Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tarasenko game-winner helps Blues rally past Predators 2-1

Leading scorer ties NHL lead for goals; St. Louis 
wins second in a row after trailing after two periods

ST. LOUIS -- When the puck is on Vladimir Tarasenko's stick late in a game, chances are it impacts the outcome for the Blues.

Tarasenko came through with a big goal again Thursday, and for the second straight game, the Blues made a living by being comeback kids in the third period.

Tarasenko's 20th goal helped the Blues rally in the third period for a 2-1 victory against the Nashville Predators at Scottrade Center on Thursday. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates with Alexander Steen, David Backes and
Paul Stastny (right) after scoring in a 2-1 win against Nashville Thursday. 

Tarasenko scored on the power play with 5 minutes, 20 seconds remaining on a wrist shot that beat Predators goalie Pekka Rinne to the near side.

It's Tarasenko's third game-winner and fourth clutch goal, which is classified as when a player scores in the final 10 minutes of a game at one goal or less.

But to the Blues (19-10-4), it seems like many more. 

"They're huge goals," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "He's got 20 goals. I'm not sure, I bet you 16-17 of them are really important goals. I think that's been the small difference for us, why we've been able to have the record we have this year. 

"It just seems that every game is a playoff game, every game is so close and you need your best players to be your best players. He's been outstanding when the game has been on the line. He's been outstanding."

Tarasenko, who is tied with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars for the NHL lead in goals, scored for the fourth straight game, sixth time in the past seven and 10th time in the past 12 on home ice. He has 11 points (seven goals) in the past 10 games. 

"It was a great job by all my PP linemates," Tarasenko said. "They're the ones that create this chance for me. 

"It's always good when you win. Like I said before all the time, it's not about goals and points, it's about team success. ... You can't feel like this if you score a lot of goals and losing every game."

Tarasenko took a pass from Alexander Steen, saw David Backes parked in front of Rinne and let the shot go.

"The man can shoot the puck," said Backes, who scored the tying goal. "It's impressive. Like I said to (Fox Sports Midwest color analyst Darren Pang), I'm praying that he misses me, and if I've got the goalie's eyes, it's got a great chance. Even if he saves it, there's a rebound somewhere out there that it's tough to keep that stuck into the goalie.

"A great team effort all the way around, the puck movement up top (with) 'Steener' and Paul (Stastny) and 'Shatty' and to the half wall and 'Vladi' does the rest. A great win by everybody. 'Snake' was phenomenal in nets again. We'll take it and move onto a game on Saturday."

Blues goalie Jake Allen sees enough of Tarasenko's shots in practice. He's glad to watch when it matters seeing him shoot at the other end. 

Allen joked, "He doesn't score on me in practice. ... You see it. You don't have to get too excited. You know it's coming. He doesn't need too many chances. Once he gets one clean opportunity, there's a good chance it's going in."

Allen, who made 27 saves, came up with a multitude of crucial saves, including one on Craig Smith moments after Tarasenko's goal. Smith came in on a breakaway but Allen got a blocker on the shot.

"I actually skated with Smith in the summer and I realized how fast he was," Allen said. "I tried to sort of not come out as far or he would have beat me to the far post. I got a blocker on it, but you know, that's my job to give the guys a chance.

"... Whatever it takes to win. No easy opponents in this league, especially in our division. To be able to grind out a win against a team that's always neck-and-neck  with us throughout the year and a little rival, great rivalry they got. Guys stepped up in the clutch."

It's a tough way to live in the NHL by having to rally after a second-period deficit, but the Blues improved to 3-9-1 after the win.

"I just think we just keep playing," Hitchcock said. "I think we were doing some good things after the first five minutes of the first period and we just keep playing. We've needed our power play, it's come through for us big time, but part of it is we just keep playing. You trust that sooner or later the wheel is going to turn the right way.

"... "It's a hard way to make a living like that. You're expounding a lot of energy, which I think is starting to show now and we're going to have to find a way to manage it properly."

Roman Josi scored in the first period for the Predators (15-11-6), who lost their third in a row and are 2-4-2 in their past eight games. Rinne, who has lost seven in a row on the road (0-5-2), made 31 saves. 

"It's just not good enough," Predators captain Shea Weber said. "I don't know who we're kidding if I say we are. It doesn't matter if you out-chance teams. I don't think we did tonight. ... All that matters is the score and we've just got to be better."

The Blues, who also trailed the Winnipeg Jets by a goal entering the third period Tuesday before rallying for a 4-3 victory, tied it on Backes' 10th goal. It came after Alex Pietrangelo took a wrist shot from the right point with Backes camped out to the left of the Predators net. Backes tipped the puck through Rinne’s five-hole at the near post 2:38 into the third period. The assist was Kevin Shattenkirk’s 19th point in the past 17 games (four goals, 15 assists).

"It's 4-on-4 and once we're in the offensive zone for a substantial amount of time, you know how tired you are on the defensive side of that, so we're trying to control it and just wait for someone to lose coverage," Backes said. "[Petrangelo] had a little bit of time, so I went to the net. He shoots pucks at me all the time; we work on tips and just put it right in the strike zone and I was able to get a piece. Tie game after that and I think that gave us a shot in the arm to up our game for the last 10 minutes, draw a penalty and score on the power play."

Josi's power-play goal was the first against the Blues since Nov. 25. They had gone 23 straight penalty kills without allowing a goal. But the Predators kept the puck alive in the Blues zone when Pietrangelo couldn't clear it, and St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester broke his stick and had to get one from Paul Stastny. Josi's slap shot from the right circle beat Allen 7:14 into the first period.

The goal was Josi's ninth point against the Blues in the past seven games. 

"We give one up but on a broken stick; things like that are going to happen," Backes said.

The Blues outshot the Predators 12-6 in the second period but could not solve Rinne. Their best chance came late in the period on a Scottie Upshall shorthanded breakaway, but the Blues forward didn’t get off a good shot and went down into the crease. 

The Blues momentarily lost fourth-line center Kyle Brodziak for stretch after he took a skate cut but returned.

Hitchcock called that line's play crucial.

"For me, the biggest boost we got was from Brodziak's line," Hitchcock said, which included Upshall and Ryan Reaves. "They were outstanding. They brought us back in the game in the first period and I thought kept us in the game in the second period. Their line was outstanding today."

The Blues are finding out that they have the resiliency and will to fight but the odds will be stacked against them doing it this way on a regular basis. However, on their seventh try, the Blues finally followed up a victory with a second one.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (27), who assisted on David Backes' tying goal, reaches
for a puck along with Predators' Ryan Ellis (right) Thursday.

"It brings more confidence to our team, but you know, I think everybody will agree with me that this is not the style we want to play," Tarasenko said. "I think we want to dominate all three periods, especially at home. We work real hard, but you can't chase every game. This is really hard. We're doing steps right now as a group. I feel like confidence is coming every game."

The game was Predators defenseman Barret Jackman's first back in St. Louis after 13 seasons with the Blues. He received a video tribute and was obviously touched.

"Pretty emotional," Jackman said. "I felt something coming. I tried to prepare myself. It was pretty nice. It was very nice of the Blues to do that and recognize my family as well.

"... I was nervous, anxious. There was a lot of emotions running through me. You know the first puck off the opening draw came back to me and I was shaking a little bit, but once that first shift was over, I felt pretty comfortable."

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