Saturday, January 21, 2012

Backes leads charge, helps Blues double up Sabres 4-2

Captain ties career-high with four-point night, wins Weenie of the Game award

ST. LOUIS -- After a four-point night, David Backes was sporting a brand new item that he and his teammates had recently cooked up.

Most teams have a player of the game award that is typically represented by a hard hat. But for the surging Blues, nothing like a good old-fashioned weenie in a bun to bring out a player's best.

Backes earned the Weenie of the Game award with a four-point night as the Blues doubled up the reeling Buffalo Sabres 4-2 Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

Backes scored a pair of third-period goals and assisted on two others but was more than happy to be interviewed wearing the biggest hot dog he can find on his noggin.

And he was jokingly not amused to hear other players hadn't been wearing it.

"I thought other guys were wearing these for interviews ... I guess not," Backes joked. "Some of our heart-and-soul guys came up with it. Instead of a hard hat, we get the weenie on our head."

(Getty Images)
The Blues' Jason Arnott (left) battles with Buffalo's Marc-Andre Gragnani
during Saturday's game at Scottrade Center.
Knowing that the Sabres were talented and capable enough to snap their road woes, the Blues turned to their captain to make sure that never materialized.

The Blues made sure a reeling road team didn't come into their house and steal a win.

Even after taking a spill in the first period that had 19,150 spectators silent and on the edge of their feet, Backes' four-point night matched his career high, the third time he's had such a night.

"We had a lot of good players today, led by our captain," marveled Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team jumped into fourth place in the Western Conference, one point behind Detroit. "I thought our captain and that line (with David Perron and T.J. Oshie) really led us.

"David came back just like a bear and really went to work there. He was a major reason we won the hockey game today. Not just points-wise but disposition on the ice, intensity. I thought he really dragged us into the fight."

Backes' power play goal 11:35 into the third period gave the Blues the separation they needed, pushing a one-goal lead to 3-1 and the stingiest team in the Western Conference was able to thwart off any rally by the Sabres, who fell to 19-24-5 and continued a franchise-worst 12th straight road defeat.

"I get credit for the goal, but I just move it about three inches," Backes said. "Osh is in front of the net taking some abuse. Petro gets the shot through, the goalie never sees it and it's sitting on the goal line for me. Those guys deserve more credit than I do on that one. Our power play comes through when we need it. Critical game at home, we need to get two points and we were able to do that.

"I wasn't feeling too great (after being tripped by Marc-Andre Gragnani), but the training staff does a good job of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. Thankfully my full speed isn't that fast."

Alex Pietrangelo extended his personal best points streak to nine games with a two assists and Oshie had two assists that fueled a comeback for the Blues.

B.J. Crombeen scored his first goal of the season, Perron scored and Jaroslav Halak improved to 11-0-3 in his last 14 starts by stopping 19 shots as the Blues (29-12-6) improved to an NHL-best 21-3-3 on home ice and 13-0-2 in the last 15 here.

"Tonight wasn't pretty, but we got it done and we got two points," said Halak, who is now 14-7-5 on the season after starting 1-6. "Sometimes I need to make big saves, but tonight, guys scored huge goals for me. That's why we got a win.

"Even though we gave up the late goal in the third period, we were still in control. We got the fourth one ... that was a nice play by Backes."

The Blues are 8-0-1 in January and 9-0-1 against Eastern Conference foes, the only NHL team without a regulation loss against the opposite conference.

St. Louis is also now 22-0-0 on the season when scoring three goals or more on the season, 26-0-1 dating back to March 19 of last season. They're 20-1-1 when leading after two periods.

The Sabres got a goal and an assist from Tyler Myers. Mike Weber added his first goal. Ryan Miller stopped 23 shots but fell to 0-10-0 during this road losing streak. However, he kept his team in this game with several key saves, particularly in the third period.

"It kind of got away from us in the second period," Miller said. "We didn’t do some of the things we needed to do. It turned into a period that gave them back the edge."

Weber's first goal of the season gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead off a shot from the left circle, beating Halak on the short side at 16:13 of the opening period. The goal ended Halak's shutout streak at 164:38, which is a personal best. His previous best was 160:08, set in October 2010.

"I'm not here to make any (team or individual) records," Halak said. "We're here to get two points and get the wins."

Halak, who won the Weenie of the Game award after his 1-0 shutout of Dallas Monday and has now won a personal best seven straight games, on why he didn't sport it.

"It's beautiful but come on! I'm better than that," he quipped.

The Sabres missed out on a pair of close-in chances, both off of plays by Nathan Gerbe. One off a pass and another where the diminutive winger missed an empty side. It's been that kind of theme for the Sabres as of late.

"I'll take full responsibility," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It’s not acceptable."

Trailing after one period is uncharted territory for the Blues. It's only the ninth time in 48 games they trailed after one period.

"Our first period wasn't what we wanted," Crombeen said. "We didn't really come out, we didn't play our game."

The Blues did gain their edge back in the second period on goals by Crombeen and Perron. The fourth line led the charge.

"It's something we've talked about a lot," Crombeen said. "We feel that we can usually get the puck down there and grind it down, try to create some momentum and stuff like that and obviously the different things we try to do to help out. Any time you can kick in with a goal, it's obviously a big help. It's something we want to be able to do more and more of."

Crombeen took a terrific cross-ice feed from Backes and snapped a shot past Miller 7:45 into the period to tie the game 1-1. It was Crombeen's first goal since March 30, 2011 against Detroit.

"I don't know if I'd go that far," Crombeen joked when told he almost looked like a natural sniper on the play. "It was a pretty nice play by Backs and I had some time, was able to get it by (Miller), so I'll take it."

What he didn't get was the weenie hat, though.

"I was saying this might be my only chance," Crombeen joked. "I just want to make sure that thing gets lots of air time. That's all I'm worried about."
Blues captain David Backes talks to the media wearing his Weenie of the
Game award after a four-point night against Buffalo Saturday.

The Blues gained a 2-1 lead when Perron kept a puck in the Buffalo zone, got it to Oshie, and Oshie curled around the net and fired a wrister from the left circle that hit Perron in front with 6:47 left in the second.

"The first period was really a track meet," Hitchcock said. "Both teams just racing up and down the ice. They had a lot of odd-man rushes, we had odd-man rushes. We don't operate that well in that atmosphere.

"I thought we really toned it down and really played well in the second period. The second period was a really good period for us. We checked the puck back, we made some changes in things we needed to do offensively. I thought we did really well. ... I was happy with the way we grabbed the game in the second period."

The Blues had to kill off the final 3:54 of the game when Oshie got a cross checking penalty and had two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct added on.

Myers made it 3-2 with 59.7 seconds left when his snap shot from the left circle through traffic beat Halak to the far post. Backes' empty-netter with 34.9 remaining sealed the Blues' win.

"We had a few great chances that we didn't bury, but in the end, we know that we can't try and change our game to be a run-and-gun, turn-and-burn, let's have a track race kind of game ... that's just not the way we are," Backes said. "We need to play hard and win battles and wear on teams. When we do that, we stick to our game, and good things happen."

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