Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Blues double up Avalanche 4-2, win four of five on trip

Allen strong, Berglund scores twice, Sanford, Perron each add two assists, 
Schwartz finally tallies goal as St. Louis moves into third in Central Division

DENVER -- At the end of a 10-day road trip that spanned five games and the Blues seeing the route back to St. Louis off in the distance, a trap game was all set up for them against the team with the worst record in the NHL.

But through all the adversity of losing center Paul Stastny to injury early and not playing well against the Colorado Avalanche, who are playing spoilers at this point in the season, the Blues found their game and gutted out a crucial 4-2 victory Tuesday at Pepsi Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Joel Edmundson congratulates Jake Allen after the Blues 
finished a five-game road trip 4-1-0 with a 4-2 win at Colorado.

The win for the Blues (39-28-5) moved them back into third place in the Central Division, tied points-wise with the Nashville Predators (83 points each) but by virtue of the regulation/overtime wins (38-34 for the Blues), they hold third place. But more importantly, the Blues separate themselves from ninth-place Los Angeles by two more points and lead the Kings by eight with 10 games remaining for each.

Jake Allen was terrific stopping 26 shots and did his part when the Blues looked sloppy and sluggish early in the game and to start the second period, Patrik Berglund scored twice, Jaden Schwartz scored his first non empty-net goal in 26 games, 21-year-old Zach Sanford, acquired in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade with the Washington Capitals, played arguably his best game as a Blue with two assists, and David Perron also had two assists in one of his finer efforts of the season.

It wasn't the Blues' best, but they were able to pot two more points and headed home to St. Louis to start a three-game homestand.

"You can definitely chalk that one up to that reason, but we came on stronger as the game went on obviously," Allen said. "That's why we won. They came out with a huge push in the first, huge push in the second and then it was huge for us to get a goal in the third. 

"I think we were all a little tired from this whole trip. It's been a long trip, we're all ready to go home, but to find a way just to get two points was huge."

The Blues started sloppy and fell behind 1-0 when John Mitchell cut inside Colton Parayko and fired off a wrist shot past Allen 5 minutes, 32 seconds into the game for a 1-0 Avalanche lead. 

Ryan Reaves was going to get called for a delayed penalty and the Avalanche was able to get an extra skater on the ice.

The Blues were spending too much time in their zone and not moving pucks until the ladder stages of the period and nearly tied it late but somehow the puck with a number of bodies crashing the net didn't go in.

But for the most part, it was a period to forget.

"I don't think it was the start that we wanted, but far more important, what we talked about after the first period is there's nothing we could do about the start now and we were looking for a response and certainly got it," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "... It's been a great road trip at a crucial time, the guys delivered. Even tonight, it was not perfect but they played very hard, they played very well. There's a lot of skill. We were looking at their lineup before the game and they're four lines deep and they can hurt you in a number of different ways. They showed that tonight. We lose 'Stas,' we don't have a good start. At the end of a road trip, I think that was a great road trip for us."

Stastny's last shift was with 7:24 remaining in the first period, and he apparently was hit by a teammate's shot and didn't return. 

Yeo said Stastny tweaked something but wasn't expected to miss any time.

"I don't think it'll be anything serious at all," Yeo said. "It was not the shot that hurt; it was not that. It was a tweak of something and I would expect him to be ready for next game."

The Blues started the second period equally as poor, and if not for a series of saves by Allen on one particular sequence when the Avalanche seemed like they wired 10 shots towards the Blues' goalie, somehow Allen was able to keep them out.

"Just battle and then eventually, someone shoved one of their guys on me and he was on my arm and I couldn't move," Allen said. "The ref was saying it would have been no goal anyway. I didn't really move much, but they didn't hit the net. I could hear the ref. He was saying it was going to be no goal, so I actually wasn't even that worried about it.

"Give them an honest chance to win and I thought I did that. I thought I played well and guys got the job done."

Allen gave the Blues a fighting chance and kept it 1-0, and that's all his teammates could ask.

"He really was. He was playing great," Berglund said. "It was just a real tough start for us. We got pucks in deep, but the forecheck didn't work. Their goalie played a lot of pucks and we were just chasing the puck around. I think after we got the first goal, we started to figure out that it was for sure a really, really tough first half of the game."

Yeo agreed.

"He did, yeah, absolutely," Yeo said of Allen. "When we're not on top of our game and ... they deserve a little bit of credit, too. I think in a lot of ways we thought we were ready for the game and then they surprised us with their pace and the energy and the execution they had right off the hop and put us on our heels right from the start. I think we came in probably expecting a better start and they smacked us in the face pretty good with their game and it took us a while to regroup, but while we were taking that time, Jake was unreal and gave us a chance."

The Blues were finally able to break through with a goal by Berglund, his first 20-goal season since the 2010-11 season when he scored from the slot after Zach Sanford chipped the puck deep, then he and Perron got in on the forecheck.

Sanford was able to flip a little pass to Berglund, who made no mistake depositing it past Avs goalie Calvin Pickard with 3:10 left in the period to tie the game 1-1.

"Really good play by both of them," Berglund said. "I just came straight from the bench into the slot. They did all the dirty work there."

"I had a similar play earlier in the game, I didn't get it in and they came back the other way and they had a good chance," Sanford said. "I just wanted to make sure I got it in and a big part for us was getting in on that forecheck and we did there and it paid off.

"I think in the first and beginning of the second, we weren't playing as hard as we should have. They were in our zone and around our net a lot more than we wanted. A couple big saves by Jake there and a goal from us turns the whole thing around and we just took off from there."

Moments later, snake-bitten Schwartz had a shorthanded breakaway attempt that Pickard stopped. However, he would not be denied in the third.

The Blues jumped on the Avs for two goals in the third, including Paajarvi's tip of Ivan Barbashev's shot 5:05 into the period to make it 2-1, then Schwartz scored off his own rebound, his first goal in 15 games and first non empty-net goal in 26 at 8:44 to make it 3-1.

Sanford made the play again, finding Barbashev in a crowd on the inside of the left circle, and Paajarvi got a piece of the shot past Pickard.

"We didn't play that well in the second," Paajarvi said. "We needed something there and it was a huge goal, 2-1 and then we got 3-1 and Bergy, so it was a character win today. We battled through and we found a way. That's what you've got to do at the end of the season."

Schwartz, who took an errant stick to the nose late in the game, tried to make a seam pass through the paint, but got the loose puck before slamming it home.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (right) congratulates teammate Jaden Schwartz after
Schwartz scored in the third period of the Blues' 4-2 win over Colorado.

"We're all happy for him," Yeo said of Schwartz. "It's almost impossible to play as well as he has and to not score goals. We told him that that first one was probably going to come around that blue paint, so that's good to get that monkey off the back. But his competitive level tonight is what he's been doing for us. He's so strong on the puck, the way that he comes up with loose pucks. The energy that he brings to our group, we're all real happy for him that he scored."

Colorado pushed back late when Mark Barberio scored with 5:10 to play on a play off the back boards of a Tyson Barrie shot that he one-timed past Allen to make it 3-2.

Berglund's empty-netter with 48 seconds to play sealed the Blues' win. The goal tied Berglund with Doug Gilmour for 14th on the all-time franchise list for goals scored with 149.

"I really think this was a character win," Berglund said. "We had a really tough start, but we had to find a way to bounce back and win this game. We had a great road trip, so we're going to take all these points back home and regroup."

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