Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Shorthanded Blues pull off improbable 4-3 OT win over Panthers

Down one roster player going in, down seven players total, team loses 
goalie, defenseman, finish game with 17 players before Buchnevich winner 

ST. LOUIS -- Already down seven players -- seven important, key players -- and having to play one skater short going into the game, the mounting loss of bodies didn't stop there for the Blues.
(St. Louis Blues photo/Scott Rovak)
Pavel Buchnevich (right) scores on a wraparound part Panthers goalie Spencer
Knight (left) to give the Blues a 4-3 win.

Then, goalie Ville Husso went down in the third period and defenseman Jake Walman went down on virtually the same play. So now the Blues are down to 10 forwards, six defenseman and a backup goalie that had never played a second for them but has NHL experience in Charlie Lindgren.

Was anyone even left to finish out a thrilling game against the high-flying Florida Panthers, who came in as the league's top team with 37 points?

But yet, the cardiac Blues found a way to prevail. They did so with a dramatic flare when Pavel Buchnevich, one of the remaining forwards still in one piece, scored 53 seconds into overtime to give the Blues an improbable 4-3 win against the Panthers at Enterprise Center on Tuesday.

How did this happen, you ask?

Good question. 

Somehow, someway, the bodies that were left to fend for the high-flying Panthers were able to regroup, especially after the Blues (13-8-4) were whamboozled by the Panthers (17-4-4) in the first period and were smothered, covered and pinned back in their zone. 

But the final outcome of the first 20 minutes was only a 1-0 deficit, thanks to the efforts of Husso, despite being outshot 20-5 and out-Corsi'ed 30-6.

"It's pretty tough luck right now but at the end of the day, it is what it is and there's no excuses," said Blues forward Brandon Saad, whose third-period goal gave the Blues a 3-2 lead, his team-leading 11th this season. "We’re playing some good hockey teams and competing and battling, staying alive and had a good win tonight. I think the message is whoever’s healthy, whoever’s playing keep competing and we’re going to have success."

But that is the lingering question: who is healthy?

The Blues already were playing without forwards David Perron, James Neal and Klim Kostin out with upper-body injuries and Robert Thomas missed with a lower-body injury and goalie Jordan Binnington, defenseman Justin Faulk and forward Tyler Bozak all shelved due to COVID-19 protocol. It's more a MASH'ed up unit than a walking -- or skating -- wounded.

"No, I didn't see it (before)," Buchnevich said. "It's first time I actually play with a short lineup. A lot of new for me this season. Like, a beer league goalie come up in Tampa, short guys, I don't know."

But what happened on Tuesday leaves a lot for these players to be commended for. What they pulled off is no easy task. And don't think for a second the Panthers felt sorry for the Blues. Nobody will feel sorry for the Blues, so what they did has to come within those locker room walls of theirs. 

"Yeah, I know the first period wasn't like we wanted it, but they were covered," said Blues coach Craig Berube, who along with assistants Mike Van Ryn, Steve Ott and Jim Montgomery had to be scrambling who was going over the boards next. "I thought the guys did a great job in the second and third period and our special teams were really good tonight. That's a big part of it all. But you know, the guys worked and competed, and they played the second and third period like we want to play -- on our toes, attacking, being competitive and doing a lot of good things."

When Aleksander Barkov scored and gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 6:49 of the opening period, the 16,372 in attendance figured with everything that had already happened and the ship sinking fast, the writing was on the wall and the white flag was being surrendered.

Not this group. 

Not on this night.

"It’s a bit of a grind right now, but we're doing a good job of competing regardless of how many guys we have out of the lineup," Saad said. "I’m really proud of our group."

They should be.

"I mean, this does look short, not a full lineup and it's obviously tough, tough first period for us," Buchnevich said. "We give up a lot of shots, a lot of PK, penalties. But we just stick together with our group and win the game."

The Blues began to gain their momentum when Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first in 11 games to the game 1-1 on a shift set up with sustained zone time by Ivan Barbashev, Dakota Joshua and Logan Brown that kept the play alive for a line change. And even after falling behind 2-1 when Brandon Montour scored, Brayden Schenn's first in seven games tied it 2-2 and it was all leveled with 20 minutes to try and pull out a win.

Saad got a stick on Barbashev's shot from the slot and gave the Blues a 3-2 lead, who were trying to protect it, but with 8:59 remaining, Husso appeared to extend himself on an attempted wraparound by Jonathan Huberdeau on what appeared to be a right hamstring or groin injury that Scott Perunovich likely saved a goal on. On the same play, Walman injured himself when he was being cross-checked by Frank Vatrano multiple times in the d-zone. 

Walman departed the game at that point and did not return, but Husso, who stopped 34 of 37 shots after kicking out 48 of 51 in a 4-3 shootout loss against Florida on Saturday, stayed in until Huberdeau tied it 3-3 with 5:32 to play. He then left and did not return and Lindgren, with no warmup, came on.

The Blues are down to 17 players in all.


"We were shorthanded, that's for sure," Berube said. "You know, guys battled, I'm proud of them. They worked and came through."

So Husso played for another three and a half minutes and tried gutting out an ailment. He did all he could but once the game was tied, he felt it best to give way to a healthier body. If the Blues even know what that is anymore.

So ... what does Berube do with Lindgren?

"Just go in there," Berube said. "I mean there's nothing to say.
(St. Louis Blues photo/Scott Rovak)
Blues goalie Ville Husso makes one of his 34 saves against the Florida
Panthers on Tuesday before leaving with a lower-body injury.

"He looked confident to me, coming out and playing pucks. I don't think it fazed him that much. He's a pretty confident guy as far as I know, with his mannerisms and seeing him around and stuff like that in practice. He's a very hard worker in practice, a very well-liked guy in our hockey club. He went in and did a good job."

Three saves. That's all the Blues needed. That's all they got until Buchnevich put the capper on an improbable night.

"Leadership is a big thing," Berube said. "I thought our leaders did a great job tonight, playing, competing, keeping things together out there, talking, all of them."

As for tomorrow?

"What happens next, I don't know," Buchnevich said. "Exciting season.

"We kind of don't talk about that. I'm thinking in my mind like, 'Do we have next game or no?' Figure out tomorrow."

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