Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blues clinch playoff berth with 4-1 victory against Flames

Stastny, Schwartz, Berglund, Lehtera each 
get goal, assist as St. Louis eclipses 100 points

ST. LOUIS -- It was the kind of game that the Blues had been waiting on in he last little stretch here recently: dictating, aggressive and playing with pace.

It was the only way the Blues could play with a Stanley Cup Playoff-clinching spot on the line, and they it was an impressive capper to a 4-1 victory against the Calgary Flames on Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (47-23-7) became the third team in the Western Conference, joining the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks, to clinch a spot. With 101 points, the Blues trail the Predators by two points with a game in hand for first in the Central Division. The Chicago Blackhawks (100 points) joined them with a 3-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks.

Blues goalie Jake Allen was in awe.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (17) backhands a puck past Flames goalie
Jonas Hiller in the first period of a 4-1 victory Thursday at Scottrade Center.

"That was impressive to watch from my end," Allen said. "It could have been a lot higher score, but their goaltender (Jonas Hiller) played great. What an effort from the guys -- coming down to the wire, clinching a playoff spot, a couple of our key players out (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko), guys stepped up tonight. It was impressive."

"I've been here four years, four years in a row we've been in the playoffs, I said to the players, this is something we've built for four years, got real good resolve in us, going to need it for the balance of the season," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Got a real good reslove, going to need moving forward."

Minus two of their leading scorers, the Blues got key contributions from members of the new top line comprised of Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie. Tarasenko and Steen are both day-to-day with lower-body injuries.

Schwartz and Stastny had a goal and an assist, and Oshie had an assist as the Blues. Patrik Berglund and Jori Lehtera each had a goal and an assist.

"It's nice doing it on home ice," said Stastny, who has 51 points in 43 games against the Flames. "Now the next step for us is get better until April 15 or whenever the playoffs start, but our focus is trying to get home ice.

"... We worked hard at both ends. I know it's cliche-ish, but we held onto the puck a little more. We tried making some plays throughout all four lines and I think as a team, we played pretty sound hockey and then even when it was a one-goal game, just kept going."

And the formula to success was simple.

"I think we just wanted to get on them," Stastny said. "They’ve got that last spot in their division. They are fighting for points just like everyone else. At the same time we’re fighting for points, too, trying to get that home ice. We just have to keep going and amp up our game in the next five games."

Allen made 17 saves for his 20th win. Allen joins Brian Elliott (23), and the tandem is the second in the NHL to have two goalies from the same team with two goalies with 20 or more wins, joining the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot.

The Flames (42-29-7), who got a goal from Sean Monahan and 39 saves from Hiller, remain in third place in the Pacific Division. They entered Thursday with a three-point lead on the Los Angeles Kings, who hosted the Edmonton Oilers late Thursday.

Calgary lost their sixth straight in St. Louis dating to April 1, 2011. The Blues are 9-1-1 against the Flames in the past 11, and they've outscored Calgary 17-2 in the past four matchups. The Blues, who won all three games against Calgary this season, swept the season series for the first time since 2002-03 when they went 4-0-0.

"I think St. Louis has the number of many teams," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "Looking at the size and the strength of that team, they're not easy to play against. They were better than us. They fully deserved the victory." 

The Blues finally got that first period monkey off their backs of not scoring a goal when Schwartz put one in for the first time in 11 games.

The Blues had gone 206:56 without a goal in the first, but Schwartz, who scored the last one March 10 against the Winnipeg Jets, came out of the corner with the puck after T.J. Oshie won his board battle with TJ Brodie and flipped a backhand past Hiller 1:16 into the game for a 1-0 lead.

The Blues, who began the second period with 2:48 of power play time after Brandon Bollig's major for boarding Barret Jackman late in he first period, made it 2-0 on Stastny's 50th point in 43 games against the Flames.

On the hit, Bollig hit Jackman from behind on the Blues' zone, bloodying the Blues' defenseman with a gash above his right eye.

Defensive partner Robert Bortuzzo, who continues to win the hearts of Blues fans and his teammates, immediately jumped in and fought Bollig, who received a game-misconduct. Bortuzzo received 17 minutes in penalties but they were well worth it according to his teammates and coach.

"I'm pretty sure he would have done the same thing, as well as a lot of guys in this locker room," Bortuzzo said of Jackman. "If we can stand up for teammates in that way, that's what we're going to do. He's obviously a big part of our team and a leader. If we can stand up in any way, that's what we're going to do."

Bollig, a St. Charles native who had family and friends in attendance, said there was no intent to injure.

"I was playing physical and it's unfortunate that happened tonight and put us on the penalty kill," Bollig said. "The worst part is putting your team on the penalty kill for a couple of minutes and they scored on that penalty so obviously I would have liked to play a full game in front of my family. It's the least of my worries at this point, but I'll kind of wait and see what happens (as far as disciplinary action)."

David Backes was able to patiently wait out a sliding Mikael Backlund before slotting a pass to Stastny in front, and he redirected the puck through Hiller from in tight 24 seconds into the period to make it 2-0.

Monahan's 30th of the season, the first Flame to score 30 since Jarome Iginla in 2011-12, cut the Blues' lead to 2-1 after he redirected Jiri Hudler's centering feed into the high slot. Monahan's redirection beat Allen high over the left shoulder 3:35 into the second.

Allen preserved the Blues' 2-1 lead with two key saves. He made a save on former Blue Dennis Wideman from the slot, then Hudler from the side of the goal on the rebound while the Blues were killing a penalty.

Hiller was able to keep it a 2-1 game with a save on Backes' shorthanded breakaway with 9:21 remaining.

But Lehtera restored the Blues' two-goal lead after taking a wraparound pass from Berglund and beating Hiller with a backhand with 3:15 remaining to make it 3-1. Berglund added an empty-netter with 2:05 remaining to make it 4-1.

"Yyeah, just an all-around better game," Schwartz said. "Every line was clicking, having some o-zone time. We played a lot in their end. I think we just looked faster and were executing more. All-around, just more energy. It was nice to see us get back on track."

The Blues, with some key penalty kills in the third period, continued to press with a one-goal lead and were rewarded in the end. They outshot the Flames 43-18 for the game and had it not been for Hiller, the score could have been a wider margin and the Blues ended a stretch of one win in six games (1-3-2).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Jake Allen makes one of his 17 saves in a 4-1 victory against the 
Calgary Flames on Thursday with teammates Kevin Shattenkirk watching.

"We were much the better team in the first two periods; their goalie goalie kept them in it, and then we needed our goalie in the third," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Calgary just hangs around and Calgary had some great chances in the third and our goalie held us in that first 10-12 minutes.

"This is more health-related. Our energy ... we played six games on the road, really seven in 10 days with three time zone travel, we paid for it. We paid for it with a lack of energy. ... We had great starts to the game; we were really good and we just faded. We faded because of what the schedule happened to be. We needed to fill up our tank and sometimes that's the schedule maker that does than and you're going to have to find a way to still get points."

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