Saturday, December 19, 2015

Blues grab early lead, hold off Flames 3-2

Tarasenko's takes NHL lead in goals, has three 
points in win; Elliott makes season-best 36 saves

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have had a mastery of playing the Calgary Flames and doing it well. They use their physical edge to prevent the fast-flying Flames from playing an up-tempo, transition style game.

The Blues' blueprint was scripted according to play early, then things went by the wayside. Fortunately for them it was enough to get the two points.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored his NHL-leading 21st goal to go with a three-point game and help the Blues end the Flames' seven-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory Saturday before 18,163 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko scored his NHL-leading 21st goal Saturday afternoon
in a 3-2 victory against the Calgary Flames.

The Blues (20-10-4) extended their winning streak against the Flames (15-15-2) to six games and they've won three in a row for the first time since Nov. 4-10.

St. Louis has outscored Calgary 24-7 the past six games, and the Blues have defeated the Flames seven straight times on home ice, outscoring them 25-9.

All are good numbers, but they didn't come easy this time around. 

The Flames, who got third-period goals from Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano to make the game interesting, haven't been able to solve what the Blues have done to them.

"We've just tried to execute our game plan," said Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who made 36 saves for his first win since Oct. 18 and defeated the Flames for the seventh straight time. "They like to run-and-gun a little bit. We're built a different way, so when we grind it down low, they tend to get frustrated and don't get their legs going."

Said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock when asked about the game plan: "Yeah, we did that for eight minutes, and then we decided to go and play a different way. That's the way they play. They play with skill, they play on the move and if you get sucked into the game, then you're on the move chasing them around the rink, which is what happened for about 30 minutes; we chased them around the rink. They're awful skilled, they're awful quick. That line with Monahan and (Johnny) Gaudreau is as good as anybody in the league and if you start chasing them around the rink and don't hem them in and they get loose on you like they did in the second period ... I thought we played pretty well in the third. Once it went 3-1, we started to really manage the game, but the last five minutes of the first period and the whole second, they got loose on us. Odd-man rushes and 'D's joining. They've got five really mobile guys back there and they were coming."

Tarasenko's three-point effort was his second in three games, Colton Parayko scored for the first time in 10 games, Jori Lehtera scored and Alexander Steen had two assists for St. Louis.

A fast start helped St. Louis get a lead, one they had to hold onto late. Calgary wants to turn the game into a track meet, a tennis match, if you will, and the Blues want to bog the play down.

"One of the things that's hard with your team is to want to play a grinding game when you don't have to or you feel you don't have to," Hitchcock said. "We started the right way, we played it, we had a lot of activity. We really had them in trouble, but then all of the sudden, the game starts to be not really physical and it's just a skating game and that's fun to play in and that's the games they win, the fun games are the ones they win."

The Flames, who conclude a four-game trip Sunday at the Detroit Red Wings, got third-period goals, made it a one-goal game with 3:53 to play but couldn't equalize after Monahan scored early in the third period. Karri Ramo made 19 saves.

"It's never our plan to sit back," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "We addressed it before the game. We know how our starts have been costing us since a few years now, and tonight it was the same old movie again. Part of this, you have to give them credit. They're using their size. They're using their speed to their advantage. But on our side, I thought that we had some reads that we could have been much better at."

The Blues started fast, scoring twice in a 2:24 span early in the first period.

Tarasenko made it 1-0 when Carl Gunnarsson's shot from the left point deflected off the stick of the Flames' TJ Brodie to Tarasenko coming through the crease for an easy tap-in 1:23 into the game.

Tarasenko moved past Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn, who had 20 goals entering Saturday. The Stars hosted the Montreal Canadiens.

It was Tarasenko's fifth straight game with a goal, a career-high, and seven of the past eight games. He has 11 goals in the past 13 games at Scottrade Center.

"It’s a pretty good feeling," Tarasenko said about leading the NHL in goals. "I think it’s pushing you to move forward. I think this shows you (that) you can play with these guys and you can score these goals. It’s a team game. My teammates make it for me." 

Parayko's sixth goal of the season (third against the Flames) came off a flip pass from Tarasenko into the slot. Parayko skated around Brodie and lifted a backhand from a sharp angle past Ramo at 3:47 to make it 2-0 in highlight reel fashion.

"I went to the net, tried to find some open space, and 'Vlad,' the great player he is, he found me," Parayko said. "I just had to beat one guy and I just kind of poked the puck and I was lucky enough to get it by. I looked back and saw the mesh, so I just fired one.

"... It was a little far out of reach. I think I grabbed it with one hand. When I did look back, the only thing I saw was the net. I don't think I would have even shot it if I didn't look back. Luckily I did."

The Flames needed a wake-up call, and coach Bob Hartley had defensemen Deryk Engelland on the ice and it was no secret to the Blues' Ryan Reaves, playing in his 300th NHL game, what was about to happen.

The gloves were dropped and the bout was on, Reaves' first of the season.

"Once I saw Engelland go out there, he's a pretty honest guy," Reaves said. "He's given me fights when I needed it. I haven't had one all season anyway, so I think that was a good time. I was hoping I didn't forget how to fight. I think I did OK.

"... Actually I had no idea (about 300 games) until 'Steener' told me or somebody told me. Three-hundred games, 300 with this team. It's an honor."

A crucial Ramo save on Lehtera prevented it from becoming 3-0, and the Flames benefited from a no-goal call on Steen, who batted a puck in that would have made it 3-0 with 3:29 remaining in the first but was waved off for a high stick. Video review proved to be inconclusive and the call on the ice stood.

"On ours, which we thought it was a goal, which we still think is a goal, they had it as no goal so it's going to take everybody plus the video replays to change their minds," Hitchcock said. "So once the original call comes on the ice, it's got to take everybody to turn it."

Lehtera's goal with 5:07 to play in the second to made it 3-0 St. Louis. Tarasenko's third point of the game and 14th in 11 games (eight goals, six assists) came when he started the play with an outlet feed to Steen, whose cross-ice pass found Lehtera, who scored with a slap shot for his first goal in 13 games.

"It was a really good shot and a really good pass from Alex Steen," Tarasenko said. "I’m really happy for him.

"I saw Alex, so I tried to make the pass to him."

The Flames outshot the Blues 15-6 in the second but three power plays for the last-ranked unit in the League produced nothing. The Blues, who came in No. 2 in the NHL in penalty-killing efficiency, have killed 29 of the past 30 since Nov. 25.

"They are a skilled team, they’ve got guys that can move the puck around and they’ve been playing together for a couple years now that they know where each other are going to be," said Elliott, who is 8-3-0 career against Calgary. "The guys did a great job of allowing me to see pucks and they took care of the rest."

Monahan broke the shutout by scoring four minutes into the third period. He batted the puck into the net and initially, referee Dave Jackson initially waved the goal off for a high stick but reversed the call after consulting with linesmen Michel Cormier and Vaughan Rody and referee Eric Furlatt. Video review was inconclusive at that point to take the goal away and the call on the ice stood and made it 3-1.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott made a season-high 36 saves in a 3-2 win against the Calgary
Flames on Saturday. It was Elliott's first win since Oct. 18.

"I still thought the puck was in the shin pads in front of me," Elliott said of the initial play. "So I didn’t even see it up in the air. 

"Usually when it's called no goal on the ice it actually stands, but obviously they saw something."

Giordano's goal with 3:53 made it a 3-2 game off a rush and a shot from the left circle that caromed past Elliott off defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk's stick. It wasn't enough to at least get the game to overtime.

And in the end, the Blues picked up another win against a Western Conference team. They are an NHL-leading 15-4-0.

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