Friday, February 12, 2010

Pair of shorthanded goals fuel Blues' 4-0 win over Leafs

Mason earns 20th career shutout; Blues
move within four points of eighth place in west

ST. LOUIS -- On paper, the Blues had a decisive advantage on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.

The Leafs came into Scottrade Center last in the Eastern Conference with 49 points and 11 games under .500. But as Blues goalie Chris Mason put it after a 4-0 victory over Toronto, "We have no right to underestimate anybody."

The Blues, who moved within four points of eighth-place Calgary for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, did not underestimate an opponent that has played drastically well since making a pair of major trades within the last two weeks.

The Blues got two shorthanded goals in a game for the first time since Jan. 16, 2007 from T.J. Oshie and Alex Steen -- a former Leaf, Mason stopped 30 shots for his second shutout of the season and 20th of his career and the team's penalty killing unit was a perfect 8 for 8 in the game.

"It was a pretty good night by that crew," Blues coach Davis Payne said of his PK unit. "Jay McClement, (B.J.) Crombeen, Weaves (Mike Weaver), Jax (Barret Jackman) obviously and Mase obviously -- the main crew. They did a pretty good job as far as executing. (Assistant coach) Brad Shaw's got them under that direction, obviously did a fantastic job not only got through the eight but scoring two shorthanded goals."

Andy McDonald also got his team-leading 19th goal of the season as the Blues jumped into 12th place in the conference and improved to 27-25-9, good for 63 points.

And it was two shorthanded goals that fueled a critical game where anything but two points was not good enough.

Oshie and Steen scored shorthanded goals 4 minutes, 40 seconds apart in the second period to give the Blues a 3-0 lead that all but deflated a Toronto team that has had a hard time winning games throughout the season.

"You try and not to focus on exactly what that's done to the other team," Payne said "You expect a response, and we expected them to come out sharp. We wanted to make sure we got through the rest of the kill. It's always the focus coming off the bench. It's great we scored a shorty, but we still have some time to work on here."

Oshie converted a good forecheck by David Backes, who picked off an errant pass from Toronto's John Mitchell along the right boards, skated in and wrapped a shot around the goal that Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere got a piece of but Oshie was on the doorstep for an open side at 9:07 of the second.

"That was all (Backes) there," said Oshie, who scored his 12th of the season. "I was just kind of the guy standing there."

Steen was also able to win a battle from Toronto's Luke Schenn and beat Giguere, one of the Leafs' acquisitions on Jan. 31 along with defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Steen, traded to the Blues along with Carlo Colaiacovo on Nov. 24, 2008 for Lee Stempniak, wrapped a shot through the pads of Giguere at 13:47 as the Blues were on their fifth penalty kill.

"We certainly got to be careful with (the penalties) tomorrow night," said Oshie, referring to facing the high-flying Washington Capitals. "We were lucky our penalty kill was playing pretty well tonight, and we were playing in their end a little bit. We were fortunate to get those two goals, two hard-working goals."

Mason did the rest, and he was particularly good in the third period when he stopped half of the 30 shots he faced.

"For the most part, we did a pretty good job of clearing the shooting lanes," Mason said. "Just seeing the puck pretty good.

"Our penalty killers did a great job tonight. Every chance they had to get it down and clear the zone, they did. That's so important. It's a lot harder than it looks. ... Power play players will tell you how frustrating that is to go back and forth the whole time and that's what we made them do."

Payne said Mason is at his best when he's able to come out and challenge shooters.

"I think that's his most effective style of play," the Blues' coach said. "He knows he has to be in those areas, he knows he has to get to those spots in order to challenge people. We can talk about when a certain part of a guy's game goes, we certainly have some keys to look forward to with Chris and that's one of them."

The Leafs (19-31-11) came out flying in the third despite trailing 3-0, but the Blues put the game on ice when Crombeen was able to convert Jay McClement's backhand feed at 13:47.

"I think we were getting a little giddy in between periods, and Jax had to sit us down and say, 'Hey, we still have 20 minutes to go here. Let's focus and do what we talk about,'" Oshie said.

"You saw the first five minutes (of the third period)," Backes said. "They stepped their game up to another level and we needed to respond. It took us a second to kind of get slapped in the face that they're going to come out, they're not going to quit and we need to respond and keep playing our game. I think we finished well."

The Blues had to kill off two penalties in the game's final four minutes, but just like the previous six, the Leafs were stuck on zero.

"If we weren't sharp on the PK that game, it's ugly in a hurry," Backes said. "I don't have the numbers, but I'd say seven or eight minors we had to kill off. We were out there long enough that we were bound to have a few chances shorthanded. Obviously Osh capitalized on one and Alex Steen did a great job on winning one on two or three behind the net and comes around and stuffs one in their net."

The Blues will go from playing the East's worst to the East's best when Alexander Ovechkin and Capitals come calling at 7 p.m. Then the team convenes for the Winter Olympics.

"Ovechkin, (Alexander) Semin and (Nicklas) Backstrom ... it goes all the way down the list," Backes said of tonight's opponent. "They're a team with a ton of firepower, a ton of speed. It's going to be a great test for all 20 guys in the lineup tomorrow night to get a job done and have a good streak and have a good reason to celebrate during this break."

* NOTES -- Blues forward Keith Tkachuk missed the game because of an upper-body injury suffered in Tuesday's shootout win over Detroit. He's listed as day-to-day but will likely miss tonight's game as well. ... Tkachuk was replaced in the lineup by Cam Janssen, who had an eventful night with Toronto tough guy Colton Orr. The two scrapped twice and accumulated 54 of the game's 76 penalty minutes. ... Forward D.J. King and defenseman Darryl Sydor were healthy scratches. ... Jamal Mayers and Dallas Drake were the last two to score shorthanded goals in the same game for the Blues when they won 6-2 at Anaheim.

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