Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blues take another hard hit to playoff hopes with disheartening loss to Avalanche

Former Blue Erik Johnson scores go-ahead
goal; Colorado snaps 10-game winless skid

ST. LOUIS -- Four players, all fresh off a trade none of them expected as late as Friday evening, all had the opportunity to showcase themselves in front of their former employers in an effort to make the employer regret giving up on them.

It's safe to say that Erik Johnson got the last laugh.

At least for one night.

Johnson, the centerpiece of the Blues' rebuilding project when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2006, came back to Scottrade Center Tuesday night as a member of the Colorado Avalanche and scored the go-ahead goal to break a late third-period tie and help the Avalanche snap a 10-game winless skid in a 4-3 victory over the Blues.

Johnson, who along with Jay McClement went to the Avalanche for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, beat former teammate B.J. Crombeen to a puck along the left wall, then skated into the slot and ripped a shot through Ty Conklin with 5:06 remaining and help sink the Blues (27-23-9) on this night and likely right out of the playoff chase.

The 22-year-old pumped his fist high into the air as his Avalanche teammates mobbed him near the Blues bench. The Avalanche (26-27-7) were 0-9-1 coming into the game, with their last win coming against the Blues on Jan. 24 and have now beaten St. Louis seven straight times.

Needless to say, it was an elated visiting locker room on this night.

"I don't think it could get much better than this," Johnson said. "Obviously first and foremost, you want to get a win in your old building against your old team ... to score a goal is just icing on the cake.

"To do it in front of the fans that supported me for the last number of years is humbling for me. It's just such a great feeling, I can't really say a lot of words. It's such a unique experience."

Stewart, who was playing on this side of the ledger for the first time, did his part. He scored a goal, and after the league makes the change official this morning, will be credited with the team's third goal, giving him four goals in three games with his new team.

It wasn't enough to save the Blues.

"That's two points you definitely want to have, especially this time of the year," Stewart said. "It's 2-2 going into the third. We had our chances. We had a couple key turnovers, and they capitalized.

"It was one of those games where we were in between. I think we showed when we play the right way, the damage we can do. We've just got to bring that full 60-minute effort to get two points every night."

The loss was the second in a row for the Blues, who blew a two-goal lead Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks here, then lost to the team playing arguably the worst hockey of the season.

The Avalanche had been outscored 42-14 in their 10-game slide, but the Blues could only muster three goals by Peter Budaj despite outshooting Colorado 45-27.

But time and time again, the Blues self-destruct in their own end and the puck winds up in their net.

"Mistakes are going to end up in your net or they're going to go in theirs," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "A coverage opportunity that got ourselves to a possession, lost the wall battle. Now all of the sudden we've got a guy coming right down our slot. Now we've given up the lead and we turn the next one over and we're down by two."

To add salt to the wound, Paul Stastny scored a goal and added two assists, adding another painful reminder of what the Blues could have had in the 2005 draft, when they took defenseman Scott Jackson in the second round instead of Stastny, who went seven slots later to the Avalanche.

"You give a team who is struggling a chance to believe that they can win in your building and we did that," Payne said.

The Blues came out flat and fell behind 2-0 early in the game on goals by David Jones and Milan Hejduk.

The Blues were able to fight back, getting a first-period goal by Patrik Berglund and Stewart's power play goal in the second that tied the game 2-2 with one period to go.

But the Blues once again couldn't shake the turnover bug in their zone. Both times, the puck wound up in their net.

Crombeen was beat by Johnson along the wall for the go-ahead Avalanche goal, and then T.J. Oshie had his pocket picked by Stastny trying to poke a puck on an outlet play that Stastny roofed from the slot over the glove hand of Ty Conklin with 2:38 remaining.

Conklin said, "We played about 55 good minutes or about nine, 10 good minutes and then play five laid back. ... At least make a save somewhere in there."

"We got beat in some one-on-one battles tonight that shouldn't happen," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It ended up costing us in the end.

"Sometimes, they might be a little bit more hungry at different times, and sometimes it ends up in your net."

The third goal, originally credited to Andy McDonald but will go to Stewart, was scored 22 seconds after Stastny's goal. But there would be no miracle finishes here.

"We're trying to pull something magical out," Payne sad. "We had some decent opportunity in the third period, but again, it's just about sticking to the detail, sticking to the situation, putting your opponent in areas where they make mistakes, protecting the inside of the ice. We didn't do that.

"We didn't start with the type of checking intent. I thought a lot of intent to get up the ice. We were skating, but we were skating away from support situations. We were skating away from outlet situations. Was there energy? Sure, but we've got to make sure it's applied as a group of five making sure that it moves up ice into the right areas."

Said winger Alex Steen, "It's tough. We battled back. We just didn't do what needed to be done tonight. ... I thought we certainly had our chances, but there's some sloppy plays that ended up costing us the game. These are two tough games to lose, especially at home. I don't think they outplayed us, we beat ourselves at times by just not doing the things we normally do to win us hockey games. We got away from it tonight."

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