Thursday, November 21, 2013

Blues win battle of heavyweights in Boston

Roy scores goal, shootout winner that gave St. Louis 3-2 victory;
Halak strong night in goal, denies three of four Bruins shooters in shootout 

BOSTON -- Anyone for a Blues-Boston Bruins series in June?

It would make quite a Stanley Cup Final.

But this was November, and this was as playoff-esque as a game can be this early in the series.

Derek Roy converted on the Blues' fourth shootout attempt, beating Tuukka Rask high stick side and Jaroslav Halak stopped three of four Boston Bruins shooters and the Blues won a battle of inter-conference heavyweights, 3-2 Thursday night at TD Garden.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Derek Roy (left) is congratulated by teammate Maxim Lapierre after scoring
the shootout winner Thursday night in Boston.
Alexander Steen also converted a shootout attempt for the Blues, who continued their franchise-best start to a season and improved to 15-3-3. It was their sixth straight win in Boston and it improved the Blues' NHL-best inter-conference record since the 2010-11 season at 32-9-5. The Blues improved to 14-0-1 when scoring three or more goals this season.

Roy and David Backes scored regulation goals for the Blues, and Jaroslav Halak had another strong game in goal, stopping a season-high 29 shots.

Gregory Campbell and Carl Soderberg scored for the Bruins, who got 24 saves from Rask on a night where legendary defenseman Bobby Orr dropped the ceremonial first puck celebrating their 90 years of Bruins history.

Orr must have been impressed enough to see visions of the 1970 Cup Final between his Bruins and the Blues, a series in which Boston swept 4-0, but by the way this game was played Thursday, it wouldn't be far-fetched to think it could be a seven-game series and each game coming down a one goal.

It was a hard-hitting, big, strong and physical game, and although the Blues had their moments where mistakes were glaring, they held the fort strong enough to earn two points in a tough building.

"If that's the level, that's a pretty high level," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who tied Bryan Murray for eighth place on the all-time coaches wins list with No. 620. "I thought Boston played really well in the first and third and we played very well in the second.

"I think we know there's another level out there. I think going home getting ready for it is going to help us. We got the information that we needed. I thought both teams put a lot of pressure on each team's defense. I don't think either team had a fun time in their own end because we were either forechecking them or they were forechecking the heck out of us. It's a very intense, hard hockey game."

If the skills competition wasn't part of the rules to end regulation games, this one might have gone long into the night.

"Credit to their team, credit to our team and I think credit to the refs, too, to let the players decide," said Backes, whose tip-in goal in the second period gave the Blues a brief 2-1 lead. "... Two periods of penalty-less hockey and guys really putting their bodies on the line and making plays all night. We'll take two points any way we can get them.

"It was whoever was going to stay with it the longest. We might have been able to play a couple more games worth of hockey."

And when the Blues weren't at their best, their goalie was.

Halak, who came in 6-3-1 with a 1.86 and .941 save percentage lifetime against the Bruins, was up to the challenge on many high-percentage looks for some skilled Bruins players.

His best save came with nine seconds in overtime, when he denied Soderberg on a breakaway attempt, throwing out the left pad to preserve the tie game and give the Blues a chance to win it.

"I expected that it was going to be a tough game," Halak said. "They're a really good team with some big guys that drive the net and go to the front. ... We did a great job tonight just battling and sticking to it.

"I'm always involved and I was into the game. having more shots, it's obviously more fun, but at the same time, sometimes even when you have less shots, you can get more scoring chances. Tonight, I think guys did a great job of keeping them on the outside and just blocking shots."

Hitchcock said beforehand the Blues were going to need Halak to be good.

"He was our best player tonight," Hitchcock said of Halak. "We needed him to do that, especially when you're on a road trip.

"We've had a pretty good go here on the road trip. We really needed him today and he stepped up big time."

Blues were outplayed for the most part in the first period, with the Bruins holding and maintaining plenty of offenzive zone time, but Halak was good early.

