Saturday, March 11, 2017

Shorthanded Blues get two from Tarasenko, top Islanders 4-3

Playing without Stastny, Parayko, St. Louis wins fourth straight

ST. LOUIS -- It's not often a team can give itself a chance missing its top center and more prominent defensemen.

That's what the Blues were challenged with facing the red-hot New York Islanders on Saturday, as both teams were fighting for crucial points in the standings in each respective conference.

With Paul Stastny, who came down sick Saturday afternoon, and Colton Parayko (undisclosed) out of the lineup, the Blues inserted a rookie (Jordan Schmaltz) and seldom-used winger (Nail Yakupov) to fill the void in search of their fourth straight win.

It didn't matter. As long as Vladimir Tarasenko is on the ice, the Blues stand a chance, and Tarasenko came through by scoring twice to help them extended their win streak to four games with a 4-3 victory against the Islanders at Scottrade Center on Saturday before 19,505. 

Yeo, who said after the game both Stastny and Parayko have a chance to play Monday in a pivotal game against the Los Angeles Kings, had a pretty good idea he'd be without Parayko, but he didn't know about Stastny until he got to the rink.

"I got word when I got to the rink and it was full panic from there," Yeo joked. "The one thing we've got here is we've got good players out of the lineup and we've talked about this whether it's 'Barby' (Ivan Barbashev), whether it's 'Yak,' we've got Zach (Sanford). 'Schmaltzy' came in and did a great job tonight. We've got a group here this time of year, we need everybody and we proved it tonight."

But with Tarasenko scoring his team-leading 31st and 32nd goals, the Blues, who improved to 4-0-0 playing in their Winter Classic jerseys, didn't skip a beat.

"He's one of the best shooters in the League," Islanders left wing Anders Lee said of Tarasenko. "He doesn't need much space to get a shot off and obviously it was apparent tonight he didn't need it at all. He snapped a couple home."

Alexander Steen had a goal and an assist and Carter Hutton made 21 saves for St. Louis (35-27-5), which moved five points ahead of the Kings for the second wild card in the Western Conference pending the Kings' late result Saturday against the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals.

The Blues also pulled back to within two points of the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division with a game in hand.

"That was a good win," Steen said. "Obviously it starts with goaltending, solid goaltending again. We kept it tight for the most part. I think towards the end there, we took our foot off the gas a little much and gave them some opportunities, but all in all, those are big points for us."

Yeo agreed.

"In my eyes, that was a character win," Yeo said. "We said that before the game that it was going to be a character game. I was confident with the character in our locker room that guys would recognize that and we would respond."

It was a game where the Blues moved Steen back to the middle between Jaden Schwartz, whose two assists give him seven in the past six, and Tarasenko. Patrik Berglund, who scored, matched up against the Islanders' top line centered by John Tavares, and Alex Pietrangelo, who had a shift in the game during the second period that lasted 2 minutes, 8 seconds which included blocking a big, booming shot from Travis Hamonic, took some of Parayko's minutes and played the exact amount (28:55) on Saturday that he did Friday night.

"I think this is how successful team is supposed to be," Tarasenko said. "Of course we miss those guys, they're great players, the team effort was what we got here and support for each other."

New York (32-24-11) finished a franchise-long nine-game road trip 5-3-1 and fell out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference by one point when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime on Saturday.

Thomas Greiss allowed four goals on 18 shots and was replaced by Jean-Francois Berube to start the third period. Berube made six saves.

Tarasenko put the Blues ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal at 7:23 of the first period with a wrist shot from the right dot short side that seemed to handcuff Greiss. It was the Blues' lobe power play of the game.

The Islanders thought they tied it at 11:31 of the first on a power-play goal by Andrew Ladd, but the Blues challenged New York was offside and the goal was overturned because Jason Chimera was in ahead of the play.

The Blues were confident they'd win the challenge.

"That's what I said when I came to bench, what's the point in saving it if it's offside, right? That's nice," Hutton joked. "That spins it a lot there. Then we go down and make it … the way the game plays out, that can be a big momentum change. For us, that's huge. If that goal goes in, there's still two minutes in the second power play, then our PK steps up."

Steen gave the Blues a 2-0 lead at 4:58 of the second period when Tarasenko's cross-ice pass intended for Schwartz caromed off of Lee's skate right to Steen with a fortuitous bounce before he deposited the puck short side on Greiss, who was moving left to right anticipating Tarasenko's pass to Schwartz.

"I just sort of caught it out of my left eye and was able to kick my foot forward," Steen said. "Good bounce."

Brock Nelson made it 2-1 at 11:37 after Tarasenko failed to get a puck in deep following Magnus Paajarvi's pass, and the Islanders caught the Blues on a line change that resulted in a 3-on-2.

The Islanders were buzzing in search of the tying goal with a number of extended zone shifts in the Blues' zone, but Tarasenko is a game-changer, and his second goal was a thing of beauty.

Tarasenko took Carl Gunnarsson's stretch pass, skated into the zone and in a blink of an eye, whipped that wrist shot from the top of the right circle past Greiss at 15:28 of the second to restore the Blues' leads to two goals at 3-1.

"They were buzzing like crazy in the second period when he scored his second goal," Yeo said of Tarasenko. "They had momentum and I couldn't help but smile on the bench because that's what you need at that time when the other team's having a push-back and this is what we've been talking about. The other team's got life, they've got some momentum. That's when you need your leaders to to go out there and make a play to make a difference and get things going back your way."

Berglund gave the Blues a 4-1 lead at 18:06 after Paajarvi did a nice job back-tracking towards the offensive zone blue line, retrieving the puck and keeping it in, then getting it to David Perron, who slotted the puck to Berglund down low before he pulled it to his backhand and slid it past Greiss.

But the Blues didn't put the Islanders away, and New York got two third-period goals. 

Anthony Beauvillier's slap shot from the high slot caromed off Hutton's glove at 2:11 of the third to make it 4-2, one the Blues' goalie felt like he should have had.

"My glove folded in, it was kind of a weird play," Hutton said. "It happened this morning. Sometimes the glove gets beat up and it folds in, just a freak one. I had a bead on it, and my glove folded in. It's frustrating, but at that point, we had enough grace and from there we gave the one away late on the power play. Other than that, I did my job, battled and held on."

Nick Leddy scored a power-play goal and Berube pulled for a 6-on-4 situation with 1:29 remaining to make it 4-3 after Jay Bouwmeester, to his displeasure, was called for slashing.

"I think that there were some opportunities to put pucks in the net that would have made things a little less tense for us," Yeo said. "We had some real good opportunities, scoring opportunities, but part of the sitting back is our decisions with the puck at certain times. Some of the turnovers that we have that allow them to attack with speed. When we were strong with the puck, when we put pucks in the right places, we're in a position to get pucks back and when we lost pucks like we did in the third period, we were chasing and it felt like they were coming at us with a ton of speed and it's hard to slow them down that way."

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