Sunday, December 10, 2017

Tarasenko's OT goal salvages 3-2 victory over Sabres

Sharthanded Blues, minus Schwartz, Pietrangelo, 
blow two-goal lead in third, win despite top players missing

ST. LOUIS -- It had to be a hard time from the midset for Blues players heading to work on Sunday.

It was their third game in four days -- four short days -- which makes it tough as it is. But to come in and learn two of your top players -- if not their best players -- will not dress Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres, including one of them for an extended period of time, the Blues did what they do best.

Next man up.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates after scoring in overtime of a 3-2 win over
the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night.

The Blues learned they would lose left wing Jaden Schwartz for a minimum of six weeks with a right ankle injury sustained in a 6-1 win at Detroit on Saturday, and then top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was also ruled out and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, also from a blocked shot Saturday, for at least Sunday's game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Blues had to throw together a patchwork lineup to face the league's worst team.

Despite blowing a two-goal lead, the end result is what matters, and Vladimir Tarasenko sent the 17,310 at Scottrade Center hope happy campers when he scored with 35.2 seconds to play in overtime of a 3-2 victory, the Blues' fourth win in a row.

Tarasenko had a different idea on his overtime goal.

The execution wasn't what he had in mind, but the end result was.

Tarasenko got the puck inside his defensive zone, and once he hit the center ice, he drove into the Sabres zone past Sabres center Jack Eichel and as he was trying to pull the puck to his forehand, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner's poke-check inadvertently pushed the puck inside the near side for the game-winner.

"Just tried to drive the net and I think when you have so many chances (and) puck doesn't go in, you just need to play more simple," Tarasenko said of his 14th of the season. "It's kind of (a) lucky bounce, but I think overall, our line playing better every game. I think we have more and more chances all the time, so I think we just need to score goals in the game and don't make it all the way to overtime."

Lehner went with the poke check because he didn't want Tarasenko to pick and choose the shot he wanted.

"I didn't want him to get a shot off so I did a poke check and it was a second too early and it went in," Lehner said. "He's a helluva player with a helluva shot so I just wanted to take that away. 

"I felt like I had him most of the game and it's tough. I wanted to make that save and go into the shootout."

The Blues, who improved to 17-0-0 when leading after two periods, called up Ivan Barbashev from the Chicago Wolves to play 12 minutes, 36 seconds; they moved Dmitrij Jaskin into a top-six role in the absence of Schwartz; they inserted Robert Bortuzzo into the lineup to play on the top defensive pairing with Jay Bouwmeester.

And even though they were playing the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference, it still was an adjustment both mentally and physically to play without both Schwartz and Pietrangelo.

"I think especially playing back-to-back, Eastern Conference team, sometimes those are a little tougher to get up compared to division games," said Blues center Paul Stastny, whose goal gave the Blues a 2-0 lead in the second period. "But I thought we came in here with the right mindset, played well for most the game. We had a couple of lapses, but kind of just rolled our forwards, rolled our d-men and we kind of played that ‘Next man up’ mentality. We have enough chemistry that we’re confidence with any lines out there, so when we’re missing two big guys like that, we don’t use it as an excuse, we just keep playing."

Bortuzzo said its something the Blues are used to.

"Of course, those are two massive parts of our lineup, but we had this 'Next man up' mentality for it almost seems like a couple years now," Bortuzzo said. "Guys did a great job stepping in. I thought Barbashev was phenomenal tonight and Petro plays big minutes so we're all just trying to chew up a couple throughout the six of us, I thought we did a nice job of chewing that up.

"A lot of guys stepped up. Those two create a lot of offense for us and we might have to generate offense a little different ways. I thought guys did a good job of plaing down low in the offensive zone. I think overall we were happy ywith the effort and just need to build on it now. ... You relish opportunities like that to play against the other team's top line and PK, [Bouwmeester's] a great guy to play with, communicates a lot, excellent skater, great structure, it was a fun challenge tonight, felt pretty good stepping up."

"It's tough in the morning," said defenseman Joel Edmundson, who was paired with usual partner Colton Parayko. "At the rink, it's kind of quiet, just because we lost two of our top guys. We had younger guys step up. We brought 'Barbs' in and I thought he had a good game tonight. Overall, I thought we had different guys step up and we just kept it simple there. We had our ups and downs throughout the game, but overall, we've got to take the two points and be happy with it."

Evan Rodrigues scored two goals in the third period for the Sabres (7-17-6), including the tying goal with 1:27 remaining. Lehner made 42 saves.

Rodrigues made it 2-1 at 1:42 of the third after Evander Kane's pass through the crease deflected off Sam Reinhart.

Rodrigues tied it after the Sabres pulled Lehner. Marco Scandella's shot hit Ryan O'Reilly and went to directly to Rodrigues in the left circle.

The Blues (21-8-2), who are first in the Western Conference with 44 points, got goals from Brayden Schenn and Stastny. The Blues are 10-1-1 against the Sabres at home in the past 11 games, including winners of six in a row. Jake Allen made 22 saves.

The Blues are 5-0-1 this season in the second game of a back-to-back, 13-0-1 the past 14 and 20-2-1 the past 22 games in that setup.

"On the outside looking in, you look and see that we gave up two in the third period and had to win it in overtime, but we had a number of quality chances we could have put that game away," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It's not like we sat back. In the third period, we had a number of great chances. Their goalie played real well. 

"Considering we played back-to-back games missing a couple of guys, overworking some players, I thought that it was a pretty gutsy win tonight."
Schenn gave the Blues a 1-0 lead 40 seconds into the first period. He went to the net after Joel Edmundson's shot from the left circle caromed off Scandella in the slot. Schenn leads St. Louis with 16 goals. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Alexander Steen (20) gets a shot off on Sabres goalie
Robin Lehner Sunday night during a 3-2 victory in overtime.

Stastny's seventh goal of the season at 16:17 of the second period made it 2-0. He punched in a shot from the side of the goal after Tarasenko's shot from the slot whistled wide of the net and off the end boards.

All things considered, with the way the day started, the Blues can take comfort in knowing they can still find ways to bag points without their top players.

"I think everybody was going pretty good," Yeo said. "Obviously it was a little bit more balance, but I thought our defense played a real strong game for us. Not just in the defending part of the game but a lot of heavy forecheck from them. Obviously, you play a team like that, they're sitting here last night watching us play. They understand that obviously fatigue can be a factor in the game, and part of their game plan was to get every puck in behind our defensemen and forecheck them and I thought that our D did a nice job of breaking their forecheck."

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