By Lou Korac
When the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period, there was a hush over a boisterous Blues crowd that felt history maybe slipping through their hands.
The Blues of October, November and December wouldn’t have been able to recover.
But these Blues, not a chance they wouldn’t recover. Not the hottest team in the NHL. They find ways to overcome all adversity. They find ways to persevere. And they find ways to keep on winning.
The Blues emphatically made history and in doing so, it was 11th Heaven, a franchise record 11-game winning streak in hand when Ryan O’Reilly scored 34 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 Blues win over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday that send 18,598 delirious fans home from Enterprise Center.
The Blues (32-22-5) led 2-0 on first-period goals by Jaden Schwartz and Colton Parayko and seemed well on their way to winning in convincing fashion and establishing that mark with the conviction that carried them through much of the previous 10 straight wins against a formidable opponent.
But the Maple Leafs (36-19-4), with their high-powered offense, were not about to go down swinging and become part of history in the wrong way.
Toronto pushed and pushed and kept challenging the Blues. But these Blues somehow won’t have their will broken.
“Oh gosh, it’s exciting, it’s what it is. It’s fun hockey. We’re really enjoying it,” O’Reilly said. “You see just from the start of the year how frustrating it was and how we kept working and working and not getting the results. Now you see the way we’ve come together, how everyone’s invested in each other, everyone’s trying to make it easy for the next guy. That wasn’t a perfect game, a good first, they took it to us the second, a couple bad bounces in the third, but we stuck with it again. It’s just one of those things where as a team, we’re coming together, we’re finding ways to win hockey games.”
O’Reilly scored in typical O’Reilly fashion, putting in the work at one end and getting rewarded at the other.
He broke up a dangerous Toronto rush by picking off a Mitch Marner pass that was intended for John Tavares in the slot and headed the other way with Tarasenko, who had his 12-game point streak snapped, on a 2-on-1. Instead of dishing, O’Reilly kept it and snapped a shot bar-down part Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen’s blocker for the win.
“Marner was winding up there,” O’Reilly said. “He kind of saw that he had me beat. He was just flying. It was just a desperate trying to get back and you see when [Blues goalie Jordan Binnington] went down, he was going to try and throw it in front and I just try and get a stick on it and lucky for us, put it in an area where we can go 2-on-1.
“I’m coming down and I’m forcing it to him. I think he kind of had that feeling I was going to go to him. I got in a pretty good spot where it’s a dangerous shot and I can feel that top side was open a bit. Just lucky it went in and felt real good.”
The Blues broke the record of 10 straight wins, also accomplished Jan. 3-23, 2002. They were tied with the Buffalo Sabres (Nov. 8-27) for the longest winning streak in the NHL this season.
“It’s always good. It’s great,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said, “especially after the way we started this year, so it’s a good push for us.
“We’ve come a long way since (early in the season). For me and everybody else, we get the sense we’re not really satisfied.”
Binnington made 31 saves for the Blues, whose shutout streak ended at 233:50, the second-longest in their history. Binnington has won nine straight starts, a Blues rookie record. Binnington (13-1-1) joined Andrew Hammond (14-0-1), Patrick Lalime (13-1-1), Frederik Andersen (13-2-0), Bob Froese (13-1-1) and Wayne Thomas (13-1-1) as the sixth goaltender in NHL history to win at least 13 of his first 15 NHL starts and is now tied with five other goalies for the fifth-best winning streak by a rookie goalie in NHL history.
“He played excellent, to say the least,” Blues coach Craig Berube said of Binnington. “I thought he looked really good all game, calm and cool. I didn’t think our team panicked at all tonight. They had good legs and we didn’t quite have our legs in the second and third period.”
In all the hoopla, the Blues moved six points ahead of the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division and stayed six behind Nashville for second and are seven behind Winnipeg. The Blues haven’t trailed in a game since Feb. 5, a stretch of 493:42.
The Blues took a 2-0 lead for a seventh straight game when Schwartz (10:13) scored his third in five games after going 22 straight without one and Parayko (17:42) scored in the first period. The Blues outshot the Maple Leafs 19-9.
“I think we’ve been starting a lot of games that way,” Berube said. “Get pucks in and go to work. Shoot pucks and get them back. Their goalie played really well, which we knew he was going to. He’s a good goalie. It was a good hockey game. A good team over there. Real good team.”
Schwartz’s goal was a prime example of how the Blues have been puck-hunting. Schwartz’s dogged pursuit forced Jake Muzzin to try and play a quick backhand out of the zone before he slipped. New dad Alexander Steen retrieved it, fed Tyler Bozak, who fed Schwartz.
Parayko’s goal, which came on a power play, needed a review after it was initially not called a goal on the ice.
“I thought it hit the post, because I didn’t see anybody react and the goal horn go off or anything,” Parayko said. “… I just kind of continued to play and I knew it wasn’t the end of the period because the buzzer went off. When we started the power-play, there was three minutes to go.”
Toronto started coming on in the second period when they outshot St. Louis 16-13, but Binnington preserved the lead for the Blues.
“That goalie there is playing unbelievable,” Marner said of Binnington. “You saw how many chances he saved tonight that were pretty Grade A. He’s playing unbelievable for them.”
The Maple Leafs rallied with two goals in 31 seconds in the third period. Hyman ended the Blues shutout streak at 6:34 when he banked a shot on off defenseman Joel Edmundson before Matthews tied it 2-2 at 7:05 by poking in a loose puck.
That’s when the hush could be heard. It hasn’t been like this in quite some time.
“We just keep going,” Pietrangelo said. “We trust the process throughout the game. It might take overtime like it did tonight and Nashville. But again, good teams find a way to win. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri did not play after the first period because of a concussion after being rocked from a hit by Blues defenseman Vince Dunn.
Tarasenko’s point streak — he had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) over that stretch — came to an end, but with the Blues’ concept of team-first, he probably doesn’t care.
“That’s just kind of the way it’s going right now,” O’Reilly said. “We just keep going onto the next. That’s an exciting win for us, especially at home and earlier in the year the way we were playing, get that win tonight for the fans too, it’s an emotional win for us.”
Photo by AP/Courtesy of KSDK Sports