Monday, April 4, 2016

Blues win game, lose Allen in 5-1 win over Avs

Netminder injured late in first, replaced by 
Nilsson; St. Louis pulls within two points of Dallas

DENVER -- The Blues held their end of the bargain in the race for first in the Central Division but could be another costly injury along the way.

But then again, what else is new?

The Blues' 5-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche Sunday night at Pepsi Center yielded yet another body. 

Goalie Jake Allen, who finished the first period with 11 saves, appeared to tweak something in the lower-body extremity with 3 minutes 20 seconds remaining in the period. He did not return for the second and was replaced by backup Anders Nilsson; Brian Elliott was left in St. Louis for an anticipated start Monday at home against the Arizona Coyotes.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (56) scores against Avalanche goalie
Semyon Varlamov in the first period of a 5-1 St. Louis victory Sunday.

Allen missed 17 games (roughly six weeks) from Jan. 8-Feb. 22 with a knee injury.

"We'll know a little bit more on Jake tomorrow," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... We'll see in the morning how it is. Hopefully it's day-to-day.

"I don't even know (what play it happened on). I'm not even sure what it is. We'll have a better evaluation in the morning."

But the Blues (47-23-9) moved four points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks, who beat the Boston Bruins 6-4 earlier in the day, for second in the Central and moved two points behind the Dallas Stars, who lost 3-1 Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Blues, who won for the sixth time in seven games, and Blackhawks each have three games  remaining; the Stars have two.

"We know what's in front of us, we know what's behind us," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "The biggest thing is worry about ourselves. We know if we play the way we can, we're going to put ourselves in a good position. We want to make sure we're going full speed here going into the playoffs."

David Backes, Pietrangelo and Troy Brouwer each had a goal and assist for the Blues, who got 19 saves from Nilsson, making his second appearance with the Blues since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers.

Nilsson, who made a relief appearance at Calgary on March 14, got the call in the locker room so he knew he was going in.

"It's tough to see Jake go down there; he gave us a good start and the team came out to a good start there in the first period," Nilsson said. Leading 3-0, it kind of takes a little bit of the pressure off of me.

"It was fun to play. It's been a little while, so it's fun to see some game action."j  

"The guys really played for him," Hitchcock said of Nilsson, "because he's worked so hard to get back to where he's an NHL goalie in his own mind and he worked on some things with Jimmy (Corsi). He looks sound right now. He looks really sound. He's big, there's nothing you can see in the net. He handles the puck well. This is a really big asset for us." 

The Blues played like a team with plenty to play for in the first period, getting goals from Backes on the power play, Paajarvi and Parayko.

After Allen came up with some clutch saves as the Avalanche was pushing shorthanded, Backes and Tarasenko broke out in a 2-on-1, and Tarasenko fed Backes in the left circle for the one-timer to beat goalie Semyon Varlamov 5:30 into the game.

Paajarvi's first goal in 24 games (he scored Dec. 21 at Philadelphia) came after defenseman Robert Bortuzzo's strip of the puck in the neutral zone to start the play. Stastny, who has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 12 games, fed Paajarvi, who was able to whack a third attempt at the near post past Varlamov at 8:56.

Parayko's ninth of the season came after the Avalanche broke up an odd-man rush, then Steen came up with the puck behind the net and fed Parayko, who wasted no time with the booming slap shot from the right circle at 16:09.

Parayko also had his first NHL fight in the third period with Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog.

"It's just a thing at spur of the moment; I'm not a guy really needing to go looking for a fight," Parayko said. "I don't really feel it's my game, but if it's there, I guess I've got to stand up for myself and not back down. It was there, and if that's what I'm going to have to do, then that's what I'm going to have to do to stand up for myself."

But it was the kind of period the Blues were able to replicate from what they did in the third period against Boston Friday when they scored three times.

"We had a good push there in the third (Friday) and to carry that over to the start of this game, we needed a good response," Pietrangelo said. "I thought we did a good job of sticking to the details."

Hitchcock added: "We really started the game well. We really put a lot of pressure on them. We made them make mistakes, scored goals because of it. I really liked the way we played the game. For the first half, we really played well."

Colorado replaced Varlamov after the first period with Calvin Pickard, who yielded a goal to Pietrangelo 3:26 into the second for a 4-0 St. Louis lead after Kyle Brodziak won an offensive zone faceoff, and Pietrangelo fired a wrister through traffic.

It was the eighth goal the past five games and fifth in two that Blues defensemen have scored.

The Blues managed the game the way they wanted to, making sure Nilsson was comfortable and giving him easier looks when the Avalanche, who were outshot 39-31, were coming into the zone.

"Let's be honest, (Nilsson) hasn't played much since he got here," Pietrangelo said. "To come in like he did tonight, he played well. We tried keeping as easy on him as possible. I thought we did a good job as a 'D' taking away those second chances."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Anders Nilsson (middle) guards the net as teammate Jori 
Lehtera (12) and former Blue Erik Johnson battle for a loose puck Sunday.

Matt Duchene ended the shutout for the Blues when he tipped in Mikkel Boedker's shot from the slot for his 30th of the season, but Troy Brouwer, who has 13 points in 12 games, finished things off with an empty-netter.

"We managed (the puck) better, but we checked a lot better," Hitchcock said. "We created a lot of neutral zone turnovers, which was good for us. I just liked the way we played in the first period. It was sound, it was sending the other team a message, It was a good sign."

* NOTE -- The Blues will not hold a morning skate Monday, and therefore any information on Allen or any of the injured players that have been out won't be known until Monday afternoon.

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