Thursday, May 26, 2022

Left for dead, Blues rally to keep season alive with improbable 5-4 OT win over Avalanche

Bozak goal caps rally from three goals down to keep Colorado from 
clinching, send series back to St. Louis with Blues trailing now 3-2

DENVER -- When Gabriel Landeskog tipped in a shot for the Colorado Avalanche four minutes into the second period, it felt like the death knell of the Blues.

With their season on the line and now down three goals, in a building the powerful Avalanche never seem to lose in, the Blues were in a world of trouble and all that was left were the handshakes when the third period buzzer ticked down to zero.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues (from left) Colton Parayko, Tyler Bozak and Alexei Toropchenko
celebrate Bozak's overtime goal in a 5-4 win at Colorado in Game 5.

Call it the unthinkable, call it whatever you'd like, the never-say-die Blues have been down this road too many times this season, and if they were close to using their Nine Lives, they didn't quite use them all up.

Not on this night.

The Blues won't go down without a fight. Somehow, someway, they saved their season ... at least for another game, for another two days.

Tyler Bozak made sure of it when he capped a comeback for the ages by scoring at 3:38 of overtime to give the Blues an improbable 5-4 win in Game 5 of the Western Conference second round series at Ball Arena on Wednesday.

We'll get to the Bozak goal in a moment, but from the time the puck dropped to the moment Nathan MacKinnon, who did little in the series to this point in offensive production, scored his third goal of the game with a highlight reel goal, this had an Avalanche series win written all over it. 

But there's this saying, heard time and time again, that's why you play the game, and in this case, that's why you play the game until the very last second needed.

The Blues, who will now play host to Game 6 on Friday at Enterprise Center at 7 p.m., felt they had nothing left to lose but throw the kitchen sink out there. What else was there to leave at that point?

The answer: nothing.

"You've got nothing to lose, so you might as well throw it all out there," said center Robert Thomas, whose second goal of the game with 56 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game. "I think that was our mentality. It seemed to work tonight."

It didn't seem to work, it did work.

"We just talked, get one goal and get back into it," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Again, it’s just a gutsy win. Guys battled and kept battling. That’s really what it boils down to. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted, being down that quick. But I thought the second half of the second period we started to really come with our game, how we wanted to play and it carried over into the third."


"Well, just getting to the goal line, getting numbers there and winning battles down there," Berube said. "And our D were very active, keeping pucks alive and it was a five-man zone and forecheck. We did a real good job of that. We went north. That’s what it really boils down to."

"I think there's a couple things," Thomas said. "I think we were harder on pucks, we were winning battles, we were forecheking well, we were hemming them in the o-zone. There's a bunch of different things, but yeah, it's something we can try and use as momentum and we know what works. We know how we can have a chance to win any night."

It would beg one to ask the question why did it take so long to find this? Why was this team so flat, so out of it when their season was on the line?

No matter what the answer is, or was, something sparks this team when the dobbers look like they're down.

"It’s just character and leadership," Berube said. "We've got a lot of character in that room, we all know that. This team has come from behind quite a bit this year in games, so they don’t give up. You’ve just got to keep playing and keep battling and they did that. That’s all on them."

The rebuild started with Vladimir Tarasenko, whose goal at 14:42 of the second period gave the Blues some life.

"It's obviously a big boost and it gives you a lot of confidence to get that next goal," Bozak said. "I thought we took over the game a little bit after that and started playing a lot more in the offensive zone and making a lot more plays. Maybe we were a little nervous earlier in the game to make mistakes and when we got down, that kind of went away and Vladi got us going with that big goal."

Nervous is an understatement, but those nerves were quickly dissipating.

Colorado began the third playing a prevent defense style, and that's a recipe for disaster. The Blues obliged and took full advantage.

When Thomas scored at 9:57 off a speed rush play by Pavel Buchnevich from the neutral zone and backhand pass to the low slot for the quick shot to make it 3-2.

"He deserves all the credit for that," Thomas said of Buchnevich. "That was an unbelievable play. I think it really sparked our team. We got right back after them and that's what we've got to continue to do."

The spark needed to make this a one-shot game. Ten minutes to go ... that's what the Blues wanted, and needed. 

They kept pushing and pressing, knowing their season was still on the line. 

Berube moved rookie Alexei Toropchenko up from the fourth line to a line with Brayden Schenn and Jordan Kyrou, because it was Toropchenko who kept pushing, fighting and playing hard when the Blues' chips looked like they were down. He would factor in the tying goal scored by Justin Faulk, then credited to Jordan Kyrou with 4:46 remaining to tie the game 3-3.

"He’s such a good skater and he plays so direct," Berube said of Toropchenko. "Whatever line he goes to, they have a good shift, that’s what it seems like to me. I just made that switch (with 5:25 remaining in the game) and they ended up getting a goal. I thought he had a heck of a game."

With the Blues pressing with o-zone time, a puck got to Toropchenko and he was able to get enough of it to the crease for Faulk and Kyrou to do the rest.

