Monday, January 18, 2010

Blues getting the job done in third period

Outscoring opponents 5-0 in previous three final periods,
Blues ride season-best winning streak into Columbus

ST. LOUIS -- Before the Blues came home for a three-game homestand this past week, they had been somewhat of a third period enigma.

Despite holding into a lead prior to coming home in Los Angeles on Jan. 9th against the Kings, the Blues nearly squandered a three-goal lead before holding on for a 4-3 win. Two days earlier, they were tied 1-1 heading into the third at Anaheim but lost 4-2. They lost a 1-0 lead at San Jose on Jan. 6 before falling 2-1 in overtime, and on New Year's Eve, it was a 3-0 game -- 301 after two periods -- that saw the Blues fall 4-3 in overtime at home against Vancouver. It turned out to be the final game of Andy Murray's coaching reign with the Blues.

The Blues had given up 51 goals in third periods this season going into their game Tuesday against Columbus, who the Blues play tonight at Nationwide Arena. Eleven games that were tied or the Blues had leads, they had lost through 44 games.

But in the last three for St. Louis (21-19-7), they won them all and outscored their opponents 5-0 in those games, including 3-0 Saturday in a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers. They were scoreless in the game Thursday against Minnesota and won 1-0 on a T.J. Oshie goal.

So what has been the difference?

Obviously, the defensive structure has been polished up, and Chris Mason (4-1-1 with a 1.37 goals-against average) is making stops.

"I think we've just been sticking with the game that we start with," said left winger Alex Steen, who has eight goals in the last nine home games and 10 points in the last 10 games overall (seven goals). "We come out flying, we've got good energy, we're physical. The puck retrievals have gotten a lot better. We're getting in, we're getting support and really keeping them and grinding them down low.

"Towards the end of the game, their six defensemen are tired of us just keeping with it and doing it all night. As of late, I thought we've come out with a lot more energy in the third period than we did in the past. Obviously, a big part of that is Mase in the net has been great for us making the saves when we need him to."

The Blues are riding a season-best four-game winning streak as they open a three-game trip against the Blue Jackets today (6 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) and have outscored their opponents 7-2 in those four third periods.

"It's just a constant reminder about what it is we're trying to well," coach Davis Payne said when asked if there is anything different the team is now doing. "It's just reemphasizing when we're coming out of the locker room about how we need to be playing. ... It's just reemphasizing we've got to get our game back directed, we've got to get back being predictable to ourselves and trust that. That's going to get us the opportunity to create a lead and then finish it off."

In the last two games, the Blues were tied 0-0 against Minnesota and 1-1 against the Rangers. In both games, they've gotten a goal in the first minute of the third period.

Oshie scored 26 seconds into Thursday's win, and Roman Polak netted the game-winner 45 seconds into the third period Saturday night.

"We'll take those every time we come out tied into a period," Payne said.

And now when the Blues are getting the lead, they do all things necessary to protect those leads, not squander them.

Mason is a big reason, as he has stopped all 30 shots in the previous three third periods after allowing 10 of 15 goals in third periods of the Blues recent seven-game losing stretch.

"Even when we've gotten into trouble, we limit it by good positioning and we cover for each other," said Mason, whose given up 10 goals in the last six games. "I think before, when we'd give up goals in the third period or lose in the third, we get running around and it would be chaos, but now we're controlling that."

They're also controlling their wins and losses and adding up the points.

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