The St. Louis Blues left Long Island Saturday night with 2-points, beating the New York Islanders 4-3 in an afternoon shoot-out, and finished a potentially disastrous East-Coast trip 3-1. TJ Oshie tied the game with barely 30 seconds to play in regulation, Kevin Shattenkirk netted the winning goal in a shoot-out and Jaroslav Halak recovered from a shaky start to make 33 saves (plus 2 more in the skills competition) to earn the win.
Yes, I’m going to mention the blown call in overtime, but let me take you to that questionable moment just as St. Louis began the day, slowly. New York outplayed the Blues for most of the game Saturday and while I believe the outcome was questionable, St. Louis did tough out a sub-par team effort and make a pretty nice comeback late in the game.
The Islanders looked to be en route to routing the ‘Note after 15-minutes of the 1st period. They scored jumped out to a 2-0 lead while the Blues stood around not playing much hockey at all. St. Louis looked like a sad, sorry, 5-man anthill scurrying around in their own zone, unable to control the puck or even come close to clearing it and New York took advantage of it, as a skilled team should. Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo traded goals and assists, flying around the ice, buzzing Halak, and basically skating circles around the Blues.
St. Louis finally showed a glimmer of life when Vladi Tarasenko ripped a scary-quick snapshot past Kevin Poulin at 17:17 of the 1st to cut the Islander lead in half. Tarasenko has been one of the best players for the Blues lately and is really coming into his own as a dominant 2-way forward. Vladi skated end-to-end and attacked the New York zone with three Islanders back to defend. If you blink when 91 has the puck you might miss a shot. He’s deadly fast with his wrister.
Poulin was stellar for the majority of the game Saturday, stopping 32 of 35 shots through 65-minutes. Tarasenko, though, was apparently not impressed and tied the game 2-2 just over a minute into the 2nd period with his second goal of the game, a result of some good pressure by the Blues (finally) and solid puck control in the offensive zone. Vladi swooped down through the middle of the zone to snap off another wicked wrister, his 17th goal of the season, on a perfect feed from Alexander Steen.
New York squashed the St. Louis momentum only a few minutes later with a beautiful tic-tac-toe set-up for Matt Martin. The Blues had fallen back on their heels again and couldn’t clear their zone, despite multiple opportunities and once again it cost them. Halak was hung out to dry and the Isles regained the lead 3-2.
Through 40-minutes the Islanders out-shot St. Louis 26-18 but the Blues appeared to decide it was time to play some hockey once the 3rd period started. Halak had kept them in the game to that point, and the Blues put the hammer down, finally creating space to maneuver, keeping pressure on Poulin and they out-shot New York 14-7 through the final 20.
There was an electrifying moment where St. Louis missed tying the game by inches on an unbelievably unlucky shot by Oshie that rang of one post, rolled the goal-line and caromed off the other post and out. Video review proved the puck never crossed the line. Finally, with a well-maintained, strong forecheck by the Blues, Oshie found the puck again and with 27 tics left on the game-clock whistled a wrister past Poulin to tie the game 3-3.
The Blues know what it feels like to lose a victory with under a minute to play. It seems to have happened all too often this season alone, but the fact the ‘Notes kept their heads’ up and were able top grind out the tie showed a bit of character, even though I don’t think they came ready to play Saturday, another frequent problem for this team.
Everything I’ve mentioned up to this point was all but forgotten once the overtime period started. St. Louis caught a bad break when Jaden Schwartz tripped up Michael Grabner with about 2-minutes left in the extra frame and the Islanders made the Blues pay for the lack of discipline. Or did they? Vanek scored the overtime-winner on the power-play at 3:45 as the puck skipped off his skate and under a sprawling Halak. It was a fitting way for the Blues to lose, considering their poor start Saturday, but then things really got interesting.
As most goals are, this one was reviewed by the NHL from the War Room in Toronto. The fact the puck went in off Vanek’s skate is indisputable, but the referee on the ice called it a goal immediately. Unfortunately for the Isles, the league decided Vanek’s boot distinctly kicked the puck in the net, and the call was overturned, giving the Blues another life. Watch the replay as many times as you want, the NHL made the call and that was that.
I think the Isles got robbed of that extra point. I don’t see a kicking motion and there’s NO way you can judge intent with the replay. BUT, none of that really matters now as the final seconds of overtime ticked away without incident, and the skill competition session of Saturday’s entertainment began.
Each goalie made a stop and then Vanek, eager I’m sure to right the overtime wrong, easily beat Halak with a stick-side backhander. Steen though, came right back to even things up with a goal of his own. Isles Captain John Tavares fired just wide on New York’s 3rd attempt and left the door open for Shatty to win it, which he did with a power rush and nifty head-fake, giving him his 2nd game-winner in three days, both in front of New York-area friends and family, a sweet way to finish up a road-trip.
With the no-goal call in overtime, St. Louis killed off all five New York power-plays Saturday, improving their season average to 84.6%, 5th best in the league. Steener has 3-goals and 2-assists in 5-games since returning from a concussion and Halak has now won three straight. After a stretch as one of the hottest guys on the ice, Schwartzy has been through the wringer lately, a bit of bad luck leading to his second minus-3 night in his last 6-games.
The Blues are home Tuesday night and will be looking for some redemption against the New Jersey Devils who blasted St. Louis 7-1 a week ago but are coming off an embarrassing 7-3 loss of their own at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. It may be the last time Blues fans get to see two future Hall-of-Famers up close and personal in Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr.
GO BLUES! LONG LIVE THE NOTE!