Thursday, November 5, 2015

A comeback for the ages

Blues stun Blackhawks 6-5 with four unanswered 
goals; Tarasenko gets game-winner in overtime

CHICAGO -- There's only one word to describe the Blues' 6-5 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday: unbelievable.

The first period began for the Blues. Then, it couldn't end fast enough.

The Blues were -- in a matter speaking mildly -- a train wreck. 

But then the second period started, and the Blues found themselves. And then there was the third period ... and then overtime.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) gets contratulated by Alex Pietrangelo (left)
and Jori Lehtera after scoring the game-winner in Chicago Wednesday.

An insurmountable deficit in the toughest of buildings for the Blues turned into one of the all-time greatest comebacks.

Down three after 20 minutes, allowing five goals and changing their goalies twice, the Blues gutted out a victory at United Center in the most improbable ways.

And they did it with their leading scorer finishing off the most improbable comebacks.

The Blues (9-3-1) trailed 5-2 -- yes, 5-2 -- after the first period in what coach Ken Hitchcock would have called chaotic. 

Alexander Steen, Jay Bouwmeester and David Backes scored second-period goals to get the game tied, then their go-to guy (Tarasenko) capped off a four-goal comeback that can vault the Blues forward with supreme confidence.

"It's a real courageous win," Hitchcock said. "With the day or night or whatever you want to call we had, to come back and play with the energy we did in the second period ... I thought second period was one of the best periods we've played all year. We really did the things we wanted to. Guys deserve a lot of credit. We hit the wall a little bit in the third from what we had gone through (to get back into the game); you could see guys were trying, but man, to play the way we did in the second period, we we had every reason to want to fight another day. We wanted to dig in and the guys did that."

Oh yeah, that.

The team was supposed to make a quick, 45-minute flight into Chicago and be in their hotel rooms with plenty of time to get some rest. That wasn't the case for the Blues, who didn't arrive to their hotel until 4 a.m. 

Because of heavy fog in the area, the Blues' flight was diverted to Milwaukee, when they arrived after 1 a.m. following a 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at home on Tuesday, where they then had to make the 90-minute drive.

But then, the Blues, who lost starting goalie Brian Elliott after a collision in the first period, lost left wing Steve Ott for the remainder of the game late in the second with an upper-body injury.

Elliott initially departed the game for 41 seconds after Hitchcock wanted to talk to him about refocusing himself after allowing three goals on six shots, but Elliott was injured when David Backes and Jonathan Toews went crashing into his goal mouth and himself..

"Yeah, there's a long ways to go," Hitchcock said. "I thought after that, he played good. Until he got run over there, he was playing pretty good. He was hanging in there. I thought he really settled down and started to play. There's nothing you could do on the fourth goal, but I thought he was starting to come around. That's a heck of a hit; he got run over there pretty hard."

Elliott was looked at by head athletic trainer Ray Barile before departing with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first.

"It's more just give the guy a breather," Allen said. "A chance to regroup and get back in there. It happens. I don't think you can put any of the blame on him at all. The first shot of the game, the penalty shot, screen shot, rebound. It's not easy just to start a game like that. 

"... I wanted to give the guys a chance to get back in the game. It's 5-2, just slowly claw our way back into the game. They took advantage of it; I just wanted to give them a chance, make the most of it and they did that."

But before that, it was goals galore.

Marko Dano scored his first with the Blackhawks after Ryan Hartman poked the puck away from Carl Gunnarsson. After Steen's first of two goals deflected off him as he was jumping out of the way of Colton Parayko's shot from the point, but hit him to tie the game 1-1.

But Andrew Shaw scored on a penalty shot after being hooked y Parayko, and Andrew Shaw made it 2-1 4:37 into the game. Teuvo Teravainen made it a 3-1 game, and for all intents and purposes with the Blues were done.

And when Robby Fabbri scored to make it a one-goal game again, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane scored for the Hawks.

The five goals allowed in the first is the first time a Hitchcock-coached team allowed five first-period goals since Dec 16, 2006, when the Columbus Blue Jackets allowed five against Chicago, per Sportsnet stats, the Blues allowed chance after chance and it turned into a free fall.

The first period was reminiscent of flashbacks to the 1980's, when five-, six-, and seven-goal games were a dime a dozen.

Seven goals were combined and Chicago accounted for five of them, four against Elliott before he departed.

Elliott departed the game after stopping 11 of 15 shots. Jake Allen, who stopped 27 of 28 shots to earnt the win.

To a man, nobody in the room played Elliott for anything.

"I don't think any of that should be on 'Ells' shoulders," Allen said. "Hopefully he's OK. It's the backup's roll to be ready when called upon."

It was obvious the Blues were going to have to play a more assertive game.

It helped produce three goals, which Backes tied the game with 33.8 seconds left in the peiod to complete the comeback.

"We just started to compete harder on pucks," Hitchcock said. "I just thought Chicago controlled the puck battles and they controlled the boards and they made us turn back pucks all the time, but then when we started amping up our conpetitive level, especially from the dots to the boards, I thought the game turned in our favor.

"I thought (Scott) Gomez's line gave us really good energy. They gave us some zone time. When we made the switch and switched the pairs up in the second period on the back end, I thought that helped us a lot, too. I thought that gave us better continuity. We were struggling the way we were going, and then when we split up, we played (Joel) Edmundson with (Alex) Pietrangelo. I thought that helped us a lot."

It all started with a second Parayko shot deflect off Steen's skate in after Hawks goalie Corey Crawford initually made the kick save to make it 5-3 at 3:11 of the second; Jay Bouwmeester's power play goal made it 5-4 with 2:48 left in the second which snapped an 0-for-22 hole for fairgrounds. And when Backes tied it from a sharp angle with 33.8 remaining in the second, it was a new ballgame.

"I knew we could (win)," Allen said. "Three-goal deficit, I've seen come back worse than that. We had a positive message here after the first intermission and I think we took over most of the second period, or the majority of it anyway and we clawed our way back into the game. We were objective; just get a goal or two in the second, give us all the chance in the third and we tied it up. We grinded out to get a point and Vladi did hit thing, too."

After withstanding another line in great chances in the third, Tarasenko took Pietrangelo's feed in the high slow and made no mistake. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen celebrates after scoring one of two goals in a 6-5 overtime
victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

"Petro made a good play, a great play," Tarasenko said. "I was happy to score this goal. It was really important for us to beat the Blackhawks, especially in this building. We understand this is one game in this season; we have a lot more. 

"We've built a winner's mindset here. It was a great team win."

The Blues earned their third straight win vs. the Blackhawks. They trailed 5-2 after the first period before scoring four unanswered goals, marking the first time they have comeback from a three-goal deficit to win in Chicago since Dec. 27, 1981.

The Blues scored a season-high six goals.  It was the first time they scored six goals on the road in Chicago since Dec. 10, 2000 (a 6-1 victory).


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