Thursday, April 9, 2015

Blues clinch division crown with 2-1 win against Blackhawks

Nashville loss to Minnesota helped St. Louis 
to second Central Division title in four seasons 

ST. LOUIS -- Six weeks ago, it almost was inconceivable that the Blues would be able to catch the Nashville Predators and win the Central Division.

The Blues trailed the Predators by nine points (89-80) after a Feb. 24th loss to the Montreal Canadiens. 

The Blues were left standing alone atop the Central Division after clinching it first with a 2-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at Scottrade Center on Thursday. 

The win, combined with the Predators' 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild, gave the division to St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin celebrates after scoring a goal on Thursday
against Duncan Keith (2) and the Chicago Blackhawks in a 2-1 victory

It was the Blues' second division championship in the past four seasons (2011-12).

The Blues (50-24-7) are tied with the Anaheim Ducks for the top seed in the Western Conference with one game remaining for each. The Ducks have the first tiebreaker, with one more regulation or overtime win (42-41).

That will be decided on Saturday when the Blues host the Wild and the Ducks play at the Arizona Coyotes. 

But the Blues were left celebrating in the locker room with freshly opened t-shirts and caps signifying their division championship.

"We've come from a long ways back to catch Nashville," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It looks like it's going to be the toughest division in hockey for a lot of years now. Getting in the playoffs, winning the division, getting home ice is ... any advantage you can get is going to be really important. 

"I think we played some of our best hockey. We've missed some of our good players to injury (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko), but we had to change the way we played and we had to really get our grind on and we did it. We had to adjust; we couldn't play the way we did before based on personnel. Guys deserve a lot of credit for being able to adjust on the fly. We had no practices, one hockey practice in changing the way we had to play and we did a good job with it."

The Blues missed out on the division championship when the Colorado Avalanche came from behind to grab it from the Blues, who ended the season with six-game losing streak. 

"We battled," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We had a little slip-up there a week and a half, two weeks ago but the character we've showed, guys missing with injuries, that's the type of guys we have in this dressing room.

"... It's a good feeling. It's a long year. We accomplished a lot this year. We've still got to try and clinch home ice advantage on Saturday for the rest of the playoffs. We've still got a lot to play for."

Jake Allen allowed two goals or fewer for his seventh straight game with 21 saves. Dmitrij Jaskin and Paul Stastny scored for the Blues.   

It was the Blues' second home win in the past six and their second win against the Blackhawks in the past five days. 

Jaskin's first goal in 17 games came during a four-minute power play. Chicago defenseman David Rundblad was in the box for high-sticking St. Louis center Jori Lehtera. 

Alex Pietrangelo's wrist shot from the point was tipped in front by David Backes, and Jaskin was at the side of the net to tap the puck into the open net with 2:50 go in the second period. It was Pietrangelo's 10th assist in the past 10 games against the Blackhawks.

"I saw David standing in there as [Pietrangelo] was shooting so I was hoping it might get in there somewhere," Jaskin said. "You never know if it's going to end up being a rebound. It was laying right on the line, so it was good."

Allen preserved the lead when he was able to stop Bryan Bickell in alone after the right wing stripped Blues defenseman Barret Jackman from behind in the St. Louis zone with 13:41 remaining in the third period. 

Stastny made it 2-0 after Kevin Shattenkirk rimmed a puck around the defensive zone boards and got past Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. It turned into a 3-on-1 with Jaden Schwartz feeding Stastny in the high slot for a slap shot past Crawford at 14:05.

Shaw's rebound goal of Teuvo Teravainen's shot made it 2-1 with 2:39 remaining, denying Allen's fifth shutout of the season.

"I don't care about that at all. Shutouts will come eventually," Allen said. "Just the win, to be able to clinch home ice, win the Central. I didn't expect to be playing in that game, but it was great to be out there with the guys. We'll celebrate it tonight but back to work tomorrow."

The Blues were able to keep Chicago from scoring the tying goal after pulling Crawford with over a minute remaining.

The Blackhawks (48-27-6) will start the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road. They cannot catch either St. Louis or Nashville and will finish no higher than third in the Central.

Andrew Shaw scored late in the third period for the Blackhawks. Corey Crawford made 23 saves. 

Chicago has lost three in a row and scored three goals in that stretch.

"We battled; we've had our ups and downs," Stastny said. "Now we're playing good hockey.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Zbynek Michalek (6) defends against the Blackhawks'
Bryan Bickell during St. Louis' 2-1 victory Thursday at Scottrade Center.

"(Home ice) is big. You always want to start at home. You saw how loud the crowd was today. Against Winnipeg [Tuesday], it was another level. Today was even another level. For me being new here, you really feed off the crowd."

"It's pretty cool to close it out at home, over the Hawks," Allen said. "Big win. Guys just poured everything into it. We got the result in the end." 

It's one goal down, many more to go.

"It's certainly a check on the goal sheet," Backes said. "It's a nice reward for a lot of the hard work that's been put in. ... We've secured a division championship in a fashion in which is pretty darn tough with two leading scorers out of the lineup, the 20 guys in the lineup binding together, playing together, sacrificing for each other."

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