Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Blues flat, fail to clinch third in 5-2 loss to Jets

Lead over Predators down to one point after poor outing on Tuesday

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Yeo had a bad feeling.

The Blues' coach would have loved to be wrong, but unfortunately for the Blues, he was spot on.

After an emotional victory against the Nashville predators on Sunday that gave the Blues sole possession of third place in the Central Division, the Blues had to face their 2016-17 demons against a puzzling Winnipeg Jets team, a team that has dominated some of the top teams in the NHL, particularly the Central Division but lost to a number of cupcakes that will prevent the Jets from playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) attempts to get away with the 
puck from Jets rookie Patrik Laine on Tuesday in a 5-2 loss.

The Jets hit the Blues with three goals in a span of 1 minute, 2 seconds to erase a one-goal deficit and swept the season series with a 5-2 victory against the Blues on Tuesday before 19,178 at Scottrade Center to prevent St. Louis (43-29-7) from having the chance to clinch third.

It wouldn't have mattered anyway since the Predators gained a point on the Blues with a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.

So as it now stands, the Blues' magic number is at three. They can still clinch with any sort of win Thursday at Florida and if Nashville only gains one point, or if the Blues get a point Thursday, and the Predators lose in regulation.

It was the first time St. Louis allowed more than three goals in 17 games, dating to Feb. 26. The Blues are 7-1-2 in their past 10. 

But the Blues didn't do themselves any favors on Tuesday. They were sloppy defensively and hung Jake Allen, who was pulled at the 9:02 mark of the third period after allowing a fifth goal on the 25th shot me saw, out to dry.

"My concern was actually before the game and the game itself just concerned what I was feeling," Yeo said. "We've been playing real meaningful games as far as getting in the playoffs, you get in the playoffs, you come back home and you play a team that you're fighting in position for in an emotional game and so we knew we'd have a good response and a real strong team effort. I was nervous about this one today, I admit that. Unfortunately, I was right."

Patrik Laine scored two goals, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Stuart and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, and Michael Hutchinson made 24 saves for the Jets (38-35-7), who have won five games in a row and swept the season series from the Blues (5-0-0) for the first time in franchise history and outscored them 21-10.

"These guys, they’ve been such a good team over the last number of years and I think they bring out the best in us," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said of the Blues. "Our preparation coming into a game against St. Louis, we know what kind of game it’s going to be, its going to be a tough matchup. We’ve played a lot of really close games with them over the years and this year we kind of got the puck to bounce our way."

The Blues appeared to pick up where they left off in the Nashville game when Alex Pietrangelo scored his 13th of the season, which set a career-high, just 35 seconds into the game when he picked a puck off along the right boards, skated into the slot and followed up his own backhand by jamming a puck past Hutchinson for a 1-0 lead.

But the Blues came out of the period with that 1-0 lead thanks to Allen making some key saves. The Blues were outshot 9-4 and if things didn't change, there was reason to believe Winnipeg may get a leg up.

And it started quickly, as the Blues came out sluggish.

Laine, Ehlers and Stuart scored goals to give the Jets a 3-1 lead. 

Laine tied the game 1-1 at 1:47 of the second when he followed up Stuart's shot from the left point, got inside of Petteri Lindbohm and popped the rebound home.

Then Ehlers made it 2-1 Winnipeg at 2:01, by collecting Wheeler's shot at the net and racing for a wraparound.

And in the strangest of goals, Stuart made it 3-1 at 2:49 when his shot ricocheted off Kyle Brodziak, then Jay Bouwmeester and over Allen.

"It was crazy. It was quick," Allen said. "What can you do? We had to find a way to get back at it. Definitely a really bad couple minutes for us all."

Yeo called a time out at that point.

"It started in the first period, to be honest with you," Yeo said. "I thought we had a good start to the game. The goal aside, but as the period went on, we started to get soft in our puck play, we stopped shooting pucks and we started to play a game that was not going to lead to any type of success whatsoever. We talked about a couple things in between periods but obviously you come out that way. For me, it's about turnovers, neutral zone turnovers. And again, it's our puck play. The first goal is not on that as much, but obviously the next couple, it's a couple neutral zone turnovers and it comes right back at us."

The Blues feel like they missed their opportunities in the first period when the game was a bit open and the Jets gave the Blues multiple odd-man rushes that they failed to get even a shot on goal on.

"Yeah, I thought both teams were kind of flat," Blues forward Alexander Steen said. "I think we shot ourselves in the foot more than they took over the game. I think the first period, that's turnovers, both teams. We get our 2-on-1's, they get a couple. Odd-man rushes and then they get a couple of bounces in the second (period) and they're able to gain a lead. I thought we came out with some strong shifts in the third there and it would have been nice to get one in the early shifts. We had some good chances, but again, they came back and just sloppy plays, mistakes.

"... I thought we had them almost throughout the game and didn't connect."

Jori Lehtera marked his return to the lineup after missing 12 games with a concussion and scored to cut the Jets lead to 3-2 at 4:38 of the second period.

Bouwmeester moved the puck up the ice, and Zach Sanford made a nice play with a tip pass to Ivan Barbashev, who saucered a pass to Lehtera in the slot for a one-timer.

"We're hoping there's a chance, we never quit, we never want to give up on a game, I can't say it had the type of feel that we were going to come back in this game," Yeo said. "We didn't really have that hard of a push in the third period and for me, that's a little bit set up for the way we played the first two. Disappointing night, and we've got to bounce back."

Scheifele gave Winnipeg a 4-2 lead at 4:48 of the third period on a shot that was gloved by Allen and ruled a save on the ice. Video review showed the puck crossed the goal line in Allen's glove.

"But you know we held it close there, it was 3-2, we got ourselves back in the game, we had a chance," Allen said. "They get that one where I made the save, but apparently we've got satellites in Mars that can see that, or it could have a been different game.

"I have no control over it. It's either in or it's not. You don't really hope for nothing unless you're sure that it's not in the net. It was right there, it was just whether they could actually see the puck. I never got to see a replay, so ..."

Laine scored his second of the game to make it 5-2 at 9:02, chasing Allen from the game. It was his 36th goal, three behind Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs for most by an NHL rookie. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Patrik Berglund looks to move a puck up ice away from Jets
center Bryan Little on Tuesday. 

Carter Hutton made six saves in relief. 

"He gave up five goals tonight and he played a good game," Yeo said of Allen. "It was a mercy pulling. I should have pulled him earlier to be honest with you. If it wasn't for him, we probably would have given up 10 tonight. But way too many high-quality scoring chances. 

"It's one thing to defend without the puck and be in good position. You can't be in good position if you're soft on the puck, if you're turning pucks over, and a lot of the things we were doing so well for a long period of time we got away from tonight."

"Yeah, watch the goals against," Pietrangelo said. "Without Jake, it would've been more than 5-2. You feel bad when he's playing the way he's been playing and we do that to him."

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