Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Tarasenko OT winner is Blues' sixth straight win, 3-2 over Sharks

Right wing reaches 30 goals for fourth straight season, St. Louis 
moves into first wildcard with win, end San Jose's eight-game winning streak

ST. LOUIS -- It's becoming a theme with the Blues.

They. Just. Won't. Go. Away.

When one of their pursuers punches one night to try and knock the Blues out of one of the top eight playoff spots, they punch right back when given the chance. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko pumps his fist after scoring in overtime of a 3-2 Blues 
win over the Sharks on Tuesday at Scottrade Center.

And who would have thought playoffs after that disastrous 0-6-1 start. But a 9-2-1 run since puts the Blues right back in the thick of the race, including six straight times now after a 3-2 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday before 18,947 at Scottrade Center.

Vladimir Tarasenko's second goal of the game at 2 minutes 33 seconds of overtime off a pass from Vladimir Sobotka after a great individual effort continued the Blues' season-high in wins, of which four have come in overtime.

The blue-collared Blues (43-28-5) moved into the first wildcard in the Western Conference with the two points, tied with the Anaheim Ducks but the Blues have played one fewer game. The Blues moved past the Colorado Avalanche by a point and three points behind the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division.

They're also a season-high 15 games over .500.

"We just know we need the points," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Guys are getting good saves at key times, guys are playing good defense, guys are stepping up, when we've got the puck, we're going on the attack because we know we need that extra point."

"Desperation," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I didn't think we had a very good start tonight. It's something we have to address. We haven't had a lot of them lately to be honest with you, good starts. So we're gonna have to rectify that, especially going on the road now. You don't want to be putting yourself in a bad spot but when we start getting to our game we're a tough team to play against."

One game after ending the Columbus Blue Jackets' 10-game winning streak with a 2-1 win, the Blues halted the Sharks' eight-game winning streak with this victory.

"We're going to play good teams down the stretch no matter what," Schenn said. "Whether they're on streaks or not, everyone's going to give us a good game, so we know that, it's nice to bust a few streaks."

The Blues never led in this game until the OT winner was scored, and what a play by Sobotka to make it happen. He went and won a puck battle behind the net off a faceoff from Mikkel Boedker, then was able to fight off Justin Braun while making a pinpoint no-look behind the back backhand pass  to Tarasenko, who tucked in his 31st of the season past Aaron Dell.

"I knew he would make this pass," Tarasenko said of Sobotka. "I'm not sure he heard me or no, but he's a great player. I just expect the plays like this from him. Obviously the great play, easy tap-in goal."

Oskar Sundqvist -- yes, Oskar Sundqvist! -- scored his first goal since April 2, 2016 and second of his NHL career, and Jake Allen improved to 8-1-0 in his past nine starts with 22 saves.

The blue collar effort wins out for the Blues again. It's not going to make any highlight reel tapes, but they're getting the job done.

"That's what we are. We have no other choice. We're not gonna win other ways. We're not gonna go out and just be fancy and win hockey games. That's not who we are right now. 

"Obviously you have to play to your strengths and strength it's more about our defensive game. We're getting good goaltending. It's about just how physical and hard-checking and hard-nose we are both offensively and defensively And we're doing that."

"We aren't a fancy team and I think everyone knows that," defenseman Vince Dunn said. "When we're playing north and we're getting pucks deep, and making (opposing) D turn around and chase for pucks, that makes it really hard on other teams. I think now our power play is starting to take a little bit of a turnaround and the goal tonight was really big, too. If we can continue our strong play on our special teams -- our PK and our power play -- we can find ourselves in better positions."

The Blues did it with relentless pursuit after a sluggish start in the first period.

They were down 7-1 on the shot clock at one point before grabbing the game back and went up 14-8 at one point despite falling behind twice.

And in the third period, even though the Blues didn't score, they hounded and harassed the Sharks in their zone most of the period, leaving San Jose pleased to come out of the game with a point.

"They were just keeping it simple and really outworking the other team," Schenn said. "They were winning their battles, working as units out there, and they were creating a lot of momentum for us. Those guys had a solid, solid game tonight and should have had more than one."

"I know my line is trying to play simple, get the pucks deep and just go to work," Sundqvist said of playing with Ivan Barbashev and Chris Thorburn. "It's going to be to hit guys and try to make plays. We're just trying to play simple and the last couple games I've been in the lineup, my line's been playing pretty well."

And then Sobotka's line with Tage Thompson and Dmitrij Jaskin caused all sorts of havoc, and when Yeo flipped Barbashev with Thompson, it really created all sorts of trouble.

"You look at the third period and we put 'Barby' up there a couple times, just based on matchups," Yeo said. "I thought he had a really strong game. But some of that momentum that they were generating in the third period, made it hard to switch back. We ended up going to three lines for a little bit. Just because that 'Barby, 'Jasky' and 'Sobe' line was so good."

Evander Kane put San Jose up 1-0 at 6:26 of the first period. It was his 14th point in 14 games since joining the Sharks on Feb. 26 after being acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

But Sundqvist tied it 1-1 at 17:43. It was his first goal with the Blues in his 37th game, and second of his NHL career. Dunn, who played a strong game, kept a puck in at the left side blue line and made a play to the right side, where Colton Parayko got the puck to Sundqvist at the top of the right circle. Sundqvist, all in one motion, spun and wristed a puck towards a crowded crease in front of Dell, including Barbashev, and it squirted through the arm and body.

"Finally, that's what I thought," Sundqvist said. "I actually didn't see it go in before Barbashev raised his arms. It's always nice. It's been a long time since I scored.

"I didn't know what to do. Just a relief. It's been a long time."

It salvaged a slow-starting period that finished strong and pumped up Sundqvist's teammates and coaches.

"He's worked hard all year," Schenn said of Sundqvist. "When he wasn't in the lineup there for a while, he was doing extra, putting in extra time on and off the ice and so nice for him to get rewarded with a goal and you could tell from the celebration it was a big relief for him."

Joe Pavelski scored a power-play goal on a tip to give San Jose a 2-1 lead at 7:07 of the second period. Tarasenko tied it 2-2 with a power-play goal, his 30th goal of the season, at 12:03, after he sniped a wrister high glove side. 

It was Tarasenko's fourth goal in three games and his 30-goal season is his fourth straight, the first Blue to do so since Brett Hull did it six straight seasons from 1988-1994.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Vladimir Sobotka (71) fights for a loose puck with Sharks
center Melker Karlsson on Tuesday in the Blues' 3-2 overtime win.

"Coming back off the injury and he's quietly got four goals in three games, so obviously it couldn't be a better time to have your best players playing their best hockey," Yeo said.

"I feel like every game we play, we play more structured," Tarasenko said. "It seems like we're all on the same page and try to play full 60 minutes. I always said this, but this is true, I think we still can play better. Just enjoying our time in the rink right now and you know enjoying the game. It's really important wins, but you know when its tough it's fun, too. It's a really big win for us and a big road trip coming."

"We've got nothing to lose right now," Dunn said. "We're playing hard and we know we've got to get in those last two spots. We're playing pretty desperate hockey right now and I think everyone is playing for each other. We're seeing guys step up that maybe were a little slow at the start of the year. Everyone is on board right now and we can count on everyone to put in their effort."

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