Thursday, December 31, 2009

Oh, no! Not again

Blues blow another 3-0 lead, lose to Canucks in overtime to end 2009

ST. LOUIS -- Blues fans were loud and boisterous, something sorely missing from Scottrade Center much of this season. They've been waiting to erupt because frankly, there have not been many opportunities to do so.

So when the Blues build a three-goal lead in the second period against the Vancouver Canucks, a team they've beaten twice in as many chances, the Blues and their fans were ready to close the chapter on 2009 and leap into 2010 with renewed confidence.

But it happened again, and instead of being ready to embrace the new year, the Blues will limp into 2010 much the same way they've done so after many home games this season.

The Canucks scored four unanswered goals, including a power play goal by Christian Ehrhoff 2:24 into overtime to give Vancouver an improbable and -- to the Blues and their stunned fans -- a shocking 4-3 victory in front of the 10th straight sellout of 19,150 at Scottrade Center.

It was a stunning ending to the game and to the 2009 calendar year, as the Blues (17-17-6) can't wait to begin a new year because they have now lost nine of 10 at home and four of those games have been with leads entering the third period. It's the second time in six games they've blown a 3-0 lead at home and lost and fell to a league-worst 6-13-3 at home.

"You've got to act like you've been there before," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "You've got to act like you've been in tight games and get the job done and certainly, we didn't act the part tonight.
"We've been here before and they all hurt. I don't qualify losses. This hurts just like every loss that we've had."

The Blues, who build a 3-0 lead on goals by Alex Steen, Keith Tkachuk and Andy McDonald, played with confidence, played with passion and played with tons of energy.

They had the Canucks reeling for much of the game, despite trying to get Vancouver in the game with penalty after penalty (they had 12 minor penalties for 26 minutes after eight for 16 in the last home game).

But things changed in the third period, as the Canucks (24-16-1) mounted a rally that included third-period goals by Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin after Daniel Sedin got Vancouver on the board late in the second period.

"It's just one of these things where it's just not going good right now for us," a frustrated Tkachuk said. "You shouldn't lose the game when you're up 3-0 in your own building. It just seems like when we get a break, things start to unfold against us. It's frustrating, but we've just got to battle our way through this. We put ourselves in this predicament. You've got to keep trying to find solutions."

So how did the Blues manage to lose this game? According to Murray, it was all about puck management, something that was working for the team in building its lead.

"We have to manage the puck," Murray said. "The first touch out of your zone has to be good so that you move it by them so that when they're playing aggressive instead of stepping up like they were. You need to be composed with the puck, you need to deal with the pressure. You can't get the deer-in-the-headlights look. That's when you've got to be composed and make plays and you count on your guys to do that.

"We've always been a team, since I've been involved here, we've been able to close it out and get the job done by playing assertive and continue to attack. Tonight, again, two situations we get guys overlapping on coverage in our zone. A guy steps off the wall and gets a shot off to get their second goal, and then they get a guy that jumps out of the penalty box ahead of our guy and they score the goal to tie."

Samuelsson somehow worked his way out of the left corner and fired a shot from a tough angle that Blues goalie Chris Mason was unable to handle, as the puck squirted through his left side 5 minutes, 46 seconds into the third to make it 3-2.

And Henrik Sedin was able to bang home a shot at the near post with a crowded scrum near Mason's right with 1:56 to play, where the Blues goalie wasn't able to hold his position.

"You need key saves at key times, and for the greater part of the season, we've gotten that from our goaltender," Murray said. "I have to watch them to know exactly how we would grade the goals."
The Blues' Brad Boyes picked up a four-minute high-sticking penalty, when he apparently cut Vancouver's Ryan Kesler and the Canucks pounced when Ehrhoff blasted a shot from just inside the right circle through a screen.

"It was a great pass by (Kyle Wellwood) through the seam there," Ehrhoff said. "(Kesler) was making a great screen there (in front of the net) and the goalie couldn't see it. I just had to put it in the corner."

The penalties that plagued the Blues cost them in the end, for sure.

"They're all difficult," Blues captain Eric Brewer said. "It's certainly a tough stretch for us. At the end of the day, the penalties really took our flow of our game and we were good with it most of the game. They just found a way to get one when they needed one.

"Too many penalties, obviously," Brewer added. "It takes guys out of rhythm. ... It's hard to keep guys in it, and we found ways to break down and they stuck with it and built some momentum from some good shifts and were able to sustain it and find a way to win."

The Blues' Cam Janssen tried to motivate the sellout crowd when he got into a spirited fight with the Canucks' Rick Rypien, who received a match penalty that resulted in the power play for St. Louis.

Rypien received the automatic ejection for having tape on his hands below the wrist that cuts or injures an opponent during an altercation. Janssen was bleeding from the nose, where unconfirmed reports said he suffered a broken nose.

Steen's seventh of the season and fourth in three games gave the Blues the 1-0 lead, their only goal on the five-minute advantage.

* NOTES -- Tkachuk has 62 points in 64 career games against Vancouver. ... Canucks D Kevin Bieksa did not play and looks like will miss substantial time after injuring his ankle from a skate blade Tuesday in a shootout loss at Phoenix. ... When the Blues defeated the Canucks 6-1 here on Nov. 10, they scored four goals in the game's first 7:36. ... Blues D Erik Johnson returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch Tuesday. He is pointless in his last nine games. ... Steen has 10 points in seven games. ... St. Louis is 13-2-4 when leading after two periods.

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