Sunday, May 1, 2016

Backes nets OT goal, ties series with Stars

Blues squander two-goal lead in third, get 
power play goal in overtime to even best-of-7 series

DALLAS -- The birthday boy was greeted with choruses of "Happy Birthday" as he entered the locker room, and coming from his teammates, it couldn't have come at a better time for Blues captain David Backes.

Backes' second overtime goal of these Stanley Cup Playoffs gave the Blues a 4-3 victory against the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round on Sunday at American Airlines Center.

The goal evened the best-of-7 series 1-1 with Games 3 and 4 shifting to St. Louis on Tuesday and Thursday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (42) collects a rebound and winds up scoring on the Stars'
Antti Niemi for the OT game-winner Sunday in a 4-3 victory in Game 2.

Game 3 is slated for 8:30 p.m.

The Blues, who squandered a 3-1 third-period lead when the Stars tied it on goals by Mattias Janmark and Jamie Benn with 2 minutes 36 seconds remaining, got their second power play in the overtime when Antoine Roussel interfered with Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester inside the Blues' blue line.

The Blues used the second one in OT to their advantage when initially, Vladimir Tarasenko stung Alex Goligoski with a shot off the inside of his right knee, then Tarasenko got the rebound to Kevin Shattenkirk, who fed Alexander Steen for a one-timer at the top of the right circle that Stars goalie Antti Niemi, who replaced Kari Lehtonen at the start of the second period, saved with Backes jumping over the play. Backes collected the rebound and deposited it home at 10:58.

"I could see the one-timer coming over, so I figured if I could get (Niemi's) eyes – and Steener got it up – that it had a good chance to go in," Backes said. "And if he didn’t get it up, then I could turn around, find the rebound and one of those fortuitous bounces right on my tape and slam it home before anyone can realize where it is. 

"I think Jaromir Jagr in all his wisdom at 44 said, 'Who cares who scored?' And that’s the way we feel in this room. Who cares who scored? We got this series tied back up. We’re still getting better, need to play better. We did our job, got one in their building. Now we need to go home and play solid hockey for 60 minutes and really start to establish our game."

It's a spot where Backes makes his living, and Hitchcock gave him all the praises for being there all the time knowing full well that players can get beaten up, by players whacking at you and by shots from teammates.

"I've been in the league since '95 and I've only coached two players who are willing to absorb the shot," Hitchcock said. "Lots of guys go into traffic. There's lots of guys that will go into traffic, but as the puck's coming, they'll jump out of the way or try to tip it. He's one of two players that's been able to hang in there with the shot, so he's willing to absorb the puck and then make a play after that, which is very unique because there's not many players that will do that. He even practices it on a daily basis. I find it amazing that you get an athlete, especially in this day and age that's still willing to absorb all those pucks."

Who's the other? Raffi Torres, who Hitchcock coached in Columbus.

"He got hurt doing it. Torres ... Raffi was the other guy," Hitchcock said. "Only guys for me that I've ever coached that are willing to absorb the shot."

Said Blues rookie defenseman Colton Parayko: "Happy birthday to Backes for that one. He always goes to the hard spots. Net-front's not an easy spot to be in. You're getting pushed around. You're getting hacked, you're getting whacked. It's a gritty area. That's a place that's huge, and if you've got guys that are willing to go there, be willing to do that for you, kudos to him for the overtime winner."

The win for the Blues was their first victory in a second-round playoff game since May 7, 2002 against the Detroit Red Wings; they had gone 0-7 since.

And Backes' OT winner makes him the second player in franchise history to score multiple overtime goals in one playoff season. Pierre Turgeon did it in 1999.

But the real question on this day was why did the Blues abandon what got them to a good position leading 3-1 after 40 minutes? They were crisp, they were checking the Stars into mistakes, they outhit them 31-13 after two periods and led on goals by Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson and Troy Brouwer, all that came in the first period on five shots.

And the second period, which has been an Achillies' heel in these playoffs (outscored 12-3), was one of their best ones despite not scoring.

But then the old prevent defense, which only prevents one from winning, found its way into the Blues' game and it almost cost them.

"The second period was the best we've played all playoffs," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We did everything we wanted to do, we played a heck of a period and then we played the score, and that's the wrong thing you can do against Dallas; they're too good. We started to play the score. Probably in normal situations, it works out fine, but you can't play the score against them, so we started to play the score a little bit in the third period and ended up not handling the puck enough."

When asked if this is a coaching tactic, Hitchcock said laughing, "No."

So how does it creep back into their game?

