Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shutout streak ends, Blues' winning doesn't in 3-1 victory over Avalanche

Elliott allows first goal in four games; streak 
ends at 258:29, winning streak extends to five

ST. LOUIS -- Brian Elliott could hear the cheers. He had to think for a moment because he had just allowed a goal and received a standing ovation.

Elliott and the Blues carried a franchise record four-game shutout streak into the game Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche in search of tying a modern NHL record established by the Phoenix Coyotes and goalie Brian Boucher (Dec. 31, 2003-Jan. 9, 2004).

But when Elliott allowed a late first-period goal to the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-1 Blues victory at Scottrade Center on Tuesday, the sellout crowd of 19,263 showed its appreciation for a pair of feats that go down in Blues history.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain David Backes (left) tips a puck past Avs goalie Semyon
Varlamov to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead Tuesday during a 3-1 victory.

Elliott said he couldn't recall something like that ever happening.

"No, not in this building. It was awesome. That's our fans," Elliott said. "They recognize we played five hard games that we took a shutout streak in; that doesn't happen often. ... It's trying to get your mind around it. It's almost like the pressure's off now. You let the goal in and you can move on from the streak and start another one. It was a helluva run, the guys played great and they continued tonight. Obviously in this League, you're going to let in a couple goals. All the credit to our guys and our team game."

The Blues (46-22-9) won their fifth straight game and 11th in the past 13, but their franchise record shutout streak ended at 258:29 when Colorado’s Mikhail Grigorenko scored to tie it 1-1.

David Backes and Troy Brouwer each scored on the power play, Alexander Steen had two assists in his first game since Feb. 20, and Vladimir Tarasenko got his team-leading 36th goal to help St. Louis keep pace with the Dallas Stars in the race for first place in the Central Division. The Blues and Stars, who defeated the Nashville Predators 5-2, each have 101 points.

"It's really important (to keep winning)," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It could be a difference-maker. You look at the eight teams (in the Western Conference) that are going to be there, it's tough sledding for anybody right now."

Elliott made 20 saves, but his shutout streak ended at 193:12. He is 10-0-1 in his past 12 starts with a 1.41 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and four shutouts, and 4-0-0 with a 0.25 GAA and .989 save percentage since coming off long-term injured reserve.

Grigorenko’s goal was the first allowed by St. Louis with a goalie in net in 280:02 and first at 5-on-5 in 304:39. 

"'Ells' was fantastic as long as he was in the net and had a chance at it," Backes said. "That was a defensive breakdown in front of him. It doesn't matter who you are, it's a tough one to stop backdoor after you're sold on the shot. Just a breakdown in front of him and that was bound to happen

"Maybe we can stop talking about that streak and start another one."

Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov made 24 saves. 

The Avalanche (39-34-4) are five points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Colorado and Minnesota, which defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 on Tuesday, each has five games remaining. 

"We try not (to notice the Minnesota score) but we all look up and see what’s going to happen," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "They are playing good hockey and unfortunately now we’re five points back and have to find a way … what we’ve been doing all year. We never give up and there’s no reason for us not to keep pushing and keep going. It’s up to us to try to do some good things."

Brouwer scored the Blues' second power-play goal 9:30 into the second period off a feed from Paul Stastny, who received a long stretch pass from Steen. Stastny's saucer pass over former teammate and ex-Blue Erik Johnson set up Brouwer in the slot for a 2-1 Blues lead; it was Stastny's 14th point (11th assist) in the past 10 games.

"I tried to kind of out-wait EJ," Stastny said. "'Brouws' just finished it off.

"It's simple for me. If (Johnson) takes pass, then I'll shoot. If he does (slide), then I'll pass. For me, it was a slow 2-on-1, so I had a lot of time. It was easy for me to try to ke more patient than try to make a move from there."

The Blues' power play, 3-for-23 the past eight games, was 2-for-3 on Tuesday and an area Hitchcock talked about needing a pick-me-up.

"I thought the power play was strong tonight," Hitchcock said. "Strong on the puck, strong on the movement. Back to point shots, in the net. I think that's the third or fourth time now in the last three game we've scored off the rush, too. I thought it was a great play on catching them in transition, on changes and stuff like that. We were alert, really alert on the power play."

Tarasenko took advantage of defenseman Chris Bigras’ error in the Colorado zone. Bigras whiffed on an attempted outlet pass, and Tarasenko beat Varlamov with a high wrist shot on the short side at 12:28 of the second.

"... I really liked the last 10 minutes of the first and the whole second period," Hitchcock said. "I really liked the way we played. We kind of took our foot off  the accelerator in the third, got on our heels and probably backed off a little too much, but I really liked the way we played the second period, especially the last 10 minutes of the first; we were really on top of them." 

The Blues opened the game in dominant fashion, and Backes reached 20 goals for the sixth time in his NHL career and for the fifth straight season.

"It's one of those plateaus that, you'd like it to be 30, but in certain circumstances, you'll take what comes along," Backes said. "Everyone in this room, I think, has taken a ton of pride in putting the team first. Those personal statistics will come along and the accolades will come along with our team success." 

Backes was in front of Varlamov and was able to tip Steen's shot from the point 1:48 of the first period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.

"It's nice to get that one as early as we did," Steen said. "I could feel the puck again and get back into the pace of things. ... I felt fine. It was good."

Steen missed 15 games with an upper-body injury and played 19:41.

"It was a good start," Steen said. "I thought we played good for the most part. The third period we shut them down for the most part, kept things simple."

Backes added: "I'm actually kind of mad at him that he looks that good after missing 15 games and comes back and just ... everything's so fluid and he sees the game so well. He was dynamite. ... He makes everyone around him look better every night. Tonight was no exception."

Colorado settled into the second half of the first period and tied it with 1:48 remaining when Grigorenko converted Tyson Barrie's pass to the left circle to beat Elliott, who made 74 consecutive saves over four-plus games.

And with the Blues climbing the standings and the regular season winding down, players and coaches notice the building being full and fans getting behind the team.

Tuesday was a Blues-Cardinals themed night and the players wore retro Cardinals powder blue warmup jerseys.

"What the players really notice right now is that this is a full building in warmup, this is a full building at the start of the game," Hitchcock said. "The fans are excited, excited for the way the team plays and they're excited with potential and possibilities. It's an interesting dynamic because you come out and the building is ready to go; the fans are ready to go, the building's ready to go. I've never seen the building so full just for warm-up. It's really, really impressive. This is a Tuesday night game. It's packed, and I'm sure it'll be packed against Boston (Friday). It's pretty impressive."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera (12) celebrates with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko after
Tarasenko scored in the Blues' 3-1 victory against the Avalanche.

Rookie left wing Robby Fabbri left the game in the third period after landing on his left leg awkwardly following a check from Colorado's Jack Skille.

Hitchcock said after the game that Fabbri is day-to-day. The team won't practice Wednesday and won't have an update on him until Thursday. Fabbri has 18 goals and 19 assists in 71 games.

It would be tough to see Fabbri havr to miss any time considering the way he, Stastny and Brouwer have been playing together as a line.

"That happens," Stastny said. "Just a little tweak there and hopefully he'll be fine. Whether he misses a couple days or a couple games, we're in a good enough position where we just want him to be healthy for the playoffs."

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