Advantage Blues, right?

Well, MacKinnon, who scored two first-period goals, would go coast to coast past a wave of Blues, past Nick Leddy, who would factor in at the end of the game, and beat Ville Husso short side high off his shoulder and in to give the Avs a 4-3 lead with 2:46 remaining.

The Blues were on life support again, and as the hats reigned down from the 18,117 at Ball Arena, the Blues had enough time to compose themselves again.

"Yeah, it’s tough," Berube said. "We battle back and then we give up that goal like that. It could be really deflating, but our team has got a lot of guts and they’re a resilient bunch of guys. I thought they were positive. We talked about what we were going to do with the goalie and stuff and it ended up working out."

There are 10 skaters, including Jordan Binnington, who is obviously out for the series, who have championship pedigree. They weren't going down without a fight. Not after battling back to get back into the game.

"It was an amazing hockey game," Bozak said. "I'm sure everyone that was watching thought the same thing. Obviously MacKinnon's one of the best players in the league and makes plays in crucial moments and did it there, but we have great leadership on our team. We have a lot of guys who have won before. We knew there was still lots of time. The guys got it done and got us to overtime and then it's anybody's game when you get there.

"Just stick with it, there's a lot of time left. We've got guys that can score. We know we can make plays and it's not over until it's over."

Leading up to Thomas' tying goal, Faulk made two crucial plays to keep the Blues' season alive.

With 1:51 remaining, he skates to the center ice wall and cuts off Landeskog from scoring into an empty net that would have sealed Colorado's win and ended the Blues' season; Faulk then kept a puck alive at the blue line on Devon Toews' backhand clearing attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone before the Blues worked it around to Tarasenko to the right of goalie Darcy Kuemper. Tarasenko's shot hit Kuemper's facemask and fell in the crease for Thomas to whack it home with 56 seconds left to tie the game 4-4 on Thomas' sixth shot on goal of the game.

"That was a heck of a play," Berube said. "That was a tough draw … came to the inside and they got possession right away. 'Buchy' made a good play too (on Cale Makar's initial pass) by pressuring and then 'Faulker' read it and was right over the top of him, killing the play. That’s important, you’ve got to have that."

The Blues are the first team to score two game-tying goals in the final five minutes of regulation when facing elimination. The only other team to do so in any playoff game: Buffalo in Game 1 of the 2006 Conference Semifinals at Ottawa.

"Better late than never I guess, but I was on the receiving end on some nice plays by Buchy and Vladi," Thomas said. "They deserve all the credit."

Ball Arena was stunned again, and it would be stunned for a third time.

Bozak's wife Molly, would send out a tweet saying: Who else is FREAKING OUT at 9:48 p.m. St. Louis time. Little did she know her husband would bring the series home.

On the play, Leddy, who had three assists, killed a Colorado rush play at the Blues' blue line by getting the puck to Ivan Barbashev. Barbashev dumped the puck into the right corner, where Bozak, who was on the ice for his first shift since the 10:44 mark of the third period, skated in with fresh legs and won the puck back to Leddy. Leddy's shot caromed off Valeri Nichushkin to Bozak in the high slot, and his slap shot through traffic beat Kuemper clean to cap the comeback.

"Just got a little bounce up top and saw a lane to the net," Bozak said. "In overtime, there's definitely no such thing as a bad shot, so just tried to get it through on the traffic and it went in. It was awesome.

"Obviously feels great. Just a resilient group of guys, got down and didn't want the season to be over. Fought hard, got some big goals late. Was lucky enough to be on the end of the one in overtime, but yeah, it was awesome. We're excited for the next game."

Berube had the confidence to put that fourth line out in overtime in a one-shot game, or for the Blues, a one-shot season game, and it came through.

"Well, I think in the third, it’s just about getting back and tying it, so I’m rolling three lines most of the time," Berube said. "It’s not that you don’t want to play these guys, but you’re trying to catch up here and win a game and tie it up. But in OT, you get into OT, I think you’ve got to start over again. You’ve got to get your guys out there and rotate them and get playing because if you don’t, you’re going to burn your top nine out. They’re just going to play too much."

And let's not forget the play Robert Bortuzzo made 2:20 into overtime, being in the right place at the right time to keep a Landeskog shot from hitting the net and keeping the game, and season, alive.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas (third from left) celebrates his game-tying goal in the final
minute of regulation of a 5-4 OT win over Colorado in Game 5 Wednesday.

Is this momentum now? Should this be momentum now?

"Obviously we want to use this as momentum, but at the same time, they're a really good hockey team over there, we know they're going to push," Bozak said. "We're going to have to be at our best if we want to beat them next game."

But as for this goal, the one that saved the season, Bozak was waiting for a message he didn't get after the game from his wife.

"I think she fell asleep actually," Bozak said. "She didn't text me after the game, so hopefully Kanon saw it, my oldest boy, but he was probably sleeping too, but I'll have to show him in the morning."

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