Thursday, November 5, 2015

Blues show moxie, resolve in victory at Chicago

Character-building win against Blackhawks came against all odds

ST. LOUIS -- When they skated off to a rousing ovation directed to the home side, the Blues could have wilted under the intense heat.

They could have packed it in, played out the string, curled into a ball and wished the rest of the night away.

Those choices were never became an option.

The Blues, who hadn't allowed more than three goals in any game this season -- the only team in the NHL to do so -- until Wednesday's wild 6-5 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center, were blitzed in the first period.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko caps the Blues' comeback victory against the Chicago
Blackhawks with an overtime goal Wednesday.

They trailed 5-2, played musical chairs with their goalies until starter Brian Elliott had to depart with a head injury after being crashed into by teammate David Backes and the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews and a predictable 40 minutes away from another loss in a building that's been tough on them historically. 

However, nothing was predictable on this night, nothing was scripted according to the plan ... except the end result.

The Blues (9-3-1) lost fourth-line left wing Steve Ott to what looked like an arm/shoulder injury that is unknown as of early Thursday afternoon (as is Elliott's injury).

But by then, they had already set the wheels in motion for an improbable comeback with three goals from Alexander Steen (his second of the game), Jay Bouwmeester and David Backes.

And then Vladimir Tarasenko, the go-to goal-scorer, the closer if you must, polished off what seemed like an insurmountable outcome.

"I think it means a lot knowing that we've got this resolve that we can come back and do this," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after the game. "Not based on this score, but this is the third or fourth time we've done this already. It's a good sign. It's a good sign that the guys dig in like that. I thought guys like (Scott) Gomez and (Troy) Brouwer on the bench were big help for us. They really kept us going.

"... Regardless of what happened in the 3-on-3, to take this game into overtime, our players deserve a lot of credit for what they did."

What they did was rally around one another when nobody else would give them a snowball's chance to do so.

It's fitting that the snowball's chance had every chance on ice.

"The boys worked again, stayed composed," Steen said. "The first intermission, all the players had a good talk in here and just regrouped. We as players discussed a lot of adjustments, what we wanted to do in the second period and went out and changed our neutral zone ... mostly we discussed within the room what type of adjustments, what was making them get through our neutral zone and then after that, we just started playing a lot more sound. I thought we did a much better job in the second half of the game. It's a very composed group. It didn't really rattle us; we just kept going."

Elliott was under seige early. He allowed three goals on six shots before being pulled for a 41-second stint in favor of Jake Allen. He was lifted not for the game, but just to get refocused. Elliott went right back in but didn't finish the first period. He allowed four goals on 15 shots.

"A couple bad bounces," Steen said. "The penalty shot, there wasn't much he could do. We felt bad for 'Moose' obviously early there. He had some tough goals and then we talked about it in the first intermission and came out a lot stronger."

"I don't think you can put any of the blame on him at all," Allen said of Elliott. "The first shot of the game, a penalty shot, screen shot, it's not easy to just start a game like that. I don't think any of that should be on Ells' shoulders. ... I don't think anything needed to be said. That is an unacceptable period on everyone's behalf. I think guys knew that."

Backes' goal was the end of a momentum-building 20 minutes, a game-tying goal with 33.8 seconds left in the second that left not only the Blackhawks stunned but the 21,676 that packed the 'Madhouse on Madison.'

"It's a three-goal lead in this building, and I think it kind of sets in that if we don't start playing the right way, they're gonna embarrass us," Backes said. "I think we slowly got to our game, found a way to tie it here in the second.

"... We just kept elevating our game. None of that affected us. That's the resilience and the character that we're building here. It's one of the things that we've identified as a lack of success in the playoffs. We've got to keep building on that. It just becomes perpetual."

And in the case of a three-goal deficit, it's a mindset of not thinking about the score, not thinking about what's gone wrong.

"There's no focus on those types of things," Steen said. "It's just the next play, the next play. When you get some sort of momentum, we try and grab it and roll with it and keep that going somehow. So if it's getting pucks behind them and having a good forecheck, and then the next group's got to do the same thing. We try and leave guys in good positions so that the next group isn't having to check the puck back. We sort of get into a rhythm. That's how we kept that positive attitude. Eventually it got us the two points. It was a good hard-fought game tonight. It's an exciting game, I think, to watch. But right through our lineup, guys played extremely solid, very composed."

Chicago gave the Blues their best shot in the third period, but the Blues swiped a point, then were determined to take two.

Allen, who made 27 of 28 saves in relief, became the first goalie according to The Elias Sports Bureau to make 27-plus saves and win a relief appearance since former Blue Pat Jablonski (31 saves) did so on Feb. 26, 1991 against -- of course -- Chicago. His work gave the Blues a chance a night after Allen was sensational in a loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

"It was unbelievable, unbelievable," Steen said. "Made some huge saves again. He's so sound. Both goalies ... I felt bad for 'Moose.' He's been unreal for us this year, too. ... In here, we know what everybody's capable of. We try and stay calm, composed."

"He's been excellent for a while now. We needed him," Hitchcock said of Allen. "He came up big for us. It was a good sign."

Enter the closer, who was at the end of his shift with Alex Pietrangelo, whose nifty backhand pass into the slot set up Tarasenko for the winner, and Jori Lehtera.

"This is the first goal I've seen scored where tired people scored the goal," Hitchcock said. "Usually it's the other way. Vladi was exhausted. That's the first time I've seen a goal where tired people actually get the goal. Usually it's fresh people that get on into the offensive zone and dominate."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scottie Upshall (10), David Backes (middle) and Robby Fabbri celebrate
Backes' goal in the second period that tied the game 5-5 in Chicago.

"Every single goal was huge," Steen said. "The way we stayed positive as a group, we emphasized it after the first intermission. We've got to stay up; we can't do anything about what's happened. We got a couple deserving bounces, I think. Got us pumped up again. Then we got the next one, and the next one and just kept rolling with those."

And in the end, the Blues were able to roar back (or is it #RoarBacon?).

"Very resilient," Allen said. "Obviously we've been talking about our injuries and things like that. We can't use that as an excuse anymore."

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