Sunday, March 21, 2010

Predators shock Blues with two late goals

3-2 setback cripples St. Louis' playoff chances;
home loss is sixth when leading in third period

ST. LOUIS -- Game over. Season over.

Well, maybe the final nail hasn't been pounded shut on the season, but the hammer is ready to flail.

In a season where the Blues have coughed up leads in the third period -- at home particularly in inexcusable fashion -- the one they floundered away to the Nashville Predators on Sunday may have been the fatal pill to swallow.

Holding onto a one-goal lead late, the Blues saw the Predators score twice in a span of 48 seconds and in essence steal two points, winning in stunning fashion by a 3-2 result in front of 19,150 shell-shocked Blues fans at Scottrade Center that have seen this painful scenario all too often.

Patric Hornqvist tied the game with 3 minutes, 34 seconds to play, then Dustin Boyd scored his second of the game and eventual game-winner with 2:46 remaining as the Predators (42-26-5) won their sixth in a row and crippled the Blues' playoff hopes as they remain six points out with 10 games to play.

"It hurts tremendously," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We knew we were in a position with a great opportunity with this number of games to go, and have a lead late and all of the sudden end up with nothing ... it stings pretty good."

This was the kind of feeling the Blues (34-29-9) experienced all-too-often earlier in the season when they fumbled away a plethora of points that has them sitting in 10th place and on the outside looking in. It's the sixth time this season they lost a lead in the third period at home.

"That's been the story here at home," said forward Alex Steen, who collected two assists Sunday. "We haven't been able to hold onto leads. Tonight, I thought we had a good vibe and I thought we were going to do it.

"(Nashville) worked hard and they got their goals. We can't sit back like that and expect Mase to make all those saves. I don't know how many shots he faced, but it was too many. We lose an important one. Big game."

Chris Mason, who returned to goal after seeing Ty Conklin win road games in New York and New Jersey, was stellar in stopping 36 shots. But it was obvious the frustration level for the usually mild-mannered Mason, a former Predator.

"The bottom line is one team came to play to win, the other team just came to play," Mason said. "That's what happened.

"It's unacceptable. Bottom line, one team came to play to win, the other team just came to play. End of story."

The Blues, who got goals from Carlo Colaiacovo and David Perron, led twice in the game and saw Nashville increase the intensity level and in the end, gain the necessary points to vault the Predators' stance in the standings.

When Perron batted in a backhand 3:29 into the third period past Pekka Rinne that gave the Blues a 2-1 lead, the Blues failed to press forward and get the next goal.

It was a familiar scene that cost them in the end, sitting back and waiting for the opposition to strike.

"It seems to be that old shell that we got into midway through the season, one-goal game, at home, trying to hold onto what we got rather than staying on the attack and making them play in their own end," forward David Backes said. "I don't know how long the puck wasn't in our end in the last 10 minutes. If it's in there long enough, they're going to end up capitalizing and that's what happened."

Under Payne, the Blues appeared to shift away from that protect-a-lead-at-all-costs mentality they seemed to have under Andy Murray. But Nashville seemed to expose some of those flaws once again that proved costly for the Blues.

"(Sitting) back's never been part of our game," Payne said. "... It certainly looked like that. We want to play on our toes and that's with the puck and without the puck and I don't think we defended in that way, I don't think we got all the way to finishing our job in the (defensive) zone. That cost us extra time and that caused us to face extra pressure. We didn't handle it, spent too much time there."

The Blues failed miserably at clearing pucks out of their end, lost neutral zone battles and over the last five minutes or so and did not to an efficient job in the coverage areas needed to win.

If not for Mason, this could have been a runaway much earlier in the game.

"Without question," Payne said when asked if Mason gave his team a chance to win. "You look at the chances they had even through the second period, we hadn't played very good hockey up until then. It seemed like we were a step behind, not necessarily in skating but either in making the decision or making the support read or getting to an area where we could skate a puck out of trouble. To me, it was a little bit less than 100 percent of finishing the job that we needed to do tonight in all areas."

Mason said when the Blues got the lead, they did not raise their level of play.

"It was disappointing," he said. "It was a terrible period.

"You know that that team's going to come and bring a certain level of work every night. That's what they're built on. We just got outworked ... it's disgusting."

Hornqvist beat Darryl Sydor, playing his first game after sitting out 12 for the injured Roman Polak, and powered in the tying goal after Nashville pounced on the Blues' mistakes in which three different clearing attempts out of their end failed. Then Boyd got a pass in the slot from Martin Erat and snapped in the game-winner after the Predators got the puck in once again and forechecked the Blues into oblivion.

"We got the goal and we sat back," Steen said. "They took it too us, we let in one and then we let in two ... game over."

The Blues fell to 12-18-5 on home ice, and when they're on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin, they can stare at that record as the main culprit why they're not part of the chase for the Stanley Cup.

"I don't know what the reason is," Steen said. "We get to 2-1 and we sit back ... there's too many plays where we got chances to get pucks out. Me personally, I had one or two.

"It's just not good enough. That's why we're in the spot that we're in right now in the standings and that's what makes these games tough to swallow."

* NOTES -- Polak, who took part in the pre-game warm-ups, was injured late in Saturday's 1-0 win at New Jersey. He did not suit up after appearing to injure his right shoulder. "I was hoping (to play), but the coaches decided to not take the chance to hurry it," Polak said after the game. "If somebody hit me or something, it's going to be bad. We would have had to play with five (defensemen), so he didn't want to take the chance ... so that was the reason I didn't play today." Polak said it's not too serious. "I feel all right, sore, but all right." ... Blues defenseman Erik Johnson turned 22 on Sunday. ... Rinne, who is 8-1-0 since the return from the Olympic break, saw a shutout streak end on Colaiacovo's goal at 16:28 of the first period. His streak ended at 149:04. ... Predators captain Jason Arnott (head injury) did not play.

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