Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lundqvist difference in Rangers' 2-1 win against Blues

Despite 36 shots, St. Louis cannot "outwork 
the goalie" coach says; lose Lehtera to injury

ST. LOUIS -- Another game, another goalie got the best of the Blues.

And this time, it had coach Ken Hitchcock on the verge of animation when describing the Blues' scoring opportunities in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday at Scottrade Center.

And what makes it even more frustrating for the Blues (35-19-9), who have dropped two straight and now embark on a stretch of nine of 11 games on the road, is both the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars both lost, meaning the Blues blew another chance to pull even with the second-place Blackhawks, who lost 3-1 at home to the suddenly surging -- and the Blues' next opponent -- Nashville Predators and one point behind first-place Stars, who were doubled up at home by the last-place Winnipeg Jets 6-3; the Jets, meanwhile, traded captain Andrew Ladd to the Blackhawks on Thursday night, fortifying Chicago's lineup.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Troy Brouwer (top, right) falls to the ice as he scores the Blues' lone goal
in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday.

Henrik Lundqvist was the Blues' nemesis this time. He became the Rangers' all-time saves leader and first goalie in NHL history to record 30 wins in 10 of his first 11 seasons, and Chris Kreider scored the tie-breaking goal in the third period.

Lundqvist made 35 saves to give him 17,404 saves, surpassing Mike Richter (17,379). Lundqvist also moved into third place in NHL history for seasons with 30 or more wins with his 10th after defeating the Blues. Lundqvist also tied Tom Barrasso for 16th place with his 369th victory.

"You know the names I'm up there with and obviously it's a huge honor," Lundqvist said. "Growing up, those guys were guys I was watching and now I'm up there with wins. To me, it's just a sign of I've been given a chance for a lot of years. This organization, when I came, I've been lucky to play with a lot of good players and been able to have a competitive team every year. I'm really happy about that."

Kreider scored his 12th of the season from the slot at 4:18 of the third period off a backhand pass from Oscar Lindberg. 

"It was a hard work, it was an effort play," Kreider said. "(Lindberg) had a guy on his back basically the entire way up the ice. He got dragged down and is still able to make the play."

The goal came after Lundqvist stopped Scottie Upshall's breakaway attempt and moments after Dmitrij Jaskin had a chance to give the Blues a lead. Lundqvist extended his right leg to make that save.

"I thought he was going to go butterfly on me and I tried to get it up above his pad on the glove side," Upshall said of Lundqvist. "I knew (Ryan) McDonagh was coming down on me. He's a big goalie. He's big in his net, he makes key saves at key times and he made some good stops down the stretch.

"Those are plays in the game that are momentum-changers. For us, I think we carried most of the momentum in the second and in the third. That play ends up being the play of the game. Unfortunately, we're on the other side of that. It [stinks]; it's tough."

The Blues, who out-Corsied the Rangers 67-39, funneled puck after puck towards the Rangers' goalie. Second and third pucks were there to be had, but like many of the Blues' losses this season where they don't give up much but find a way to fritter away two points, getting into those scoring areas in tight, also known as the dirty, greasy areas, was foreign territory.

And the frustration boiled over for Hitchcock, who lamented an ongoing problem for the Blues of not getting enough generated in the dirty areas.

"Their goalie outworked us," Hitchcock said. "Their goalie was more determined than we were. We didn't bear down around the net. We had opportunities around the net and their goalie outworked us.

"... We've got to see a change here. Living on playing well and working hard, we've got to see another gear, a little determination and hunger around the net if we expect to score goals. You're not going to get soft goaltending like we got in a couple games where we scored goals. This is focused teams right now with focused goaltending. We're going to have to be a lot more aggressive."

When asked about it happening often, Hitchcock said, "It's too many times. Too many times ... get opportunities like this, you need people to bear down and be more determined than the guy in the four-by-six."

And when the Blues had multiple scoring opportunities, including a wide open net by Kyle Brodziak on a shorthanded attempt, they couldn't convert. They created many of them and often.

"It doesn't matter, that's bearing down," Hitchcock said. "We didn't bear down. We had an empty net three times in the second period and didn't bear down. You only get so many cracks at it. We had so many cracks after two periods. You've got to ... even with a minute left we had three cracks at it." 

Tanner Glass scored for the Rangers (35-20-6), who have won four of five on the road and conclude a three-game trip Saturday at the Dallas Stars.

"This is a tough building," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "That’s a real strong team there. We got timely saves and we were able to get a couple of goals."

The Blues got a power play goal from Troy Brouwer, and Jake Allen made 21 saves in his first start since Jan. 8.

"We had a lot of chances, popping out rebounds, we just couldn't finish," Allen said. "He's one of the best. I thought we actually played a pretty good game tonight. We just couldn't put it in the net."

"I thought we played a good game to be honest. Some spurts where they hemmed us in our zone, but other than that, I thought we played pretty well. We moved the puck well. Just again, we couldn't finished. We're going to play a lot more great goalies the rest of the year, so we're going to have to bear down."

Glass gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 6:46 remaining in the first period when he tipped Dan Girardi's right point shot past Allen.

The Blues tied it on a power play when Brouwer was able to deflect in Paul Stastny's shot from the right point with 5:37 remaining in the second period.

The Blues continued to push, but Lundqvist was dialed in.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Rangers forward Chris Kreider (20) leaps against the glass after 
with scoring with the Blues' Kyle Brodziak and Robert Bortuzzo
looking on. 

"He played well," Upshall said of Lundqvist. "He made saves in key parts of the game. He played big in his net. There were rebounds there, but I think collectively, we didn't get to those hard areas enough. There were chances there, but we couldn't put those second ones in."

The Blues lost another key player to injury when center Jori Lehtera was hit in the face with an inadvertent puck and did not return.

It marks the third straight game the Blues have lost a player to injury. Alexander Steen (upper body) departed in the first of Saturday's game at Arizona, and goalie Brian Elliott (lower body) departed also in the first period of Monday's game against San Jose. They join Alex Pietrangelo (knee) and Steve Ott (hamstring) on injured reserve.

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