the guys battled the hardest today. They did the whole road trip. We came out on top."

When the former Penguins took charge, the Blues finally started gaining some mustard. Bortuzzo's first as a Blue and first in 39 games came off a scramble in front of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. T.J. Oshie was able to backhand a pass to Bortuzzo, whose one-timer from above the right circle into the top left corner made it a 2-1 game at 15:52.

"My goal, a lot of the credit just goes to the forwards, getting to that net because obviously Marc's a fantastic goalie and you need traffic and what-not," Bortuzzo said. "A lot of credit does to those forwards getting down there. I was just fortunate with the end result."

But the feeling for Bortuzzo had to be that of vindication, and in his nine games played with the Blues, he's only gotten better and better.

"He's played really hard," Hitchcock said of Bortuzzo. "He's only been here a little while, but if you had a most improved player, he's the most improved player. Since the first day he's come to us, he's really improved his vision on the ice, his composure with the puck. He's a really hungry guy. Guys love him, but he's really improved; he's earned the right to keep playing."

Then it was Goc's turn for his first goal as a Blue and first in 27 games came after a great shift by the fourth line, with Reaves and Ott forechecks created three scoring chances by those two before Goc deposited the puck in past Fleury at 17:24 to tie it.

"It's funny how that works sometimes," Goc said smiling of the former Penguins connection. "... Scoring is fun every time, a little relief. 'Otter' and 'Revo' did a good job protecting the puck low getting it to the net.

"The good thing was we didn't really change anything (after falling behind 2-0). I think we didn't give up too much before that. The goals were nice plays by them, but there wasn't too many things that went wrong. We just kept pushing back and nice goal in overtime by Steener; good setup by Michalek there."

But first, it was Allen up to the task. The Blues' goalie stopped 24 shots, including all 11 in the third period which included a dandy with his glove off the stick of Perron.

"We needed him in the third period," Hitchcock said of Allen. "They had more scoring chances than we had in the third period. We needed him and he came through big time, big time for us."

Steen's winner was set up with him and David Backes working for the puck in the Penguins zone. Steen eventually won it off the wall from defenseman Ben Lovejoy, fed Michalek on the weakside point, drove the net and had a step on Lovejoy and just laid his stick on the ice waiting for Michalek's shot-pass and slipped it past Fleury inside the left post.

"It was a huge play," said Steen, who matched his career high in points with 62. "We almost make eye contact, so I knew it was coming. Threw it right on my stick; it was a great play by him.

"I know he's weakside. They kind of sit down making sure I don't cut to the net. A lane opened up to get a pass to him and he just made a terrific play."

Added Michalek: "My first job is to get the puck to the net, but I didn't have a shooting lane. The d-man was fronting the puck. I saw Steener going to the net so I just thought I would hit his stick and I did. It worked out pretty well.

It was a great play by Steener. He won the puck. He won the battle on the boards and found me weak side. I had a lot of time to make a play. It was a head-up play and it worked. It was a huge two points for us."

And then in the locker room afterwards, all three former Penguins could joke about the impact they had on the game for the Blues.

"We were making fun of that," Michalek joked. "Obviously it feels good playing against your (former) team. I'm sure those other two guys scoring, it felt great too. It was a long trip for us and we came up with two big points. We can be happy I think."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Bortuzzo (41) celebrates with teammates after scoring his first as a
member of the Blues against his former team Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

"Everyone kind of chipped in tonight," Bortuzzo said. "'Z' made a helluva play on the overtime goal. I guess it's a good feeling definitely if you can contribute against your former squad."

Steen capped it off by saying, "All our Pittsburgh guys had big nights tonight."

And the Blues headed home on a happy flight and will play six of their final eight games at Scottrade Center.

"We capped off a long, long road trip with a big one," Allen said. "I think that's a really good trip for us, especially to cap out a positive note. Have a day of rest (Wednesday) and get back on the horse again Thursday. It was the longest road trip I've ever been on. It was a grind, but we came out with some key points for us."

* NOTES -- The Penguins, the most penalized team per game in minutes in the NHL, did not have to kill a penalty Tuesday. ... Steen has eight points (five goals) in the past seven games and has 14 points (12 assists) in 18 career games against Pittsburgh. ... With an assist on the overtime winner, Backes has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) the past 12 games. ... It was Allen's first career start against the Penguins. ... Other than the one he plays on, Crosby has scored on every NHL team but the Blues, and that's reached 10 games. ... The Blues are 5-1-1 against the Penguins the past seven games and have won three straight in Pittsburgh dating to Oct. 20, 2009. ... The Blues are 14-8-3 since defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was injured. ... After not scoring in the first period, the Blues have gone eight straight games without a goal in the opening 20 minutes and seven of those games have finished 0-0 after one period.

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