Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dominating performance sees Blues win fourth in a row

3-1 victory over Blackhawks fueled by one
of team's best performances of season

ST. LOUIS -- From an execution and effort standpoint, one would be hard-pressed to find a better result than the one the Blues got against the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night.

Sure, the Blues' 3-1 victory over the Hawks may sound like a competitive game based on the score, but it was hardly that close.

The Blackhawks can thank Marty Turco's 40-save performance. The veteran goaltender kept this one from being a 7- or 8-1 whitewash, as 19,150 fans at Scottrade Center witnessed. Turco was borderline phenomenal.

The Blues (19-12-5), winners of four in a row, snapped the four-game winning streak the Blackhawks (20-15-3) came in here with, and they did it with conviction in all facets of the game, outshooting the Hawks 43-26. The Blues also caught the Hawks in the standings, as both are tied for second in the Central Division.

From the tone set by Cam Janssen's fight with towering John Scott two minutes into the game, to Matt D'Agostini's crunching hit on Hawks center Jonathan Toews that knocked Toews out of the game with an apparent right shoulder injury, the Blues were not flustered after falling behind and having to somehow beat a goalie that was on his game.

"It's a pretty good watermark for our club," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I thought guys came with the right energy, guys came to make sure we skated through the battles, making sure that we were two-hand strong in making those statements, putting a lot of pucks on net which is what we wanted to do right from the start. We wanted to get our game directed.

"As off as we were against Nashville (in Sunday's 2-0 win) as far as handling our fore-check, I thought our (defensemen) generated some real clean exits based on moving their feet, based on moving the play, the forwards did a much better job in supporting. As a result, we were able to get up ice and get to those spots. Pretty solid hockey game by our team."

The Blues, after seeing Jake Dowell give Chicago a 1-0 first-period lead, got goals from Vladimir Sobotka, Brad Boyes and Brad Winchester's clincher late that needed video review to confirm the goal. And Ty Conklin, who was horrific in Chicago Nov. 30 during a 7-5 loss that saw the Blues netminder allow seven goals on 24 shots, was the surprise starter and gained some retribution in stopping 25 shots.

"Yeah, I think we all were," Conklin said, talking about getting back at the Hawks. "It certainly wasn't the game we wanted in there (last time). I thought we played about as complete of a game as we have in a while.

"It was nice to get a second chance at them."

Payne rewarded Conklin, who has won three straight starts, with another crack at the Hawks despite Jaroslav Halak winning two in a row and coming off a shutout of the Predators.

"Yeah, I was, certainly" Conklin said, when asked if he was surprised to get the start. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. But I was glad to get in there.

"(Payne) said, 'you're playing tomorrow.' I said, 'Ok.' I said, 'I'm playing?' He said, 'Yes.' I had to ask him again. He said, 'You sound surprised,' and I was."

Payne said the decision was easy.

"Big picture look. Ty had a solid game in Atlanta," Payne said. "Jaro had a couple solid games. As far as keeping each guy going and keeping each guy playing well, a chance for Jaro to kind of get himself reset for the next one. Just all part of the big picture, if you will. It might have looked off the wall for some, but Ty played a good hockey game.

"Nothing an athlete wants more than another kick at it. That's exactly what Ty got against these guys. I know his teammates were ready to put a better performance on the ice as well. It was a great team win."

Janssen and Scott fought for the second time this season and were engaged in a good battle, with each landing some good blows. The fight seemed to motivate the Blues.

"I'd like to think so ... big man," Janssen said. "I was trying to get a spark going. I knew he'd probably be running around, so I wanted to set it off as quick as I could, get the boys going as soon as possible and it looked like it worked."

Scott was more than eager to get it going as well.

"I love fighting him," Scott said of Janssen. "I saw him in warmups, and I was like, 'I want to beat him up bad. I wanted to get it over with early. He's a good guy, he's a good fighter, I'm sure we'll tangle up again."

A turnover and consequent goal by Dowell with 1:47 left in the first gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead, but the Blues walked out of that period having outshot the Hawks 18-7, and it was Turco that preserved the Chicago lead.

"From our opinion, we'd take two more (periods) just like that (first one)," Payne said. "We felt that the odds and time and pressure would eventually land on our side with that generating that type of zone time, drawing some penalties because we were moving our feet. ... Our battle level was extremely high. We felt if we could just keep going with that type of game plan at the end of 60, we'd be in charge of this one."

Sobotka, playing with more and more confidence with each passing shift, was able to get off a shot from the top of the left circle that was wired for the top of the net, finally getting a shot by Turco on the Blues 25th shot of the game 4:39 into the second period.

Then they took control when Erik Johnson fired a shot from the right point 3:08 into the third that Boyes got a stick on to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

"There was good traffic in front," Boyes said. "I got a piece on it. I'm trying to shoot them, and they're not really going in. So I tipped one ... I'll take that."

The Blues were buzzing around the Hawks goal, even with a 2-1 lead, and Winchester was rewarded for his efforts by deflecting Barret Jackman's one-timer that Turco got a piece of but the puck flopped over Turco, who lunged to keep it out and gloved it out of midair to get a whistle. The referees initially ruled it no goal but video replays showed the puck was across before Turco could get it out. It gave the Blues a 3-1 lead with 5:50 to play.

"It originally started down low. It was a great pass out from Jay (McClement) and the puck kind of came back to Jax and hit Turco in the shoulder," Winchester said. "I was just able to get a stick on it. I thought it had a good chance of crossing the line.

"It was a good feeling. Certainly at the time of the period, we did generate a lot of shots. It was good to have one sneak in. ... Yeah, my gut feeling was that it was good. That's the benefit of the replay."

The Blues continued their relentless play, not giving the Hawks any breathing room at either end of the ice until the final horn sounded.

"We did a lot of things well," Winchester said. "For us, everything stems from hard work and certainly getting into our fore-check early on, having good back pressure, good returns certainly was key for us. We were able to generate chances off of the fore-check, which is something we keyed in on doing tonight."

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