Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tarasenko's pair give Blues clutch 2-1 OT win against Blackhawks

Victory clinches home ice for first round, keeps St. Louis 
in hunt for Central Division, top seed in Western Conference

CHICAGO -- For nearly 59 minutes, it appeared the Blues were going to have to shift their focus away from winning the Central Division.

Then Vladimir Tarasenko happened. 

Who else?

Down to their last bullets they were throwing at the Chicago Blackhawks and Scott Darling, the Blues needed at least a point to at least salvage home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and give themselves the chance at winning the division going into the regular season finale.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (left) celebrates with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko
after Tarasenko's OT winner Thursday in a 2-1 win at Chicago. 

They got the goal they needed to salvage the point from Tarasenko with a sixth-attacker goal, then why not go for the second point and Tarasenko provided that with the overtime winner for the Blues, who rallied past the Blackhawks 2-1 on Thursday before 22,075 at United Center.

The scenario stands as this:

Nothing changes as far as clinching the division. The Blues (49-23-9) have to win out on points against the Dallas Stars, who defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 on Thursday to remain even with the Blues in record and points (107).

The Stars hole the tie-breaker, which is regulation or overtime wins, so for the Blues, they have to gain one more point than the Stars on Saturday against the Washington Capitals, who will have nothing to play for. The Stars host the Nashville Predators.

A Stars victory of any sorts eliminates the Blues from contention for first place, but they can win it if Dallas loses in regulation and gain a point or if the Stars lose in overtime/shootout and gain two points. 

Tarasenko scored with 1 minute, 16 seconds remaining in regulation after he slammed home Kevin Shattenkirk's rebound. Alexander Steen dumped the puck into the corner and Jori Lehtera tied up his man (Marcus Kruger) and enabled the puck to get to Shattenkirk, who wound up from the right point that Darling stopped but Tarasenko was in the high slot to slam home the rebound.

He then won it in when Paul Stastny picked off a puck that the Blackhawks (47-26-8) dropped to the point with nobody there. Stastny fed Pietrangelo, who walked in alone but fed Tarasenko for the wide open net at 3:37.

"When 91's calling for it, you give it to him," Pietrangelo said of Tarasenko. "Three-on-three, if you've got an opportunity to jump in and make a play, you've got to do it. I thought about changing but Paul gave me that look like he was going to hit me."

Tarasenko, who set a career high with his 38th and 39th goals, said he wanted the puck.

"Yeah, I was calling for it," he said. "Thanks for 'Petro' for giving it to me.

"It was good plays on my two goals, by my linemates and teammates. We just stayed with it all 60 minutes and get really important two points. ... You just need to believe in your teammates, believe in your linemates and keep going and never give up."

It was another example of how the Blues, who didn't look particularly good managing the puck from the neutral zone on in, found a way. Brian Elliott made 24 saves, including a penalty shot stop on Andrew Ladd with 4:58 remaining that could have won the game.

"I just tried to get my shoulder into it and take away that top corner," said Elliott, who broke Brent Johnson's franchise record with his 11th straight win; Johnson won 10 in a row in the 2001-02 season. "He got a good shot off of it the first opportunity. I didn't really think I was going to take a penalty shot there, but it's a good response after that. The guys picked me up a little bit and really pressured.

"We had a tough time kind of generating stuff. They did a good job. You've got to tip your to them, but we stuck with it and whenever you do that, you always give yourselves a chance. Guys played hard, blocked shots, came back on the back-check and were skating all night in a tough building like this against a familiar opponent. We pulled that off and winning it in OT was big for us."

The Blues, who got defenseman Jay Bouwmeester back (upper-body) injury) after missing six games, just didn't seem in sync for much of the game. They were at times sloppy with the puck and didn't generate a ton.

It all changed in the third.

"I thought we got the puck deeper in the third period, put some pressure on them and forced some turnovers," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We weren't managing the puck very well in the first two periods but we did in the third and that helped us a lot.

"The whole focus was home ice and continue to keep pushing towards first place. Every team has to play now, Dallas has to play for points, we've got to keep playing for points. We'll just see where it goes. It's nice to know that we're going to have home ice no matter who the opponent is." 

Jonathan Toews put Chicago on top 1-0 in the second period playing 4-on-4.

Tarasenko and Richard Panik received offsetting penalties and Toews converted when he was able to get away from Patrik Berglund just inside the blue line, fed Patrick Kane cross ice, then Toews got behind Berglund and got the pass back from Kane before beating Elliott five-hole at 12:40 of the second period.

"I didn't like the goal I gave up, but you kind of stick with it," Elliott said. "They take care of the rest. It hasn't even sunk in that that was a big game for us. We really wanted that one and to kind of prove a point and a measuring stick at this time of year."

The Blackhawks had the best chance on the game's only power play in the first period when Kane split a pass into the slot, Teuvo Teravainen had an open goal but his shot caromed off Bouwmeester's skate and over the glass with 1:30 remaining.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (left) is in position with teammate Kyle
Brodziak (28) defending Chicago's Artemi Panarin Thursday night.

The Toews goal looked like it would hold up until the theatrics at the end.

"I didn't think we played our best, but sometimes you've got to win when things aren't going your way," Pietrangelo said. "There's been a lot of case of that this year when things might not be going our way and find a way to win. Kind of like after last game. We're resilient. We've got a lot of character in here. We're going to need that come postseason.

"We knew, too, that they needed another point. We knew they were going to pull their goalie there (at the end after the Blues tied it). We knew they were going to give as much as they can. They had nothing to lose there at the end. In 3-on-3, you're going to trade chances.  ... We had to win this game to give ourselves a chance to pass them and we did just that."

* NOTE -- Hitchcock said after the game that it's a "good chance" rookie Robby Fabbri plays in the season-finale against the Capitals. 

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