Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blues regroup, drop Hurricanes 4-2 to conclude homestand

Steen's NHL-leading 17th goal difference
after Carolina nets pair of shorthanded goals

ST. LOUIS -- Despite the shock of squandering a two goal lead -- by allowing a pair of shorthanded goals no less -- the Blues knew all it took was a simple hit of the reset button.

And who else would the Blues turn to other than their go-to scorer?

Alexander Steen has been on a personal-record pace in goals and points, and the Blues left wing came through again Saturday.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Vladimir Sobotka (17) moves the puck as Carolina defenseman
Tim Gleason gives chase Saturday night. The Blues won 4-2.
Steen's NHL-leading 17th goal of the season snapped a 2-2 tie and helped the Blues finish a 4-0-1 homestand with a 4-2 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at Scottrade Center.

Steen assisted on another goal, enabling him to pass Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby for the NHL points lead with 26 and extended his NHL-best points streak to 13 games. Steen has 13 goals and five assists in that stretch.

Steen's 17 goals have come on 64 shots, or 26.6 percent shooting. So he's basically scoring on just a little better than once in every four shots.

The Blues were cruising along late in the second period, leading 2-0 on goals by Roman Polak and David Backes and were going on their third power play of the game when the momentum and mood in the building changed in shock.

But after allowing a pair of shorthanded goals, the Hurricanes were back in the game. The Blues didn't panic.

"We came in, we knew what we had to do in the third," Steen said. "I thought we did a good job of resetting and regrouping."

Added Polak: "After the second, we said something in the dressing room and we knew what to do. ... We kind of fell asleep there in the second and on the PP, but we grabbed it in the third."

Polak had his first two-point game since March 30, 2011, T.J. Oshie added an empty-netter and Jay Bouwmeester had two assists for the Blues (13-2-3), who are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games and 5-0-1 in the past six. Brian Elliott stopped 18 shots for his third straight win.

The Blues are 6-1-0 against the Eastern Conference this season. They are 30-9-5 against the East since 2010-11, the best interconference record in the NHL. The Blues also matched the 1990-91 club with their 13th win in the first 18 games of a season. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock earned his 618th career victory, passing Jacques Lemaire into sole possession of ninth place all-time.

The Hurricanes, who were 4-0-1 in their past five games, got shorthanded goals from Eric Staal and Nathan Gerbe to erase a 2-0 deficit. Justin Peters stopped 28 shots and lost in regulation for the first time in six games.

The Blues didn't come out of the second period dressing room showing any ill-effects of allowing the Hurricanes to grab the momentum.

They were engaged, they were dictating and setting the tempo. There was no way they were going to fumble away two points to end what has been a strong homestand, not with a bear of a three-game trip staring at them -- starting Sunday at Washington.

And when the league-leading scorer had his shining moment, Steen got it done -- again.

Steen took a stretch pass from Polak as the Hurricanes (8-8-4) were in the middle of a line change and went in alone on Peters. Steen snapped a shot from the right circle stick side 6:20 into the third period to break the 2-2 tie.

"Big goal ... big-time player, big goal," Hitchcock said of Steen. "We needed that goal right there. We dialed it up.

"We really had a good start to the third period. We really dialed it up and I thought we took control of the hockey game again."

Added Steen: "It was a good heads-up play by both Roman and Coler to get the puck quick. They were in the middle of a change. ... I found a hole."

Polak got the puck from defensive partner Ian Cole -- Hitchcock raved about both after the game -- and got it to Polak, who was able to immediately find Steen open at the Carolina blue line. The rest is history, or in Polak's case, a moment of prognostication.

"I think everybody was changing there on their side and all of the sudden, I saw him there in the middle of the ice wide open," Polak said of Steen. "Just give it to him because I know he's hot.

"I was going on the bench celebrating already. When he shot it, I was already celebrating because I know it's going in."

Oshie sealed the game with a power-play, empty-net goal with 43.3 seconds remaining.

But the Hurricanes scored twice shorthanded in 57 seconds of the second period to get life.

Staal's breakaway goal after the Blues lost the puck at the blue line with 4:23 remaining in the second period made it 2-1, then Elliott came out to play a puck off the boards and lost it to Riley Nash, who fed Gerbe for the equalizer with 3:27 left in the period.

"My bad on trying to get it up to the guys and [Nash] knocked it down with the stick," Elliott said. "It's a great feeling for me that Steener goes down there and gets that. ... Steener came through like he has all year. Just a gritty effort to come back and solidify that win."

It's the first time since Oct. 8, 1992 that the Blues allowed a pair of shorthanded goals on the same power play. That night, Russ Courtnall and Gaetan Duchesne scored the shorthanded goals for the Minnesota North Stars.

"We had a couple sloppy plays and we got the power play and ... the one play bounces a couple times and then they make a good play and (Manny) Malhotra holds it, Staal gets some speed and hits him with a pass and the second one, Ells makes a good play and they just get lucky and knock it out of the air," Steen said. "It's 2-2. We came in, we knew what we had to do in the third. I thought we did a good job of resetting and regrouping."

Polak's third goal of the season (one off his career-high set in 2009-10) was the 10th straight game the Blues scored first and 15th time in 18 games. Polak took Chris Stewart's pass and fired a wrist shot from the high slot past Peters on the short side 9:25 into the second.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (25) helped his team get on the board Saturday
night with an assist on Roman Polak's goal.
"I don't know. It's just going in right now," said Polak, who's one off his career-high in goals. "I just basically shot and it went in. It was a great play by Stewy and great patience by him."

Hitchcock called the line of Vladimir Sobotka, Stewart and Brenden Morrow, "Outstanding. This is two games in a row that Stewy's played at a really high level.

"I think that line's got some great chemistry going. They're dominant down low, they've got patience with the puck that you need to and they've got the size to play one-on-one. With the way Sobe's working underneath bringing it up the ice for them, I think it's got the makings of a really good line right now."
Steen's assist on Polak's goal marked the first time since Pierre Turgeon did so in 1999-2000 that a Blues player had such a streak; Turgeon's reached 15 games.

Backes scored his second goal in as many games and fifth point in three games when he took Morrow's feed from behind the net. Morrow caught Backes coming in off the bench and gave the Blues captain a sharp-angle pass that Backes was able to one-time off a short hop into the near side with 8:24 left to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.

However, after seeing Carolina tie it, the Blues simply regrouped.

"I think we were unlucky in the first period not to be up a lot," said Hitchcock, whose team got on a charter and headed on the road to face the Washington Capitals Sunday. "We got the 2-0 lead, our power play's been good for us all year. We made a couple mistakes on entries. We didn't get it deep and they took advantage of them. It was the momentum that we needed to play with on the power play that we didn't take advantage of, we tried to make plays in delicate areas and turned it over and they were off to the track meet.

"We really had a good start to the third period. We really dialed it up and I thought we took control of the hockey game again."

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