Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ending with a bang, Blues blank Predators

2-0 victory send Blues into offseason on a hot
streak; team will miss playoffs for fifth time in six seasons

ST. LOUIS -- For the Blues to finish the season with a victory Saturday night is only fitting, considering the way the Blues have played over the course of the last month.

Saturday's 2-0 victory over the playoff-bound Nashville Predators before the 41st sellout crowd (19,150) at Scottrade Center has a ring to it that the Blues certainly like having attributed to them on a regular basis.

The win is fine and all, but the playoff part is missing. That's where the sting sets in.

T.J. Oshie scored a highlight-reel goal, Alex Steen added his 20th of the season and 100th of his career and Jaroslav Halak pitched his seventh shutout of the season -- third against the Predators (44-27-11).

The Blues finish 10-5-2 in their final 17 games, including 6-1-2 in their last nine, but when they wake up this morning, there is no today.

"A lot of bitter and a little bit of sweet here in a night like tonight where we're able to finish strong," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Jaro kicks a shutout and the team plays well from start to finish.

"You knew it was going to be a close game. Nashville's battling for position. It's great for us to get the win. I think the things the guys have done over the last little while are things that are going to matter going forward. That's the important part for our hockey club. The bitter part is obviously knowing the way we've played and against the teams we've played the type of hockey against here lately, we're not going forward next week. That was our goal. Didn't reach it, didn't achieve it. It means that we learn and we have to get better."

It was a playoff-type atmosphere in front of a boisterous crowd that helped lift the Blues to one final rousing performance.

"The fans have been great to us all year," said Steen, who became the sixth player this season to reach 20 goals. "Forty-one sellouts and they've been so loud. We're very appreciative of the support that they've shown us.

"I know teams say it about their fans all the time all over the place, but these fans we have here are so underrated. They're incredible. I hope they know how much we appreciate the support that we've gotten from them ... not just in the building but all around town. When things have gone tough, they've always got our back and push us forward and they tried to pick us up.

"It's the last game of the year, we're out of the playoffs and they show up just so enthused. It makes a heck of a difference. It's so much fun playing in front of them."

Backes finished with 31 goals -- tying a career-best set two seasons ago -- 30 assists and a team-best plus-32 on the season after setting up Oshie in the second period by slotting a pass to Oshie, who from his knees was able to dangle the puck around Preds goalie Pekka Rinne and backhand a shot in 5 minutes, 20 seconds into the second period.

"Definitely went out with a bang," said Oshie, who finished with 12 goals and 34 points in 49 games. "I don't know exactly why I fell down ... but we kind of talked about how aggressive their goaltender was, so I knew when the puck was coming across that he would be sliding. My (instinct) originally when I was standing was to go backhand, and (the idea) stuck with me when I went down to me knees."

Backes joked, "We still haven't figured out why he's on his knees. Apparently, he likes to add a little flair to what he does.

"We showed a lot of heart in a game that mattered to (Nashville). We were trying to give our fans something to look forward to next year. Pretty solid defensive game both ways. Almost playoff-like atmosphere where it was defensive-first and you almost figured whoever scored first was going to win that game. Great play by Osh to finish that play off."

Payne liked the Backes-Oshie-Andy McDonald line.

"That line, as far as puck-possession goes, played extremely well," Payne said. "Osh scored a great goal going to the net on his knees."

Halak got to 27 wins on the season, a career-high, by backstopping 23 Nashville shots in the game.

"It's nice to get 27 wins, but I would change it for making the playoffs," Halak said. "It's so much different to make the playoffs. ... Everyone needs to come into training camp and try to pick up where we left off.

"We had to make sure that we finished strong. We finished strong tonight and obviously the whole month. It's too bad we didn't make it to the playoffs."

Steen finished off the night when he picked off Jonathan Blum's errant pass in the slot and beat Rinne with a wrister with 49 seconds to go.

The Blues ended the night by giving away the jerseys off their backs and sent their loyal fans off in style.

"We knew that we couldn't make the playoffs, but I think it's really (important) to finish in a good way," said center Patrik Berglund, who finished the season with a career-high in goals (22), assists (30) and points (52). "It's not just for us and what we do. It's for fans. They're paying to come and watch us play. We want to really show them that we're never going to stop working."

* NOTES -- The Blues are assured of ending the season 11th from the bottom and will not finish in the bottom 10, assuming they don't win Tuesday's NHL Draft Lottery, conducted for the 14 non-playoff teams.

The Blues have a 1.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, which would vault them into the seventh pick. They would then keep the conditional pick traded to Colorado in the Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk trade to Colorado.

Assuming the Blues finish where they are, Colorado gets the pick, and the Blues get Colorado's second-round pick, which is No. 32. That means the Blues would pick 32nd and 41st.

No comments:

Post a Comment