"The score. It's a natural tendency," Hitchcock said. "What do they say? The worst lead in hockey's a two-goal lead. It's natural. You play the score, so you put a safety net up and it's been like that ever since I've started coaching. The other team's on a push. The other team's playing high-risk, so they're pinching on everything, they're trying to join numbers on the attack. They're on full-bore go and it's hard to play that way on your toes when everybody's behind you. So what they did was they got everybody behind us, so you have a choice. You go forward and attack, but you're not forechecking anybody. You're forechecking one player because there's four or five hanging behind you. It's not anything that's instructed that we've got to do this or we've got to do that. That's not the way we want to play and that's not the way we should play. It's a natural tendency for any team. 

"Look at some of the games we've come back on. The teams tried to protect the lead and we just steam-rolled them. The thing that impressed me more than anything was the way we played in the overtime ... outstanding. We went into attack mode and stayed on it the whole time. I was really impressed with the way we did OT."

The Blues got back on their toes, as Hitchcock pointed out and were able to get the benefit from the call that set up the game-winner.

"Oh yeah, it was interference," Bouwmeester said, who was interfered with that gave Ales Hemsky a chance to break in on Brian Elliott. "It was a penalty. Our power play has been good this year, coming up key at pretty key moments and tonight was another one."

The Blues stared at adversity early in this game when Goligoski gave the home side a 1-0 lead on a bullet one-timer from the left circle top shelf over Elliott's glove at 3:36, taking Benn's pass from behind the net.

But the Blues, who had only five shots on goal in the first, answered quickly and efficiently.

Berglund tied it 1-1 off a give-and-go with Fabbri, ripping a one-timer top shelf from the left circle over Lehtonen 35 seconds after the Stars' goal, a huge response by the visitors.

"Very important obviously," Berglund said. "I think that's not the start we wanted. Of course we take that goal and we come right back to the game. After that, we played obviously two great periods. The third obviously wasn't what we wanted, but something we've got to really work on."

Edmundson's first NHL playoff goal came 2:51 later for a 2-1 Blues lead after Brouwer's forecheck forced a turnover, Paul Stastny got it quickly to Scottie Upshall, who returned it to Brouwer, who then saucered a beautiful pass on the backdoor to Edmundson for the finish.

"That's what he was in the 'A.' He was a two-way guy," Hitchcock said of Edmundson. "I think he's been the most impressive upgrade for us on the back-end. His last two games have been outstanding, which is a good sign."

Brouwer put the Blues up 3-1 with 1:20 remaining in the period after Fabbri got a puck back to Kevin Shattenkirk, who threw a wrister at Lehtonen. Lehtonen made the initial save but left a rebound in the slot and Brouwer pounced in the slot.

Lehtonen was pulled after the first period in favor of Niemi.

The bad news for the Blues, who have had a tough time in second periods this postseason, is they didn't score again, meaning they have three goals in the second period in nine games. The good news is they didn't allow a goal, and took the initiative and outshot the Stars 10-6 in the period. 

The Blues nearly took a three-goal lead, but Niemi made a right pad stop on Brouwer from close-in range with 12:40 remaining in the period.

Elliott had a bit of a testy save to make on Benn, who was able to spin and slip a shot from the slot after a deflected puck fell there that Elliott had to make a key left pad save on with 9:23 remaining on the Stars' second power play of the game.

Janmark got one back for the Stars in the third period when he burst through the middle on a deflected puck and beat Elliott on the breakaway 4:35 into the period to make it a 3-2 game.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (left) and David Backes celebrate Backes' overtime goal
Sunday of a 4-3 victory in Game 2 against the Dallas Stars.
The Blues avoided trouble when a Jason Spezza point blast hit Elliott square in the mask. The Blues' netminder was down for a bit but stayed in the game and needed a new mask momentarily before getting his replica "Cujo" mask back minutes later.

"It was right out on my cheekbone there," said Elliott, who made 31 saves. "It was all good after that.

"(Blues assistant equipment manager Joel Farnsworth) was quick on the changeover. Kind of like NASCAR. I got it back quicker than expected. It was a good play by him."

The Blues got what they wanted at the least, and that was a game on the road, which they needed. Now they have to preserve home ice.

"Obviously we would have liked to lock it down and win the game in regulation, but a win is a win this time of year," Bouwmeester said. "Who cares?"

"Game 3's going to be a huge one in who can really put their game out their for the longer time, stick with it, and make plays, I think they've probably played more better minutes than we have so far in this series," Backes said. "We've got to get back and take that over and we have an opportunity on Tuesday."

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