Sunday, December 12, 2021

Gillies razor sharp, nearly helps Blues earn improbable two points in OT loss to Ducks

Fifth on depth chart after signing one-year contract Dec. 8 to help 
depleted roster, goalie shines, makes 36 saves in first NHL start since 2018

ST. LOUIS -- As the minutes and seconds ticked down in the third period Sunday night, another Blues hockey game had all the earmarks of a unique storybook win.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues goalie Jon Gillies (32) looks for the puck at the side of the net as 
Ducks forward Nicolas Deslauriers comes in for an attempt Sunday night.

There have been so many of them of late from a lineup completely gutted by injuries and players out in COVID-19 protocol, and the latest to try and put his stamp on the Blues this season was Jon Gillies, who wasn't even on their radar just five days ago.

Gillies, a 27-year-old journeyman who was toiling on his second professional tryout contract with Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League after Providence had released him from his PTO there, was given a new lease on life when the Blues, in desperate need for not only a goalie but a body to fill in a position that was missing Jordan Binnington (COVID protocol) and Ville Husso (lower-body injury) and with Joel Hofer unable to be recalled from Springfield for cap purposes, needed someone, and they got someone when they signed Gillies on Dec. 8 to a one-year, two-way contract.

No offense to the person himself, but these were desperate times for the Blues. They were, and still are until the cavalry returns, in dire straits.

Gillies, who the Blues had in the AHL last season and was skating with the team on the taxi squad, moved on after last season looking for more opportunity. But the Blues brought back a familiar face to tag-team with No. 4, Charlie Lindgren. And low and behold, Gillies was thrust into action on Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks, his first NHL action since he defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 7-1, on April 7, 2018 when he made 26 saves.

Yes, it's been 44 months ... or 192 weeks ... 1345 days ... or 32,278 hours, 1,936,681 minutes, 116,200,910 seconds. 

Yeah, that's a long time.

Gillies was at the end of his stint at Lehigh Valley, the Philadelphia Flyers' AHL affiliate, when he got the call.

"Finishing off in Lehigh Valley and my agent called me," Gillies said, "and it's probably the easiest 'yes' I’ve ever had."

And Gillies nearly did his job Sunday. Well, as a matter of fact, he did his job, gave the depleted Blues every chance to salvage two points of a roster void of two goalies, one 20-plus minute defenseman (Justin Faulk) and another d-man (Jake Walman, upper-body injury), and six forwards (David Perron, upper body; Robert Thomas lower-body; Jordan Kyrou, upper body; Tyler Bozak, COVID protocol; James Neal, upper body; and Klim Kostin, upper body). Oh, add Brayden Schenn, who left with an upper-body injury himself in the third period Sunday, leaving the Blues with 10 forwards for the second time in four games.

But alas, it wasn't meant to be for Gillies and the Blues, who succumbed in overtime, 3-2, to the Ducks to quell their three-game winning streak and seven-game home run.

To go with the veterans they do have, Logan Brown, Nathan Walker, Dakota Joshua, Matthew Peca and Gillies couldn't prevail in the end. But not for lack of trying.

The Springfield Blues gave it their all. 


But seriously, how many actually gave the Blues (15-8-5), who are still 5-1-3 and have earned a point in eight of the past nine games (13), fourth-most in the league in that time, a fighting chance?

They had to play a skater short for the third time in four games when Kyrou was ruled out with with his injury sustained in Saturday's 4-1 win over Montreal, an injury that was an aggravation of something he did last Thursday in a 6-2 win over Detroit. And they were throwing Gillies into the foray for the first time with them and just his 13th NHL game, 11th start.

"He played a great game," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "He made some really key saves for us. He deserved better. A little frustrating, having the lead late there and giving one up. I’ll take responsibility for that. I lost my guy. A stupid, stupid play by myself there. I have to be more aware of the time in the game there – make the right play. That game, it was there for the taking. I feel bad for Gillies, he deserved that win. He played great tonight.

"It’s very impressive for him to come in and do what he did tonight. Especially, they had some really, really good chances and he made incredible saves. He kept us in it the whole time, gave us a chance to win, and earned us a point tonight."

Gillies likely got the news from coach Craig Berube he would be getting the game against the Ducks after Charlie Lindgren improved to 3-0-0 with a win over Montreal. It gave him some time to reflect getting to the big show again.

"(It was) nice to play a hockey game," Gillies said. "Obviously, the gap between starts in this league in particular was obviously much, much bigger than I thought that it was going to be. But the belief never wavered. I know that I can be very successful in this league. So from a personal standpoint, it was just kind of nice to be back is the best way to put it. Generally, I mean, this organization is, it's just fantastic. And for the chips to fall the way they did and to be able to be back and have my first start in a while come here, especially with COVID last year and spending more time together then we would in a normal season as a group, it was pretty special."

Gillies made 36 saves in the game but couldn't come up with a 37th when Troy Terry scored on a penalty shot in overtime to end the comeback win by the Ducks. But the saves that Gillies did make that essentially preserved the Blues a point were critical.

He stretched and extended himself and got a stick on shot off a 2-on-1 in tight by Isac Lundestrom late in the second period at 17:51 to preserve a 1-1 tie. Among others, Gillies also kicked out a one-timer from the slot on a Buddy Robinson shot with just over a minute remaining in regulation to keep the game tied 2-2.

"He made some real key saves I thought throughout the game. He gives you an opportunity to win  you a hockey game," Berube said. "He gave us a chance to win. Guys competed hard. I was pretty happy with them all. It was a tight game, but we hung in there. We got a little unfortunate giving up that second goal, but they battled and Gillies battled and we got a point."

"That's kind of the job of a goalie," Gillies said. "I always look at it. it doesn't matter if it's a backdoor play or a shot from the blue line, you've got to stop the puck. There's no, 'but if it's this or that and it's OK.' That's the way I've always approached it. But in general, well I didn’t know we’d lost a forward until after the game, but I think that we were playing well,  I think we had a lot of O-zone time, they had some big, blocked shots whereas early in the third period, they also started trying to feed off the rebounds in our end. So I think that the shot clock might have been closer than it was. I thought we were playing well, and I really had a lot of confidence in us going into overtime, so I wish I could have come up with the penalty shot save and give us more of a chance."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues goalie Jon Gillies made 36 saves, several key ones in a 3-2 overtime
loss against the Anaheim Ducks Sunday night at Enterprise Center.

Let's face it, this will likely be Gillies' first and only start with the Blues. Binnington can begin skating Monday, Husso could return soon, and Lindgren is here as the buffer pad when called upon if needed; Hofer is waiting in the wings if the cap allows it. But for one night, Gillies stood tall and could walk out of Enterprise Center Sunday knowing he gave his team a chance.

"For me personally, especially, obviously I was in Calgary for a while, so the whirlwind of journeys that people, the stories you hear when it comes to this game, kind of listened and now I'm experiencing it firsthand," Gillies said, "and like I said, I mean, this city, this team, this organization, everyone in that locker room, it's fantastic to be here and it's a great atmosphere and it was a pleasure to contribute and at least be able to get a point."

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