Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tarasenko scores twice in Blues' 3-2 win over Predators

Game-winner came with 3:51 remaining in Game 2 to even best-of-7 series 1-1

ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko has heard all the questions.

What can you do to score more? Are you getting enough shots? How can you get the power play going? Etc ... etc ... 

Tarasenko is the Blues' go-to guy, their leading scorer. He's their lone legitimate threat to hit the 40-goal mark despite falling one short this past regular-season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera (right) celebrates with teammates, including Colton Parayko,
after scoring the tying goal in the third period of Game 2 on Friday.

But to offset when he's not scoring, Tarasenko has been doing what coach Mike Yeo said is "the little things." 

But there was a look in his eye, one Yeo said was evident on Thursday, and it came to light Friday night and Tarasenko followed it up by scoring twice, including the game-winning goal with 3 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round before 19,506 at Scottrade Center.

Tarasenko, who led the Blues in goals (39) and points (75) this season and was tied with teammate Jaden Schwartz with 36 assists, came through off a rush and was able to get a kick pass -- of all things -- from Joel Edmundson and beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne past the right pad.

The best-of-7 series is now tied 1-1 with Game 3 slated for Sunday afternoon in Nashville (2 p.m.).

"It's a great play by 'Schwartzy' and then I probably scream for 'Eddy' to leave it to me and 'Eddy' make a good play," Tarasenko said. "Another one of my goals (is) a big goal for us. 

"After first game, we can't lose this one, so it's tied series now and play Nashville on (Sunday) and have time to reset and do our best."

Jori Lehtera also scored for the Blues, the tying goal with 7:39 to play, and Jake Allen made 22 saves, including 14 in the third period, to help preserve the win.

Allen came up with a number of big stops, but none bigger than the one on James Neal with 38 seconds remaining to preserve the 3-2 lead.

"We knew it was going to be a long series," Allen said. "I don’t think either team thought it was going to be a sweep, for one side or the other. That’s going to be rare in these ages. We’re still in for a long series, just have to get rest and go into a tough building."

Ryan Ellis had a goal and an assist, Neal scored, and Rinne made 17 saves for Nashville, which lost for the first time this postseason after five straight wins.

This was all about the Blues evening the series and making it a best-of-5, and it was up to one of their best players to help get them there.

"Actually, I saw that look (in his eye) yesterday to be honest with you," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Tarasenko. "What he's done in the playoffs speaks for itself. If you want to look up the stats and what he's done speaks for itself. It's tough on a guy like that when you have to answer the questions that you're not scoring and obviously the pressure you have to deal with and the matchups you have to face and the focus the other team puts on you. It's the mental toughness that he's been battling real hard through real impressively. Obviously he did a great job for us tonight. ... It's not like he's been playing poorly."

"We know when he gets his chances, they're going to go in," Blues center Paul Stastny said of Tarasenko. "Big-time goals from a big-time player that's done it all year for us."

The Predators took a 1-0 lead when Ellis' slap shot from the point double-deflected off Colton Sissons and Neal at 7:49 of the first period. It was Nashville's first shot on goal after the Blues had the better of the play early, but Alex Pietrangelo threw the puck off the wall to an open spot that Ellis took advantage of for a turnover.

The Blues tied it 1-1 during a five-minute power play. Tarasenko's wrist shot beat Rinne, who was screened by Paul Stastny, with 19.4 seconds remaining in the period.

"When he has time, it's more setting my position, let him shoot it around me and he did that," Stastny said. "Great shot."

The Blues got the five-minute major as a result of Nashville center Vernon Fiddler kneeing Blues defenseman Colton Parayko with 1:32 remaining in the first. 

Parayko went down in a heap of pain but was able to skate off on his own power an returned for the second period.

Parayko didn't feel like it was a malicious play.

"I saw him as soon as I came around the net," Parayko said. "Then I went to play the puck and it bobbled off me. I don't know if he took a different route or I went a different way, it happens so fast. It's just one of those things. I'm assuming he wasn't trying to do it. It's hockey and the game's so fast.

"(The knee is) good. It's sore, but it's good. It got turned around, just a weird hit. It's all good. Just glad to be back out there."

When asked if he was scared initially, Parayko said, "For sure. Obviously knee on knee is never good. I have my long legs that I don't think help. Use them kind of as leverage. It's good.

"I wouldn't say dirty. I think it happened so fast that maybe one of us couldn't get out of the way."

It was a reminder of when Parayko fell back on his leg against the New York Islanders, something that looked like a serious injury but he came back moments later amazingly.

"That one was a freak accident to that I couldn't believe," Parayko said. "That one was pretty scary. I'm very fortunate to be able to continue to play."

The Blues held the Predators to nine shots through two periods, but the Ellis gave the Predators a 2-1 lead at 3:07 of the third period when he picked off Vladimir Sobotka's pass and ripped one past Allen.

But there was no panic in the Blues, who scored seconds after a power play by Lehtera, who slammed in a loose puck after a crowded crease around Rinne after Parayko wristed a puck towards the Nashville goalie. It bounded up, Rinne kept Patrik Berglund's attempt out, but Lehtera was there to slam it home.

"Even to give up that goal early in the third period and to come back and win that game, says an awful lot about our group," Yeo said.

And it set up the late-game theatrics, with Edmundson providing what looked like an innocent kick.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo shoots a puck past Nashville's Miikka
Salomaki in Game 2 on Friday. The Blues won 3-2 to tie the series 1-1.

"I was hoping (Schwartz) would put it right in my wheelhouse for a one-timer, but if you can get it to the goal-scorer, you might as well," Edmundson said.

He did, and Tarasenko did the rest. And he did it in front of 11-year-old Ari Duggan, the cancer patient Tarasenko recently invited to go on a roas trip with the team.

"You can't score every game, but if you don't score come games, you need to help your team," Tarasenko said. "... You need to do defensive stuff and show the teammates your attitude. Just being a good teammate.

"It's playoffs and I don't really care who score and not score. We just need the wins to win the Cup. ... It was nice to see (Ari) here finally. I think she's pretty happy right now, too."

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