Saturday, December 14, 2013

Backes' OT winner caps comeback over Blue Jackets

Blues down two goals, got two goals from Tarasenko, tying goal
from Stewart, strong effort from Halak after team's rough first period

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In recent games the Blues would dig themselves a hole deep enough to fall into a black hole and not recover.

They did their best to recreate some of their recent first-period ailments, falling behind by two.

But this time around, the result was much more satisfying, and it came from a number different players.

David Backes' goal 22 seconds into overtime capped a comeback for the Blues in a 4-3 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players, including Jaden Schwartz (9) and Vladimir Tarasenko (91)
celebrate David Backes' overtime winner Saturday night in Columbus.
Backes' goal highlighted a comeback that featured timely goals from Vladimir Tarasenko, clutch goaltending from Jaroslav Halak after Blues' goaltender allowed three goals on consecutive shots in the first period and a big third-period goal from Chris Stewart, who missed the second period when he went for x-rays on his hand after a first-period fight with Dalton Prout.

The Jackets had the puck in the Blues' zone and Alex Pietrangelo poked it away from Jack Johnson, Alexander Steen pressured Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin at the Columbus blue line, and Backes was able to pick off the puck from an Artem Anisimov, fight off Tyutin -- who was going to get a penalty on the play -- and a little backhand forehand play and beat St. Louis native Mike McKenna for the winner.

"(Steen) forces the turnover and I find a loose puck," Backes said. "Just try to take it to the net and I found a little bit of a area there and was lucky to get it through. It was a little redemption for the rest of our game. I don't think it was optimal by any means and we had a couple other great efforts. ... Not our first period that we like to play, but I guess we had to dig deep and get two points somehow. We'll take two points, but not optimal.

"I'm hoping not to lose the puck, to tell you the truth. ... I felt the guy on me. I kind of had to knock the puck down. I wanted to go to the far side, felt (McKenna) come over and I figured I could just leave it there and get it up."

The Blues (22-6-3) won their third straight in improbable fashion and capped off a game in which it didn't look good after 20 minutes.

"I thought we had the good and bad right throughout the game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Every part of our game was bad and good. Everybody had a piece in every part of this game, their team, our team. The best way to describe it we had good early and then bad for a long stretch and then we started to come on again. Every part of our game ... our defending, power play, our penalty killing, 5-on-5, we had lots of good, lots of bad throughout the whole hockey game.

"The overtime goal was great, but to me, guys like Chris Stewart showed a lot of guts and courage. He got in a helluva fight. His hand was sore, but he ends up scoring the tying goal. I thought from guys like him, they gave us a real inspiration."

Stewart was in a lengthy fight with Prout and seemed to tire towards the end, but there was a shot Stewart landed on Prout and described the feeling as one in which teammate Ryan Reaves broke his hand in a fight against Dallas on Nov. 23.

But Stewart, after getting x-rays that found no break, would be on the doorstep after Ian Cole's shot from the left point caromed off Brenden Morrow to Stewart, who slammed the tying goal home with 6 minutes, 27 seconds remaining.

"I dinged it up there on that fight," Stewart said. "The x-rays came back and it wasn't broken. I missed the second period there and come back for the third.

"It's a prime example of sticking with it. Jaro deserved a better fate there. A guy missed a shot and we went the other way and hemmed them in their zone for 12-15 seconds and I got a lucky bounce in the slot and put her home. ... Coler put a little knuckler there, came out hot off the pad there and I was in the right place in the right time."

The Jackets (14-15-4) could have put the game away when the puck hopped over Cole's stick, and Mark Letestu raced the other way for a breakaway chance. But Letestu's shot was high and 19 seconds later, the Blues were tying the game.

"Obviously wasn't a great game for me personally," Cole said. "I know the team feels we could have played a better game collectively, but yeah, the puck kind of hops over my stick there. Terrible plays by me, and then it goes in (at the other end). It's nice, I guess. Always good to get the two points."

After Tarasenko gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 4:10 into the game, they reverted back to some old first-period woes with turnovers and penalties.

The Jackets scored on three consecutive shots on Halak, with Anisimov, Tyutin and Johansen giving Columbus a 3-1 lead, with Johansen's goal coming on a two-man advantage on the power play.

