Sunday, February 26, 2017

Blues open post-bye schedule with 4-2 loss to Blackhawks

Third straight loss similar to previous two, allowing 
points in the balance to slip; Anisimov goal late seals fate

CHICAGO -- Early on, it looked like the bye week for the Blues.

The Chicago Blackhawks pounced on a team that hadn't seen a live game puck in six days and a blowout appeared imminent. 

The Blues rebounded, but for a third straight game, with points in the balance, the Blues come away empty-handed after Artem Anisimov scored late and the Blackhawks turned back the Blues 4-2 on Sunday night before 21,961 at United Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) moves the puck up ice as goalie
Jake Allen watches the play Sunday night in Chicago.

The loss was the third straight for the Blues (31-25-5) and comes at a bad time as both Nashville (71 points) and Calgary (70 points) are now four and three points, respectively, clear of the Blues, who are three ahead of Los Angeles for the second and final wildcard in the Western Conference. Oh by the way, the Kings solidified their goaltending by acquiring native St. Louisan Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning to tandem with Jonathan Quick, who returned Saturday after a season-long groin injury.

"What we have to see is that we're close and we've been close in those games, but we're not good enough," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "There are some areas that we have to address and we have to do that quickly."

In a 2-2 game, Anisimov took Artemi Panarin's seam pass and patiently outwaited Jake Allen, who made 38 saves, before beating the Blues' goalie short side with 5 minutes, 20 seconds remaining to put the Blackhawks ahead 3-2 before Tanner Kero iced it with an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining after the Blues had ample sustained zone time playing 6-on-5.

"Patience. If he one-times that, I had it right there," Allen said of Anisimov's shot. "That's a really great play by him.

"Their top guys did what their top guys do. They made us pay. We've got to find ways to shut those guys down."

The Blues' loss means teams coming off the bye week are not 7-15-4, and Chicago knew it, and they threw the kitchen sink at Allen and the Blues in the first period.

The Blues looked like the team coming off the bye week and surrendered 20 shots in the first period and were probably fortunate to only be down 2-1.

Jonathan Toews continued his torrid streak by putting the Blackhawks up 1-0 4 minutes, 18 seconds into the game off a transition play in which Patrik Berglund didn't back-check his guy (Toews) and the d-pairing of Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson gave a big gap in allowing Toews to get behind them, and Nick Schmaltz threaded a pass before Toews outwaited Allen and roofed the shot.

Parayko initially tried to jump in the play, then got caught in no-man's land. Edmundson gave Schmaltz too much room to maneuver with.

Chicago went ahead 2-0 on a Kane goal, on the power play, off a give-and-go with Toews, a shot from the left circle that Allen may have wanted back after beating him short side at 11:44.

But the Blues found some momentum when Magnus Paajarvi scored after Jori Lehtera forced Trevor van Riemsdyk into a turnover before Paajarvi snapped a shot five-hole on Darling at 16:54 to make it 2-1 in a period the Blues were outshot 20-10.

"We knew we were going to have to take a few minutes to get our legs going," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who scored the tying goal on the power play in the second. "They've been playing. We've had five days off, six days off. I thought we got our legs going there pretty good. It's just frustrating again. It's two games in a row where we lose in the last couple minutes in the game."

Darling made the save of the game in that first on Paul Stastny, robbing the Blues' center on the doorstep with a sprawling arm/glove save with 6:39 remaining. It was one of three saves Darling made on Stastny on the doorstep. He did it again on a Stastny backhand in tight with 15:49 remaining and again with 1:34 remaining.

"We had chances all game," Pietrangelo said. "(Darling) made some pretty big saves. He had some big ones on Paul there. Sometimes it's how it goes. You get the looks you want and it doesn't go in. Still got to find a way to close that out."

The Blues got it back together in the second, applied pressure and eventually got the equalizer from Pietrangelo on the power play after David Perron found him coming down the slot as the trailing defenseman. Pietrangelo sniped a wrister short side top shelf at 12:33 to tie the game 2-2.

Berglund, after a reverse hit near center ice and drove the net to give Pietrangelo a chance, picked up the secondary assist, his first in 25 games; he also passed Bob Plager and now is alone in seventh place for most games played in franchise history with No. 616.

"(Paajarvi's goal) was huge, and you obviously get the equalizer in the second period and we almost grabbed the lead," Yeo said. "That would have been a changer if 'Vladi' would have ... we hit that pipe. We still had a great opportunity. We had a couple chances, but we gave up too many tonight."

Vladimir Tarasenko almost gave the Blues the lead late in the period, but his wrister from the top of the circle clanked off the corner bar with 2:01 remaining.

Allen did his part in the game and kept it tied with a glove save on Richard Panik with 7:45 remaining.

"I felt like I played well, gave us a chance," Allen said. "I'm happy with it."

The Blues pulled Allen with 1:36 to play, had ample opportunities to score with the sixth attacker but attempted few shots at Darling. 

Pietrangelo had one of the best when his shot was blocked by Ryan Hartman without a stick, and Hartman was without his stick because moments earlier, he attempted to try and throw it towards Tarasenko's shot attempt from the high slot, and was missed by officials, in the waning seconds.

Here is the rule:

53.6 Penalty Shot -- When any member of the defending team, including the Coach or any non-playing person, throws or shoots any part of a stick or any other object or piece of equipment at the puck or puck carrier in his defending zone, the Referee or Linesman shall allow the play to be completed and if a goal is not scored, a penalty shot shall be awarded to the non-offending team. This shot shall be taken by the player designated by the Referee as the player fouled.

"We want to get good looks like that. I've got to find a way to get that through," said Pietrangelo, who received stitches to his right ear after an errant puck hit him on the bench. "It's a good block, but I still got to find a way to score. It's just me against him. There's only one guy in the way there and he was on the ground."

As for Pietrangelo's ear, "Not too good. A little sore," he said. "All those shots that I block, I get hit on the bench. It's funny how it works."

It all started in Buffalo in a 3-2 loss on Feb. 18 when the Blues had a chance to win that game with 39 shots and several Grade-A scoring chances and again before the break a week ago Monday when they lost 2-1 to Florida with 4.6 seconds to play, and now this.

"We were right there," Allen said. "We fought our way back into the game. Tough one to swallow again. We've got to find a way to get even a point out of these games right now. They're so crucial. Monday was a heart-breaker and so was tonight, especially against an opponent we're trying to chase.

"We've still got work to do. We made strides as the game went on. We didn't expect our best. It's tough after six days off, no one did, but we still had a chance to get a point and we let it slip."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen makes one of 38 saves during a 4-2 loss to the 
Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.

"That was disappointing," Yeo said. "It felt like after two periods, that should have been a game that we should have been able to grab. Simple approach for us us we come back to work tomorrow and we get better.

"I thought we started OK, but you could tell there were a couple times where we weren't sharp mentally and a couple of those breakdowns obviously led to some big chances against. It's too bad because Jake did everything he could to keep us in that game. ... We had some looks at the doorstep and he made some great saves, but Jake made some great saves, too. It is what it is. We've got to find a way. They recognized that we were off for five days and we expected them to get in on the forecheck, to get to the offensive zone, throw as many pucks at the net. That's quite simply what they did."

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