Defenseman paid team visit after returning from California following cardiac
episode one week ago; Barbashev scores twice, Binnington earns shutout
ST. LOUIS -- Jay Bouwmeester came into the Blues' locker room on Tuesday as if nothing changed.
"Some jokes and he's in a good mood," Blues forward Ivan Barbashev said of the defenseman. "Everybody was happy to see him."
And why wouldn't they be?
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues fans celebrate a goal by Ivan Barbashev (49) on Tuesday during a 3-0
win against the New Jersey Devils.
Considering it was one week ago Tuesday that Bouwmeester experienced a cardiac episode, nearly ending his life in Anaheim, Bouwmeester was back in St. Louis with a different outlook and new lease on life.
His Blues teammates promptly went out and continued to build off a foundation of recent games in which the Blues played well but didn't get the result. On Tuesday, they go the result in a 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils, with Barbashev scoring twice and Jordan Binnington pitching a 17-save shutout.
"Yeah, I'm not going to tell you anything," Barbashev said, wanting to keep Bouwmeester's jokes within the confines of the locker room. "It was just really good to see him."
The Blues (33-17-10) were able to break a five-game winless drought (0-3-2) and win for just the third time in the past 13 games (3-7-3).
Their cushion they built up in the Western Conference, which was 11 points by mid-January, had been reduced to nothing by the start of play Tuesday. They were level with the Dallas Stars (74 points apiece), and the Colorado Avalanche were one point back.
"Yeah, it's really tight, really tight," Barbashev said. "I looked at the standings this morning and was like, 'Oh my God.' It's getting real close. We've got to wake up and keep building."
That's exactly what the Blues have been doing.
They deserved a better fate in Nashville on Sunday, a 2-1 loss in which they outshot the Predators 39-24 but fell on a late goal in the third period. There could be an argument that they deserved a better fate against the Predators on Saturday here, a 4-3 setback, but a costly slow start in the first period was fateful. And then there was the coughing up a 4-2 lead in Vegas last Thursday, but that was the first game after the Bouwmeester incident.
"It was good for the confidence," said defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who helped set up Barbashev's first goal. "It’s tough to keep playing well and not getting points, which at this time of year is real important.
"I don't know how many we lost in that stretch, nine or eight, but it was just weird to see us still being in first place. But now, we've got to turn the page and keep on building and we need to win some games."
Yes they do, and the Blues found a way to dispose of an opponent that they should beat, one they've owned in recent memory with 12 straight wins against but one that was stubborn on this night thanks to goalie Louis Domingue, who turned aside 36 St. Louis shots.
The Blues outshot the Devils 39-17 and finally put this one on ice in the third period when Barbashev and Jaden Schwartz scored.
"No. 1, it feels good to be back in the win column as a team," said Binnington, who earned his second shutout this season and seventh of his NHL career in his 76th game. "We’ve been working, and we stay composed and it wasn’t going our way. I think it’s important that we went through that and continued to believe in ourselves, and grow and stick to the plan. And just stay calm.
"It’s a great 60-minute game by us tonight. Hopefully, we can continue that going forward."
The Blues have seemed to get the message since allowing a season-high 52 shots against the Golden Knights. In the past three games, shots allowed have gone from 27 to 24 to 17, and the Devils, who are averaging 31.1 per game. New Jersey had just 36 shot attempts for the game.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues forward Jaden Schwartz (17) looks up ice as he moves the puck of a
3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils. Schwartz scored his 19th goal.
"Just trying to get back to the way we need to playing to be successful," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "They know that. There's always times during the year that you're going to get away from it and not play tight defensively. It's a hard way to play to be honest with you, but it's a successful way to play."
It certainly is, and it's evident that the Blues are playing tighter in five-man groups and in doing do, they're keeping the puck more and not allowing the opposition to dictate.
"We have the same game plan, and we’re trying to do it," Binnington said. "Sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes the other team gets some bounces. It’s the game of hockey, right? Every game’s unpredictable. You've got to do the best you can. Yeah, I think last couple games have been pretty solid, hopefully continue that going forward."