Campbell got the scoring rolling with his first of the season, converting a changeup of a shot from the right circle with 1:40 left in the first period. Ian Cole had a chance to get the puck out of the zone, failed and then lost his edge along the right wall. The Bruins kept the puck in the zone and Campbell slid a shot inside the right post for a 1-0 Boston lead.

But the Blues responded just 31 seconds later when Roy's shot from the top of the right circle somehow found its way through three sets of Bruins skates, including Rask as Jaden Schwartz and Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski were battling in front to make it 1-1.

"I didn't even know I scored it," Roy said. "I just tried to pull it to my forehand and shoot it and get it towards the net because I knew there were a couple guys there. It happened to go in. My linemen battled getting to the net so it was a great job by our line tonight."

It was a critical time to answer the call when Boston had a lead and momentum.

"Yeah, getting back on it. We made a big error and we needed to get back," Hitchcock said. "We've done that a lot this year. I think that's one of the best qualities we've had is answering the bell right away to get back on the horse right away. It was good for us."

The Blues got the lead when Backes got his ninth of the season, and Kevin Shattenkirk earned the 100th assist of his NHL career. Backes won the draw back to the right point, where Shattenkirk fired a shot that Backes deflected past Rask with 3:56 left in the second to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

Set plays are something the Blues have been good at, and winning faceoffs followed by goals have been a plus.

"I don't know that it's a secret formula, but it's shots and traffic and getting to the hard areas and finding pucks through," Backes said. "Shatty's got a great shot getting it through and I was able to find a piece of it and redirect it and we'll take two points."

But Soderberg, a 2004 Blues draft pick, found himself open at the top of the right circle and fired a wrister past Halak with 1:19 remaining in the second to tie the game 2-2.

Roy had a chance to win the game in the overtime when Steen worked for a puck to create a breakaway. Roy had Rask beat high glove side but his shot clanked off Rask and the cross bar 52 seconds into the extra session.

"I was talking to Bernie (Federko) and we do video on the other goalie and that was my move on (Rask), just coming with speed and go high glove and try to surprise him," Roy said. "I surprised him, but I hit the cross bar so I wanted to redeem myself in the shootout and coach put me out there and gave me a shot at it."

Patrice Bergeron opened the shootout and beat Halak with a little snap move to give Boston a lead, but the Blues' goalie would slam the door shut on David Krejci, Jarome Iginla and Chris Kelly.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Alexander Steen (20) gives chase to Boston's Milan Lucic in
Thursday night's 3-2 shootout win for St. Louis at TD Garden.
"I was kind of deep in the net," Halak said of Bergeron's attempt. "I dropped my glove and he was able to make the shot over my glove. Good shot by him. I'm glad that our guys didn't give up and scored the big two goals in the shootout.

"If he scores, you just have to put it behind you. That's it, go out and stop another one."

T.J. Oshie was denied for the first time this season (3 for 4), but Steen was able to go backhand, forehand and beat Rask five-hole, which set up Roy's heroics, and he went top shelf to end it in the fourth round.

"It shows he's got confidence in me going to the shootout," Roy said of Hitchcock. "I just wanted to help my team win the game. I happened to do that and I was in a position to do that."

Hitchcock said it was a no-brainer.

"We have five guys that we kind of rotate and go through ... I usually look at body language on the bench and Roysie was perked up. He wanted to go," Hitchcock said. "He told guys on the bench he was going to do that move and did it and got away with it."

If this was a primer of things to come for these two teams, it would make a great final.

"Both teams really respected each other, but it was really a hard game," Hitchcock said. "It was physical in a way ... not running over each other. It was physical in a way where there was a lot of weight and heavy play out there. I think for a lot of guys, this was very demanding."

Added Roy: "I think we were fighting for every inch out there. Guys were jumping on faceoffs, pucks were getting chipped in, there was a lot of physicality out there. We held our own, we did a good job and all our 'D' and Jaro as well. He played real good for us."

No comments:

Post a Comment