Saturday, March 31, 2012

Blues clinch Central Division despite 5-2 thud against Jackets

First division title since 2000 came after Chicago tops Nashville

ST. LOUIS -- It's not the way one would envision a locker room after clinching a division championship.

But despite one of their worst performances of the season, the St. Louis Blues were able to back into a Central Division title thanks to a little help.

The Blues fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-2, Saturday night to claim their first division title since their Presidents' Trophy-winning season in 1999-2000. But in a game that the Blues (48-21-10) could have made a moot point what was going on in Nashville turned out to matter most. The 19,150 sellout crowd at Scottrade Center was waiting to erupt to something boisterous. What they got was a big thud by the home team.
(Getty Images)
Blues defenseman Roman Polak (46) reacts after a contingency of
Jackets celebrate a goal Saturday night during Columbus' 5-2 win.

"We got outworked and out-competed," Blues winger Alex Steen said. "I think the frustration kind of showed in the third period.

"We were careless with the puck, careless decisions. It wasn't a very good performance."

R.J. Umberger scored twice, Derek Dorsett, Jared Boll and Vinny Prospal scored and Allen York won his third straight start for the Jackets.

The Jackets (27-45-7), who had lost seven of their last eight meetings with the Blues, had only two wins in 15 matchups in St. Louis. Rick Nash and Cam Atkinson added a pair of assists each for the Jackets, who have won three in a row. They did so with a makeshift lineup that was missing nine veteran players because of injury and one (defenseman Cody Goloubef) who jumped into his first NHL game only minutes after arriving at the arena with no pre-game warmup.

"Anybody that knows hockey wasn't expecting this tonight," Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "Back-to-back, six games in nine days, playing in a tough environment in tough circumstances, as far as who is injured and who is playing ... there are proud moments as a coach and tonight was one of those games."

Added Umberger, who scored goal Nos. 18 and 19: "You don’t want it to end when there is such a good vibe around our ream right now, the way we’re playing. There are a lot of young guys around our team right now who are working their tails off. We’ve had some success. That’s fun. That’s why you play the game."

David Backes and David Perron scored for the Blues, who won the Central Division thanks to Chicago's 5-4 win at Nashville. It was only the Blues' fifth loss in regulation this season at home (30-5-4) and only Columbus' 11th road win of the season, last in the NHL. The Blues were 13-1-1 in their last 15 home games.

"Lack of discipline when the game was on the line," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We were a reactionary team all night. We had half in, half out (players). And when the temperature got turned up, we were the team reacting. Not going to win hockey games like that.

"Bottom line, we ended up reacting to everything they were doing. ... Good teams have got emotion, but we had some people who didn't show up from a compete standpoint and then we had others who showed up who competed, but there was poor composure."
(Getty Images)
Jackets' Derek Dorsett, who scored twice Saturday, is being pursued by
the Blues' Vladimir Sobotka Saturday night.

What Hitchcock referred to specifically was when the game was on the line in the third period and the Jackets holding a 3-2 lead, the Blues were issued four penalties in a 39-second span and spent at entire two minutes killing off a five-on-three sequence. Dorsett got a goal out of it in front of Jaroslav Halak that made the game 4-2 and for all intents and purposes, ended the Blues chances.

"When the game was 3-2, to play the way we did in the third period was not good," Hitchcock said. "We probably showed a little lack of respect for the opposition."

The Blues or the fans were not happy with the officials, namely veteran Dan O'Halloran. In particular was a slashing call on Alex Pietrangelo and ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct minor that prolonged Columbus' power play.

"We got really worked up about the officiating and the way things were going," Blues winger Andy McDonald said. "We weren't able to reign it in and it spun out of control and it cost us the game.

"Between the second and third, it kind of snowballed. Whether it was the referee we were getting upset at or just the way things were going on the ice. Their team looked a lot more composed than we did. We have to learn from that and act like we're the first place team overall and act like we've been here before."

Hitchcock would have none of it, though.

"The officials were not the issue. Not one bit the issue. We were the issue," Hitchcock said. "The officials had nothing to do ... they called what they saw. What they saw was us taking stupid penalties. I would have made the same calls. This is not on the officials. This is all on us.

"This is something that has to be addressed. I think we addressed it tonight. We'll see how we do the next game."

The Jackets took advantage of the Blues' poor decisions, and when the Blues were peppering York at the other end, he was able to make the necessary stops, finishing with 34.

"The team is playing unreal," York said. "Yes, I’m doing well, but [man] is the team playing well.

"Mentally it was the toughest (of York's three wins). I let in that weak second one [to Perron]. And it was St. Louis. They’re so good."

The Blues put a serious hit on their chances of winning a Presidents' Trophy. They trail the New York Rangers by a point (107-106) and slipped into the second seed in the Western Conference after Vancouver's 3-2 overtime win over Calgary Saturday night that gives the Canucks 107 points.

"It's disappointing," Blues captain David Backes said. "The overall way we played ... it's frustrating and we need to have a couple good days of practice here to get things back on track to really ramp things up."

* NOTES -- With a full lineup, the Blues scratched six players, including forwards Jaden Schwartz, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as well as defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian Cole. ... Defenseman Barret Jackman played in his 595th career game, all with the Blues. It tied him with Jamal Mayers for 10th on the franchise list. ... Halak lost for the first time in regulation at home since Nov. 22. He had been 10-0-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in the last 10 and 13-0-1 in the 14 games since losing to Los Angeles in November. 

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