Sunday, December 27, 2009

Third period letdown costs Blues again at home

Three goals in final period gives Buffalo 5-3 victory; St. Louis falls to 5-12-2 at Scottrade

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have found so many ways to lose at home, it seems. At least they thought they did.

Sunday night's latest home loss came from an unlikely variety: leading after the second period, where the Blues were virtually spotless.

Sure, there was the Edmonton debacle of a few weeks ago, but this is unchartered territory for a team that has prided itself on protecting third-period leads.

The Blues were also done in by a bevy of former Blues to rub salt in the wound.

They led the Buffalo Sabres by a goal and were looking to wipe away a tough loss the previous night in Minnesota.

But the Sabres got a goal on a fortunate bounce that set the tone, and Tim Connolly helped seal the Blues' fate by scoring twice, including the game-winner on the power play in Buffalo's 5-3 win over the Blues at Scottrade Center.

The latest loss dropped the Blues to 6-12-2 on home ice, including 5-12-2 at Scottrade Center, and after the latest loss, the swing of western Canada -- where the Blues went 3-0 -- has quickly become a distant memory. The 14 home losses combined are the most in the NHL.

The Blues (17-16-5) have now given up six goals on 13 third-period shots in the last two contests and lost for only the second time in regulation (12-2-3) when leading after two periods.

They were tied 1-1 Saturday night in Minnesota and gave up three goals on seven shots in a 4-3 loss. They allowed six shots and three goals Sunday.

"It really bothers me because we lost both games," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "We've been a pretty good team this year in most cases leading going into the third period. ... Certainly a concern for us.

"I can't say we sat back. I think you would be in agreement there. I don't think we sat back in the third period."

The game marked a reunion of sorts for the Sabres (23-11-4), who sport former Blues Jochen Hecht, Grier and goalie Patrick Lalime. They also roster St. Louis native Chris Butler, who collected two assists. Grier had two goals and an assist and Lalime stopped 32 shots.

"We didn't play well (Saturday) night," Grier said, referring Buffalo's 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa. "I think we all kind of felt anxious coming into the game (Sunday) and the guys battled. I think it took us a while to find our legs, but we battled and hung in there."
Ty Conklin took the loss in goal, stopping 19 shots, but the third Buffalo goal was what got under his skin.

The Blues held a 3-2 lead -- on two Alex Steen goals and Eric Brewer's 50th career goal -- when Grier redirected Tim Kennedy's long stretch feed from the point that Conklin had, but he puck squirted through his pads after he tried to close the puck up. The goal came 3 minutes, 15 seconds into the third and got the Sabres rolling.

"I went to close my legs to cover the puck and it hit the inside of my knees and just squirted in," Conklin said. "It's just a fluky goal.

"I knew exactly where it was. I was looking at it. I just went to close my legs. ... That probably won't happen again in two years. It was a fluky goal, but it sets a bad tone for the third period."

"I knew I had (Grier) on my backside and (the pass) kind of went off my blade and it went off him somehow," Blues defenseman Erik Johnson said. "Sometimes, that stuff happens."

The Sabres would take advantage of a Johnson holding penalty when Connolly tipped home Butler's shot from the point at 7:22.

"We took a tough penalty, gave up a power play goal," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "It went by two guys, a shot from the point. ... I have seen the penalty. We need to kill a penalty and we need to score a power play goal, and we didn't."

The Blues failed on five power play chances and have now misfired on 11 opportunities since scoring four power play goals in Edmonton Tuesday.

"Our power play was not very good when we needed it to be good," Murray said.

The Blues' golden chance on the power play came late in the third, when Andy McDonald -- who was stopped on a point-blank chance with 5:03 to play -- took a shot that Lalime kicked out to the far side to a wide open Brad Boyes, but the puck got to Boyes so fast he didn't have time to react quickly enough. Thirteen seconds later, Connolly was backhanding a shorthanded goal past Conklin with 3:16 to play.

"It came out quick," Boyes said. "I'm trying to get what I can on it. I don't know if I'm too tight there or what, but (Saturday) night in Minnesota was kind of the same thing. A rebound comes out and it goes right by me. It happens real quick, but somehow, you've got to get something on it."

Added Boyes, "Good teams find ways to win, and these were two games we could have gotten points out of. We didn't. Especially tonight was tough being in our building. I don't know what else really to say. We just didn't get it done."

Sound familiar?

The Blues have now only won one of their seven at home (1-5-1).

* NOTES -- After getting an assist on Steen's second goal, Patrik Berglund now has six points in four games after having only six points in his first 28 games. ... Forward Paul Kariya left the game after the first period with what the team is calling an upper-body injury. Kariya took an elbow to the head by Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta with 1:26 left in the period and did not return. ... Forward Keith Tkachuk also added an assist and now has 27 career points in 24 games against the Sabres. ... Buffalo's last win here was on Oct. 1, 1997, a 3-1 win.

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