Saturday, April 9, 2022

Blues don't get rattled when down, show resiliency at critical moments

Another example of finding a way to win when down, trailed tough Minnesota 
Wild 3-1 before rallying for 4-3 victory, pulling into tie for second in the Central

ST. LOUIS -- It's not the ideal situation to be in, trailing in games, but all things considered, the Blues have walked that fine line a number of times and escaped danger.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates with Robert Thomas (left) after Thomas' OT
game-winner on Friday in a 4-3 win against the Minnesota Wild.

Such was the case again against the Minnesota Wild on Friday, a potential first-round opponent that had all the makings of a playoff feel on the ice and in the stands.

When Robert Thomas scored 1:27 into overtime, it capped a three-goal rally from a 3-1 deficit and helped the Blues turn back the Wild 4-3 with 18,096 entertained spectators gripping the edge of their seats with every talented play, every hit, every play essentially.

The Blues (41-20-10) pulled into a tie for second place in the Central Division with the win over the Wild (43-21-6), who have played one fewer game, but now it's a race to the finish for home ice advantage.

"I am proud of our guys, that's a gutsy win, they battled," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I just wish that we kept that energy going throughout the second period, but we didn't."

The Blues led, thanks to a Pavel Buchnevich power-play goal 4:36 into the first period and were playing pretty well, but the Wild (9-1-2 in their past 12 games) slowly began to take the game over, tied it late in the first on a Kevin Fiala goal and got an absolute gift of a go-ahead goal by leading scorer Kirill Kaprizov off a Thomas giveaway in the second. But Minnesota was really imposing itself on the Blues throughout much of the period before the Blues started pushing back in the last five minutes.

And in the third, when Jacob Middleton scored 18 seconds in to give the Wild a 3-1 lead, it appeared to be lights out.

Minnesota entered the third 28-0-2 when leading after 40 minutes, and Middleton's goal, one in which Berube said should have never happened, sucked the life out of a sellout crowd.
But not the Blues.

"I said this morning, the group’s not backing down from that right now," said defenseman Justin Faulk, whose goal at 4:16 of the third kickstarted the comeback. "Obviously it’s a tough one to give up. You want it to go the other way first. But we know we can score goals. I’ve said it before, we don’t want to rely on that for sure. We know we have to play tight defensively. But getting in that situation, we can score if we need to. And we found a way to do it tonight.

"The guys aren’t getting deflated with being down a goal or two right now."
It's a veteran presence that keeps the mood curbed, and keeps guys even-keeled on the bench and keeps the positive vibes going.

"This time of year, you never quit, never say die," said center Brayden Schenn, whose terrific individual effort getting past Wild defenseman Jordie Benn, cutting to the net and beating Cam Talbot high glove off the backhand tied it 3-3 at 10:28. "There's going to be moments and swings throughout games and we feel we have the ability to score goals, which we do. The third periods, we're able to turn it on and obviously you don't want to get yourself in that situation too often, but after we were down 3-1, we feel confident we can come back in games. We have guys line after line that are able to put the puck in the net."

"Not (a) bad (mood). I think guys were talking," Berube said. "They were saying the right things, we got a lot of time. (Ryan) O’Reilly’s always saying the right things and right away, he was talking to the guys and saying that we got a lot of time in the game. We've got to get a goal, back in it."

There was life, there was energy and there was a buzz in the building. The teams traded jabs the rest of the way, each earning a point, and when it got to the extra session, the odds were against the Blues.

They were 1-7 in games decided by overtime, worst in the NHL, while on the flip side, the Wild were 7-1, best in the league.

And after the Wild won the face-off and held the puck for the first minute or so, the Blues weathered that situation, got Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko on the ice and the two of them worked a give-and-go, with Thomas finishing off a Tarasenko pass for a one-timer from the left circle as two Wild skaters (Frederick Gaudreau and Alex Goligoski) converged towards Tarasenko and respecting his shot, leaving Thomas with an opening.

"If you look at him, he's a pass-first guy," Schenn said of Thomas, who extended his NHL career-high point streak to eight games (five goals, nine assists). "That's not really an argument, but I think when you start to score more goals, whether that's going to the net or shooting, you feel it a little bit that you're able to score more and confidence arises. Year by year watching him, his shot's got 100 times better. He's shooting the puck now, he's got a good release and now he's putting them in the back of the net."

"It was a good speed play," Berube said. "'Tommer' comes off the bench and got the puck in our own zone and he transports it with speed up the ice, nice X play and then Vladi made a great read on it. Vladi was looking to shoot, but he saw 'Tommer' slide over there and made a great play."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk celebrates and skates by the net and Wild 
defenseman Jacob Middleton after scoring a third-period goal Friday.

And capped a great win for the Blues, who could very well see these very same Wild in a seven-game series.

"It'll be tough, it will be a good series," Berube said. "They're a good team. They play hard and they've got obviously some real good skill over there and a lot of big guys that play physical."
But the Blues improved to 8-0-1 in their past nine against Minnesota. Could they be in their heads?

"No. I just think when you play teams like Colorado, Nashville, Minnesota, they're tough games, they can go either way," Schenn said. "Yeah, maybe we have the record, but like I said, that game easily could have been two points for them tonight. They're going to play us hard every time. They're going to be competitive games, defensive games and these are the games that you enjoy being part of."

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