By Lou Korac
The bad outcome at the start of the third period would have bit the Blues badly, especially on home ice.
Leading by a goal and on the power play looking to, for all intents and purposes, put the finishing touches on another much-needed win, the Blues succumbed and allowed the Ottawa Senators to score a shorthanded goal, and by old friend Magnus Paajarvi.
But the Blues of late have been finding ways to overcome adverse situations, and Carl Gunnarsson came to the rescue.
Gunnarsson’s second goal in as many games, the first time he’s done that in nearly seven seasons proved to be the difference for the Blues in a 3-2 win over the Senators on Saturday at Enterprise Center.
When Paajarvi, who the Blues put on waivers last season before the Senators claimed him, guided in Zack Smith’s centering pass past Jordan Binnington one minute into the period to tie the game 2-2, there was a bit of unease before the 17,690 in attendance. Sort of that, ‘Oh, no, not again’ feeling.
“That was tough,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “They responded well though. The first shift 5-on-5 after that was good.”
The Blues (21-21-5) did respond, and they did it with a workmanlike effort of forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and Pat Maroon, a line reunited after getting to play together at the start of the season.
The trio worked the puck around the Senators goal and around goalie Craig Anderson, and after Maroon was able to pry a puck out from underneath the glove of Anderson, O’Reilly came around the back of the goal and fed Gunnarsson coming in. His fluttering shot went in over Anderson’s shoulder with 7:44 remaining and the Blues held on in the end.
“Good shift all over,” Gunnarsson said. “The forwards were working down low and it just kind of got jammed up in front of the net, saw my chance and got a little lucky on that shot and it went in. We’ll take it. … It kind of fluttered a little bit, but it went in. We’ll take them any way.
“… I got a little worried there when they were reviewing it. But good job. The forwards were reaching for pucks down there like crazy and that kind of made their team kind of sink in there and open it up.”
The Senators challenged for goalie interference, something Ottawa coach Guy Boucher felt was his only chance of getting it overturned. He was adamant that the play should have been blown dead.
“A hundred fifty percent. This is a dead play,” Boucher said. “I don’t know how much a goalie can make more of a save than that than putting his hand on it and it’s clear.
“That’s the only thing I can do. That’s the only thing I can do there. It is what it is and our players have no control over it. Our goalie did everything he could and that’s a clear, clear, clear, clear save.”
Anderson didn’t feel there was goalie interference but felt the whistle should have blown. Replays show Anderson tried to cover the puck with Maroon’s stick already on the ground, which was the reason he was able to wedge it loose.
“I don’t think it was goalie interference at all,” Anderson said. “I think the play was covered in my opinion but the referee was on the other side of the ice and didn’t see it so there’s nothing you can do about it so you have to move on.
“I think the indication was that most everyone on the ice stopped playing. It was probably the best indication that everyone thought it was dead except for the couple of guys whacking it.”
Vladimir Tarasenko and Vince Dunn also scored for the Blues, and Jordan Binnington remained undefeated in regulation through his first five NHL starts, improving to 4-0-1 with a 28-save effort.
“It felt great. It wasn’t a perfect game. We fought it out,” Gunnarsson said. “Binnington was great back there and we found a way. Two points. That’s all that matters right now.”
The Blues played the game without forward David Perron, who missed the game because of an upper-body injury and ended his career-best and current NHL-leading 13-game point streak (six goals, 10 assists). Berube said after the game that Perron will probably not travel to the two games in California leading up to the All-Star break.
Alexander Steen did return after missing six games with a left shoulder injury, but with how hot Perron was playing with linemate Ryan O’Reilly, who had two assists Saturday giving him 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) the past 13 games, the Blues were in need of an infusion.
Enter Tarasenko and Maroon, and for Maroon, it was arguably his best game as a Blue. He finished with a season-high 19:26 on the ice and was engaging on almost every shift and made his presence felt.
“He played a real good game, all around,” Berube said. “Controlled the puck in the offensive zone, every time he was out there, strong on it, did a good job.”
Dunn put the Blues ahead 2-1 with 2:32 remaining in the second period. His slapper from the top of the left circle beat Anderson high glove after an extended shift in the Senators zone that culminated with Dunn keeping a puck in after Brayden Schenn almost lost it with an errant play on a drop pass to Dunn.
“Yeah, I almost turned it over there a little bit,” Schenn said. “I got lucky and they weren’t able to get the puck out. Tried ’em again, and obviously a good screen by Nolly [Jordan Nolan] and a great shot by Dunn.”
Tarasenko tied it 1-1 for the Blues at 7:50 of the first period after Nick Paul’s first goal of the season made it 1-0 at 4:34.
“He’s shooting it quicker and he looks a lot more confident right now,” Berube said of Tarasenko. “He’s got the puck a lot, hanging on to it, he’s being strong with it. He looks like a threat a lot of times he’s out there now.”
Defenseman Colton Parayko came to the rescue for the third time in the four games when he swiped a puck off the goal line that had sure goal written on it for native St. Louisan Brady Tkachuk.
A puck had gotten behind Binnington, but Parayko was there to swipe it out as Tkachuk, playing in his hometown for the first time as an NHL player, was ready to tap it in.
The two exchanged pleasantries afterwards.
“He just said he needed that one. I just kind of laughed,” Parayko said. “I know where the play was, usually the puck’s coming towards the net so I wanted to make sure I had my guy. As soon as you kind of see the puck there, I didn’t see it at the beginning, but you kind of have a feel that he’s going to throw it that way. So once it’s kind of sitting there, it’s just do everything you can to get it out of the crease and clear it out.”
The Blues have won two in a row at home and climbed within one game of .500 here (12-13-2).
“We won the last one here too. It was a few games ago,” Berube said. “That’s two in a row at home. That’s a winning streak.
“It’s important to win your games at home. I’ve said it for a while, you have to have a good home record. It’s important to be a real good team at home.”