Monday, December 19, 2011

Faced with adversity, Blues pass test with flying colors

Team has sights set on keeping pace with conference's top teams

ST. LOUIS -- It was bound to happen sooner or later. The only question that remained was how would the Blues respond to some adversity.

There has been little to no adversity since Ken Hitchcock's arrival on Nov. 6, as the Blues went 12-2-4 going into Sunday's game against Columbus. But after a solid road game that ended in a tough shootout loss in Nashville Saturday, the Blues came out and played flat, were hemmed in their zone and in the second period, created little to no offense against the NHL's worst team.

Alex Steen reacts after his goal got the ball rolling for the Blues in the
third period Sunday night against Columbus. 

The Blues, a night after out-shooting the Predators 40-20 and out-chancing them probably by that same 2-to-1 margin as well, were on the short end of a 3-2 score after 40 minutes Sunday. The Blue Jackets (9-20-4) were coming at the Blues in waves, particularly in the second period and grabbed the lead with 1.3 seconds left on the clock.

But a team that was 13-0 scoring three goals or more knew they had it in them to do it again. There was more left in the tank.

"We're still in the game, we're at home, we're confident going into the third period," winger Matt D'Agostini said. "It was just a great job by our team to recognize the situation and bear down there in the third."

Four goals later, the Blues were celebrating a 6-4 victory and in customary fashion, stick-saluting their fans at center ice after overcoming adversity. They're now 14-0 when scoring three goals or more.

No teams want to go through it, but as defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said, a touch of reality from time to time can't be a detriment.

"A little adversity is never going to hurt anybody," said Pietrangelo, who leads the Blues in ice time at over 24 minutes a game and scored in that decisive third period. "I think it's a good situation to learn from for us. It's the first time we've had to go through this. It's only going to lead to better things.

"Good teams find a way to win. That's what we did. We had to score six goals to win, which is kind of uncharacteristic of us this year, but you've got to do what you've got to do."

Added winger T.J. Oshie, who had a goal and an assist and now leads the Blues with 23 points: "Adversity really brings out character and we showed we had some character."

It was the Blues' third game in four nights and it really showed early on. But once they found their game, the Blues felt reinvigorated.

"The third period for me ... with everything we've been through for the last two games and the intensity of the games, the emotion of the games, the Rangers game and then the game (Saturday) night, to play like that in the third period for me was very impressive," said Hitchcock, now 13-2-4 as coach here. "It wasn't a clean game and there were mistakes on both sides, but the way we played in the third period, I was very impressed. We really sucked it up, found our legs, really went at them and for me, took the game back."

The Blues entered Monday in fourth place in the Western Conference and only four points behind Chicago for the top overall spot in the NHL. It's quite a contrast compared to where they were when Hitchcock took over -- in 14th place and with a 6-7 record.

Now, instead of looking up and wondering how many points the Blues need to get themselves back in the race, they want to continue to pile on the points and have other teams chase them for a change.

"I think what we're doing is we're hungry for more," Hitchcock said. "I don't know if that's even-keel, but we're hungry for more. Our eyes are up.

"We're looking at Detroit (and) Chicago. We want to get closer to them. I think we're looking at advancing rather than looking over our shoulder. We don't know even who's behind us. We're looking ahead.

David Perron (57) celebrates with Jason Arnott after setting Arnott's
go-ahead goal in the third period of Sunday's 6-4 victory.

"I know those guys just keep winning and winning and we've got to play well to keep up because when you go in and start fighting for seven and eight (in the standings), now you're dealing with six, seven teams doing that," Hitchcock said. "That's very uncomfortable. So we want to just keep putting pressure on those guys, make them have to play.

"It's been rarefied air here for 10 years. We just want to chase those guys and see if we can make them a little bit nervous."

But Sunday was a stark reminder that no games can be taken for granted. Lesson learned and move on.

"It was an emotional, fun game to coach in," Hitchcock said after the game. "... When you're three games in four nights and you're tired, you've got to find a way to muster it up. Tomorrow morning, there's going to be no pitchers on that scorecard, it's just going to be a win for us and nobody's going to care how we got it done a week from now, but we got it done. We really got it done."

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