Saturday, April 1, 2017

Despite shootout loss, Blues clinch playoff berth

Avalanche get 2-1 victory; St. Louis in Stanley Cup Playoffs for 
sixth consecutive season, moves two points ahead of Nashville for third place

DENVER -- The Blues got the necessary point needed to clinch a sixth consecutive spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They were looking for more, a cushion of three points on the Nashville Predators for third place in the Central Division.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Ryan Reaves (75) celebrates after scoring in the first period
on Friday in Colorado. The Blues lost 2-1 in a shootout.

It was a solid start, but the Blues succumbed to the last-place Colorado Avalanche, 2-1 in a shootout on Friday night at Pepsi Center but gained the 41st entry into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 50 seasons.

The Blues (42-28-7) outshot Colorado (21-53-3) 13-5 in the opening 20 minutes and got a Ryan Reaves goal, but they needed every bot of Jake Allen from the second period on in stealing a point.

But Allen was beat twice in the shootout, by Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, while Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko failed to score on Colorado's Calvin Pickard.

Make no mistake, the Blues are glad to be in and thanked Allen for getting them there Friday.

"'Snake' kept us in the game all night; he was unbelievable," Blues right wing David Perron said. "In the overtime, stopping the breakaway, trying to get the offense, too. That was a special game by him. Not the best by us.

"We'll take the clinch. We battled hard over the last 15-20 games. It feels good for sure that way."

The silver lining is the Blues got a point, and now lead the Predators, who host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday afternoon before coming to St. Louis for a huge showdown on Sunday afternoon, and lead Nashville by two points in the Central and will be in third heading into Sunday no matter what.

"Obviously a huge point for us getting into the playoffs," Reaves said. "Looking back from where we were a couple months ago, I think we've played a lot of good hockey. I think tonight, we came out and looked at the standings a little too much instead of the skill and they made us pay. At the end of the day, we got the point that we needed."

Reaves made it 1-0 when he deflected Scottie Upshall's sharp angle shot off the right boards past Pickard on the short side at 12 minutes, 29 seconds of the first period.

Jordan Schmaltz earned his first NHL point on the play after making the pass to Upshall after Kyle Brodziak won the offensive zone draw.

Reaves called his goal Friday morning doing the Bommarito Zero to Sixty segment on the Blues' website he and goalie Carter Hutton did with 11-year-old Arianna Dougan, but he gave credit to Ari.

"You know what, I think she called it actually," Reaves said. "I think I'm going to give that one to her. She was a good luck charm on that one.

"That's our set play. I go to the net and take a body with me. 'Uppy' put it right where I needed to."

It was the kind of start to the Blues were looking for.

"I think we came out hungry for the two points and hungry for the playoffs and after we got the lead, I think we started coasting a little bit expecting them to kind of go away," Reaves said. "When you do that against teams that are trying to show for next year, they bury you and that's what happened."

And it all started with the second period, a period as bad as the Blues played in some time. They were outshot 15-4 and surrendered the tying goal from J.T. Compher, a power-play goal, at 11:49 off a rebound of Allen's save on MacKinnon.

"Decision-making, puck management, lack of purpose in our checking game just allowed them to come at us with way too much speed," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "From that point on, we were chasing the game.

"It's not the kind of game you want to play with anybody. There's a tremendous amount of skill and speed on that team. You saw that. I thought some of the turnovers in the neutral zone seemed like we were not moving our feet, we were getting caught from behind led to a penalty, a power play goal by them and from that point on, they were rolling."

The Blues' first two power plays of the game, including one at the end of the second produced nothing. Puck movement was sloppy, nothing was geared towards the net and entries were less than effective.

It was much the same in the third, and the Avalanche had great chances twice in the waning minutes to win but two shots were Allen's best friend off posts.

The overtime produced some high drama, as Tarasenko had two prime chances in the slot but missed the net on one and Pickard denied him on the next before Allen came up big on a breakaway save on Mikko Rantanen.

Then Pickard came up with a doozy when he robbed Jaden Schwartz at the back post off Perron's feather feed right before time expired on the overtime.

"'Schwartzy' did a helluva job to get by their guy and skated really hard," Perron said. "I was able to get him the puck. He tried to get it up and a great save by their goalie.

"We couldn't get it done in the shootout but still a big point."

The Blues, 11-1-2 in their past 13 games and outscoring the opposition 42-20, played the final 40 minutes including overtime without defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who left the game after taking a check by Colorado's Anton Lindholm in the offensive zone. Bortuzzo tried to back-track for a puck in the d-zone but was in obvious discomfort, perhaps a right shoulder, as he left roughly five minutes into the second period leaving the Blues with five defenseman.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (right) moves the puck away from 
Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie on Friday night.

"It's not easy, I'll tell you that," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's tough to breathe when I eat, let alone play that much. We found a way to get through it. We could have made it easy on ourselves, but we found a way."

They found a way to get what they needed against an opponent that had lost seven in a row and 13 of 16.

"This is similar what we were saying before; we want to get into the playoffs," Yeo said. "That was goal No. 1 and we're there now. It's something that we should be very pleased about and now we want to make sure that we're on top of our game and we're in a good spot when we go in. But we recognize as a group that we have to be better than tonight."

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