The St. Louis Blues (22-6-3) overcame a rough start Saturday night in Columbus to beat the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime. Jaroslav Halak allowed three 1st period goals but was strong throughout the remainder, stopping 30 of 33 shots for the win. Vladi Tarasenko scored twice and David Backes netted the game winner 22 seconds into the extra frame. It was the captain’s first overtime goal in his NHL career.
The Blues actually started the game on a high note Saturday night, Tarasenko scoring his 10th of the season about 4-minutes in. Vladi actually started the play as St. Louis was pressing hard on the forecheck and he swept a pass behind him to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Jay Bouwmeester blasted a shot from the point that hit traffic in front of (St. Louis native) Mike McKenna and Tarasenko gobbled up the rebound, snapping the puck into the net.
Turnovers handed the Jackets momentum and 3 goals in a five-minute span later in the period. The third came on a 5-on-3 power-play after fisticuffs broke out between Ian Cole and Matt Calvert. Calvert had been going at it with Cole’s defensive partner, Barret Jackman and took one too many liberties with the veteran for Cole’s taste. I applaud Cole sticking up for Jax, but the vet gave as good as he got, pounding Calvert with cross-checks in the corner before the eventual confrontation. Unfortunately, the officials decided to give Cole an extra minor leading to the 2-man advantage for Columbus.
St. Louis was uncharacteristically undisciplined throughout the first two periods Saturday night, though the refs blew a few calls both ways. Thankfully, the Blues killed 6 of 7 Columbus advantages, largely thanks to Halak’s goaltending, and hung around until they could notch a power-play tally of their own at 8:33 of the 2nd period. It was Tarasenko again, taking a feed from Alex Pietrangelo and ripping a shot past McKenna.
Did you see who won the face-off to start that power-play scoring sequence? Yep, Vladimir Sobotka continues to dominate opponents on the dot, winning at a 60% clip Saturday night. Though neither he nor Jaden Schwartz posted a point in the game, both generated excellent pressure on all three zones in every minute of every shift and were very strong on the puck for a full sixty. Just another day at the office for those two workhorses.
Despite yet another rocky start, Halak was outstanding overall Saturday night. Columbus brought their A-game versus the Blues and tried taking every advantage on special teams. Jaro made 13 of his 30 saves with St. Louis down (at least) one man, at one point stopping two point-blank efforts on the same rush. The game could’ve easily been 4-1 or 5-1 before the rest of the team got their skates under them had it not been for Halak.
Another Blues forward who stepped up his game Saturday night was the veteran, Brenden Morrow. He assisted on Tarasenko’s PPG and later, at 13:33 of the 3rd period, contributed his hard-nosed play deep in the offensive zone earning a second helper as Chris Stewart tied the game 3-3. Everyone wearing the Bluenote pitched in to allow St. Louis to get back in the game Saturday night, and their hard work paid off. Stewart missed time in the 2nd period after a fight late in the opening frame but showed his toughness returning to the ice and banged in a rebound in a big moment for the Blues.
Backes completed the comeback for the Blues just 22 seconds into overtime, capitalizing on strong forechecking (anyone notice a trend there?) by Alexander Steen. Backes jumped on a turnover by Artem Anisimov at the Columbus blueline and made a nifty move to slip the puck past McKenna before the goaltender could react to the rush.
McKenna, who attended Parkway South High School in the St. Louis area has hockey in his blood, his father and grandfather both serving as off-ice officials in the NHL. The young goaltender has spent time with the (former) Blues AHL affiliate Peoria Rivermen and both the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils in the NHL before landing in Columbus and was appearing in his 2nd game this season. The Blue Jackets lost star netminder Sergei Bobrovsky for at least a month to an injury earlier in December.
The Blues improved to 4-3 in overtime this season and sit 6-points behind Conference leading Chicago, though St. Louis has played five fewer games. The ‘Note are on the road again tonight in Ottawa to face the Senators. Sobotka left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury and is listed as day-to-day, though I’d guess it would take quite a severe problem to keep him off the ice. Brian Elliott will start in net for the Blues against his former club. Ells made 28 saves to beat the Sens in the teams’ last meeting.
GO BLUES! LONG LIVE THE NOTE!