By Lou Korac
Who would have imagined that after building a three-goal lead, the Blues would need their video/assistant coach to make the most important call of the game.
It looked easy for the media that got to look at the replays, with plenty of time to use, it looked like an easy call for the 18,127 fans jammed inside Enterprise Center, but for assistant coach Sean Ferrell, he’s got to have the eagle eyes locked in in a nanosecond, and the decision has to be firm and decisive.
The call paid off, and the Blues were able to survive an onslaught by the Tampa Bay Lightning before picking up a crucial victory, 4-3, on Saturday night.
The win for the Blues (40-27-8), coupled with Nashville’s 5-0 loss at Winnipeg means the Blues trail the Predators by two points for second place in the Central Division, and also, the Dallas Stars’ 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins means the Blues moved six points ahead of them for third.
“We need to make a push. Whatever other teams are playing, it’s seven games left,” Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. “Every point matters, especially after last year and we know this. Just try to focus on our game.”
The call of the night paid off after the best team in the NHL, the Lightning (58-14-4), who had their seven-game winning streak snapped, thought they had rallied from that three-goal, first-period deficit when Steven Stamkos blew a one-timer through Jordan Binnington with 5 minutes 43 seconds remaining to tie it 4-4. But as the fans were nervously awaiting the game to restart, the Blues’ bench had other ideas, and Ferrell told Blues interim coach Craig Berube to challenge for offside.
And as video showed, Lightning forward Brayden Point’s right skate was in ahead of the puck before it entered the zone. It didn’t take long to make the call, and a gutsy one because if the Blues were wrong, not only would the game have been tied, but the Lightning and their No. 1-ranked power-play would have gone right back on the man-advantage because a wrong offside challenge results in a minor penalty.
“Yeah, he had it pegged right away, so it was good,” Berube said of Ferrell. “It was a good call.”
The play happened near the Blues bench, but Berube didn’t see it.
“Not at the time,” he said. “I just looked down at the monitor and saw it. But at the time I didn’t.
“It was an important one for sure. They did a good job of catching it right away. … It was pretty obvious what we saw … our video guy Sean, he was pretty adamant it was offsides.”
And it was.
“It was offsides. It was close but it was offsides,” Point said. “We were close to having that PP there. We couldn’t capitalize on a couple of chances late, but I thought our compete was there but you just can’t spot them three goals like that.”
Players afterwards tipped their caps to Ferrell for making the game-saving call.
“That’s obviously huge,” Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. “It’s a great job by our guys who run this stuff. When you get a call like this and cancel goal, it kind of change momentum a little bit. It was a great support by the fans too. It’s another great moment of the game and really happy with our performance tonight.”
Added forward Brayden Schenn: “Great job by Sean Ferrell, our video coach, he knew right away, called it offsides, that’s huge, we’ll take breaks like that.
“He should (get the Plager Gloves). Sean and our massage guys in there too, Steve Squier. Between the two of them, they were able to make the call.”
Tarasenko and Schenn each had a goal and an assist, and Binnington made 39 saves and faced his NHL-high 42 shots for the Blues, who have won three games in a row. Binnington is 12-0-1 against Eastern Conference teams.
“It’s huge, it’s huge for team confidence,” Schenn said. “They’re a very good team, playing great hockey, winning a lot of games, scoring a lot of goals. For us to come in and beat them two times this year, obviously gives the team confidence and we know we’re a good team in here.”
“Obviously best team in the league so far right now,” Tarasenko said. “We were preparing for a harder game. We remember how hard it was in Tampa when we played there. We tried to play good defensively and believe good defense lead to offense. Our D’s and goalie played great. It’s a huge win for us.”
Point scored to reach 40 goals in the NHL for the first time, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves for the Lightning.
“I thought our compete was there, but you just can’t spot them three goals like that,” Point said.
That 3-0 spot the Blues took came in a blitz in the first period. Those three goals came in a span of 1:15.
Robert Thomas scored a power-play goal at 11:30 to make it 1-0. He was on the doorstep and followed up shots by Tyler Bozak, who collected his 400th NHL point on the play, and Vince Dunn.
Alexander Steen made it 2-0 at 12:08 with his first goal in 13 games, tumbling into the slot area and chipped a shot over Vasilevskiy, and Tarasenko scored his St. Louis-leading 29th goal at 12:45 to make it 3-0 off a 2-on-1 play with Ryan O’Reilly.
“It was a good push for us, but we slipped a little bit in the second,” Tarasenko said. “We should work (on this) and we shouldn’t do this, give them feeling of the game. It became a tough match for us, but obviously always a 3-0 lead in the first is always good for us.”
The Blues had to know the Lightning were not going to go away and had the chance to put the game away with a power-play to start the second. Instead of making it 4-0, they allowed a goal which Berube said was no excuse to allow.
Alex Killorn scored shorthanded 27 seconds into the period to get Tampa Bay to within 3-1, and it was a trigger of plays that led to it, including Alex Pietrangelo giving the puck away in the neutral zone, then Binnington having trouble with a long range shot that resulted in a defensive zone faceoff, one the Blues lost before Killorn alone slipped a puck in.
“We went out and we had a power play and had a faceoff and you can’t give up a goal like that,” Berube said. “We were on our heels after that for eight, nine minutes.”
The Lightning outshot the Blues 19-8 in the period, and Point scored at 7:24 to make it 3-2 after O’Reilly’s giveaway in the neutral zone, and then the Blues’ center didn’t cover Point to the net and he slotted in a Ryan McDonagh pass from the half wall.
“It wasn’t over,” Schenn said. “They score too many goals for them not to make a game of it. They’re dangerous, all lines can score, their ‘D’ are active. They play hard, they make plays, we probably made their job a little easier, letting them back in with the power play to start the second. ‘Binner’ was great again tonight, making huge saves and fun atmosphere to be part of.”
Schenn’s goal that gave the Blues a 4-2 lead at 14:24 with a between-the-legs backhand over Vasilevskiy was a momentum-changing goal.
It came as a result of Ivan Barbashev’s forecheck and ensuing strip of the puck from behind on McDonagh. He fed Tarasenko, whose shot from the slot was stopped by Vasilevskiy, but Schenn collected it, went to his backhand and waited as long as he could before lifting it just over Vasilevskiy’s arm.
“I think my goal … I’ll take it back even before that, the penalty kill stepped up,” Schenn said. “It was a 3-2 hockey game and the penalty kill killed off a penalty yet again. Then I was able to get the 4-2 goal. Special teams, especially the PK, were big tonight.”
“It was a great forecheck by ‘Barby’ and great pass,” Tarasenko said. “Obviously great play by ‘Schenner’.”
Stamkos did score from the slot to make it 4-3 at 4:46 of the third period, but Binnington was able to hold the fort down after the disallowed goal.
“Obviously, they’re an offensively gifted team,” Binnington said. “There’s a lot of momentum changes in that game. Our fans helped us out a couple times. It was just a battle from the start of the second period on. Thankfully, we had a good first period and kind of built off that and just competed right till the end.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports