Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Blues rally to defeat Canadiens 3-2 on Schwartz OT goal

Down 2-0 in third, St. Louis rallies to end homestand 4-0-1

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock was searching high and low for the perfect combinations.

Sometimes -- no, a lot of times -- the Blues' coach and his persistent throw-em-in-a-blender and see what kind of combinations work irritates Blues fans, but this time, going back to a familiar pair saved a game destined for the 'L' column.

Hitchcock reunited Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny along with Alexander Steen and the instant chemistry bloomed and turned a third-period deficit into overtime magic when Schwartz scored with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining as the Blues overcame a two-goal deficit to defeat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, before 17,646 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Montreal right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) falls back into Blues goalie
Jake Allen during a 3-2 St. Louis win in overtime on Tuesday.

Schwartz had two goals and an assist, Stastny had a goal and assist and Steen set up Schwartz with the game-winner.

Schwartz took a pass from Steen and beat Canadiens goalie Al Montoya high glove side to give the Blues (15-7-4) their third win of the season (3-5-1) when trailing after two.

Schwartz may have scored the game-winning goal, but Steen did most of the work, first winning the puck from Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw behind the Blues net and then threaded the puck in stride to Schwartz going in on goal through three Canadiens.

"Steener, I think he won the battle in the 'D' zone," said Schwartz, who has seven goals and five assists the past 10 games. "They might have had a couple of tired guys out and he took off. I went with him and I think the defensemen were cheating his way a little bit and he made a great pass over a couple of sticks and it landed on my tape. I had a little bit of a step on the defenseman there. He was leaning down a little bit, so I just tried to get it up as quick as I could."

Jake Allen made 28 saves and is 8-0-0 in his past eight starts; he's 10-0-2 at home this season with seven straight wins. The Blues have points in 13 straight home games (10-0-3) and are 12-1-3 overall at Scottrade Center.

The Blues finished a five-game homestand 4-0-1, with four of those games going to overtime or shootout (3-0-1); they're 8-1-1 overall the past nine games.

"I was trying a lot of stuff once it wasn't working, and then I saw some things in the second period I liked," Hitchcock said. "A couple shifts and after the first three minutes ... they had a great shift with about five minutes gone in the third period and I just stuck on those lines.

"... Trying to find it. What looks like it works on paper and then it works for a little while, it wasn't working today. It wasn't going. We weren't doing the normal job of getting pucks deep and we were feeding right into their transition game.

"I thought the first period was an even period, even though we were down 1-0, we had lots of really good chances in the first, but I thought in the second, we were really losing our energy there. We were too stretched out, we were trying to hit home runs, we were trying to long-pass it. When we scored our first goal, we got the puck deep, and it was a great shot by 'Stas.' The shift was set up by three deep plays in a row. Once we got the puck below the goal line, we did a heck of a job with it. We struggled to get it into the areas the way we're built. I thought the other thing we did a great job of in the third was we came back together. We came up the ice together. We came back together, which was a good sign."

Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron each had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens (17-6-3), who finished a five-game trip 2-2-1. Montoya made 28 saves and fell to 0-3-1 after starting the season 3-0-1.

"I've got to look at the big picture," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "I thought we were pursuing the puck really well. We got some good scoring chances, especially in the second period. We hit two posts and the first goal in the third gave them some momentum, but you know what, we've got to be satisfied. Disappointed losing the game obviously, but we played against a really good hockey team."

The Blues ended Montoya's shutout 7:40 into the third when Stastny scored on a shot from the left circle short side to make it 2-1.

Stastny's goal came after Blues defenseman Colton Parayko kept Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry's clearing attempt, then a strong forecheck in which Stastny and Schwartz won a puck battle with Petry gave Stastny a small shooting lane that he pinpointed top shelf over Montoya to get the Blues on the board. 

"I don’t shoot from that far out," Stastny said. "You know, if I don’t know where it’s going, he doesn’t know where it’s going. Sometimes we try to do too much. From that close, if he’s set straight, you almost got to shoot high. You’re obviously shooting to score, if not you’re shooting for a rebound just to kind of create some havoc and make them defend. Once we started getting shots through, started getting rebounds and second chances, that’s when we kind of played our game and had a lot of momentum."

It was clear the Blues were getting traffic to the net and finding success.

Schwartz tied it at 10:31. Jay Bouwmeester's shot (his 300th NHL assist) from the left point was loose and Schwartz popped in the rebound after Stastny's backhand attempt fighting off defenseman Shea Weber.

"I think we were moving away from the net (early)," Hitchcock said. "We were trying to make the next play, the next play, the next play rather than play it off the goal, and when we're at our best, we play it off the goal. The next play gets made after we play it off the goal, but it's a tough sell to play that way because it's not easy. The whole league's full of that right now. It's a very difficult sell to ask the players to go and pay a heavy price to go to the net and stay in there and absorb shots and make plays after that, but that's the way you score. Once we started to do that ... look at the rebound goals and look at the rebound chances and all of the sudden, things started to open up. And I thought in the third period, we got three or four really good saves from Jake to keep it where it was. It was good."

Allen saved the game for the Blues with 1:18 remaining when he made a quick pad save on Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty's redirection of a Plekanec pass.

"Plekanec looked like he was going to shoot and he made a side pass and I got a pad on it there," Allen said. "Definitely one that I'll remember."

Allen was unable to handle Plekanec's shot from the left circle. Byron got a piece of it and the puck caromed off defenseman Carl Gunnarsson's skate and between Allen's pads to give Montreal a 1-0 lead at 10:06 of the first period.

The Blues failed to convert on three power plays in the first.

Plekanec scored his first in 14 games after receiving a saucer pass from Byron in the slot and beating Allen with a backhand shot high glove side with 2:18 remaining in the second for a 2-0 lead.

But they turned things around in the third period against a Canadiens team that came in 11-0-1 leading after two.

"That's a good win for us, especially against the No. 1 team in the league," Allen said. "It's good momentum to go on this road trip."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Patrik Berglund (21) checks Canadiens center Tomas 
Plekanec during action Tuesday at Scottrade Center.

The Blues, who started a stretch Tuesday of 10 games in 17 days heading into the Christmas break, now head on a four-game trip beginning Thursday at the New York Islanders.

"I was telling coaches today, starting tonight, it was 10 games in (17) nights, which is really challenging," Hitchcock said. "I think six of them are on the road. Conserving energy, playing the players the right way, not wasting energy on disappointing efforts, you've got to move on is going to be important for us. We've got to go on the road and play really sound, but we've got to play with a high level of energy. My biggest fear is we've had to put a lot of energy into these games, a lot of overtimes, a lot of 3-on-3 stuff, a lot of anxiety, a lot of close games. We'll see where our energy is. We've got to be really careful with ourselves right now."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson returned after missing the past 12 games with an upper-body injury. Robert Bortuzzo was placed on IR with a lower-body injury, sustained in Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to Winnipeg, and will be re-evaluated in six weeks.

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