A Kevin Shattenkirk giveaway led to Anisimov's goal, as the puck was turned over at the blue line, and Blake Comeau circled the left side before centering to Anisimov, who popped in a shot off Halak's glove from the top of the crease at 8:49.

Alex Pietrangelo's clearing attempt was picked off by Tyutin, who wasted no time in one-timing a shot from the left point off Halak's glove hand at 11:39 for a 2-1 Jackets lead.

The fisticuffs began with Matt Calvert and Barret Jackman, with Calvert knocking Jackman to the ice, and Ian Cole came to his teammate's aid, and Jackman was locked up with Nick Foligno. Cole got an extra minor for roughing and with Roman Polak in the box for using an illegal stick, it turned into a 5-on-3 for Columbus, who scored seven seconds into the two-man advantage when Brandon Dubinsky found Johansen on the backside and his one-timer from the low left circle beat Halak at 13:27 for a 3-1 lead.

The three goals came in a span of 4:38.

But Halak, who stopped 30 shots in the game and the last 26 he faced, admitted he was hoping not to get pulled from the game again. He was pulled from his last start against the Ducks a week ago. But Hitchcock left his goalie in there this time, and Halak responded.

"After being down 3-1, I was happy that I didn't get pulled again tonight," Halak said. "I was happy that I stayed in the game and the only thing I said to myself was not to give up many more goals.

"I just wanted to make the next save and one shot at a time. That was the whole approach after being down 3-1. I was trying to give the guys a chance to come back and try to get two points."

Despite being outshot 12-9, the Blues dominated much of the first half of the second period and cut the deficit within one with Tarasenko converting on the power play.

Tarasenko's shot from the top of the left circle, a wrist shot that beat McKenna high glove side 8:33 into the second period to make it a 3-2 game, gave the Blues the feeling they could win.

"Those goals were not the most important goals for me, but for the whole team," Tarasenko said. "I'm so happy for this team that we can come back. ... It's an unbelievable feeling.

"I think we feel it all the time because we have a great team and great relationship inside. Everybody helps each other and never thinks about losing games after first or second period because we have 20 more minutes. It was a great game."

Halak, who made a point-blank save in the second period at the end of another 5-on-3 Jackets power play on Nick Foligno, preserved at least a point when he was able to turn away Johnson with five seconds left after an odd-man rush following a Blues turnover.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) scored two goals in the Blues' 4-3 victory against
Columbus Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.
"Bergy did a great job coming back," Halak said of teammate Patrik Berglund. "I don't think (Johnson) got enough on the puck. Bergy got a stick on it and he was able to kind of block the shot. I just needed to be there and I was."

Hitchcock wasn't pleased with the turnover so late in the game.

"We were really disappointed at the end of the hockey game when we turn it over high in the zone and gave them a 4-on-2," Hitchcock said. "That was really disappointing, and then to come back and play like that in overtime is a good sign.

"(Halak) had a tough start, was like the rest of our team. Not a good start, but a great finish."

A finish Steen said the team needed.

"That's unacceptable the way we're starting the game, even in the second period how we're playing," Steen said. "Somehow we find a way to win. Jaro makes some big stops. Somehow we find a way to win, so that's a positive for sure. Obviously the starts have got to be better.

"It's a tough situation for the d-man to go back like that knowing that he's getting hunted. I sort of let him know I was on the right and I cheated on the left. I don't know if I poked it out or how it happened. 'Backs' came flying, it was a good move, good goal, big goal for us. ... This was a big comeback."

Tarasenko agreed.

"We just followed our captain. Great goal. We follow him every day, a great captain. It was important goal for him, too."

* NOTES -- The Blues lost center Vladimir Sobotka early in the game with what the team called an upper body injury. But afterwards, Hitchcock said, "He'll be fine, just day to day." ... The Blues also recalled forward Chris Porter from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves. He accompanied the team to Ottawa, where the Blues will face the Senators Monday night. ... The Blues beat the Jackets for the seventh straight time when scoring a power play goal. ... Backes' goal was his 16th in 32 career games against Columbus. ... The Blues are now 35-9-5 in inter-conference games dating back to the 2010-11 season. They're 11-2-0 this season.

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