By Lou Korac
It wasn’t the way they envisioned it, but for the Blues, the bottom line was the two points.
Forget that Arizona was counting on the Blues, forget that the Blues did not gain an all-important ROW (regulation or overtime loss), but they were able to prevail when Ryan O’Reilly scored the lone shootout goal in a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche at Enterprise Center on Monday.
The win for the Blues (43-28-8), their fifth in a row at home, moved them into a tie for second in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators but the Blues hold the tiebreaker edge in ROW’s 41-40. They still trail the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the division by two points after the Jets downed the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in overtime on Monday.
“It’s real nice,” said Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored in the third period to give the Blues a 2-0 lead. “We have a lot to play for the last three games now and like I said before, we’re going to play for a win in every game.
“Obviously it’s been a great run with all the stuff we have (been through) during this year. It’s really good and I’m really proud of everyone on this team how well we go from last place in the league. There’s still a lot of stuff to play for. There’s no time to rest and hang onto this success. We need to improve this and keep going.”
The Coyotes were counting on a regulation from the Blues to keep them one point behind Colorado (36-29-14) for the second wild card in the Western Conference, but the Avalanche gained a crucial point when Alexander Kerfoot scored on a tip play with 46.4 seconds remaining after catching the Blues on a bit of a delayed line change in which the puck, after coming out of the Blues zone with a sixth attacker, just made it past center ice before the Avalanche came back quickly.
“It’s tough to change everybody there because a guy like [Nathan] MacKinnon, he gets back on the offense so quick,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who was one of the skaters who delayed going off, then tried to dart off before scurrying back and not being in the best position. “It’s not much of shot. It’s a good tip play. Binner’s got no chance on that. We’ve just got to find a way to be a little bit tighter at the change.”
But the Blues, who outshot Colorado 27-26, including 15-2 in the first period, were able to regroup and get a Ryan O’Reilly shootout goal in the second round, the only goal scored, to pick up the win.
“It’s always easier to sleep when you win,” said Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, who tied Jake Allen’s Blues rookie record for wins with 22. “We want to keep climbing and we’ve got three games left here so we’ll see what happens.
“We’re definitely happy where we are. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been working together as a team and these are the memories that you create. We’re playing well as a team so hopefully we can keep going into the playoffs here.”
It was a game in which two teams that had much to play for, Colorado obviously more than the Blues trying to survive for their playoff lives, but a game in which had one minor called on each team, had that playoff feel to it with physical play, edge-of-your-seat moments, and a rally at the end that turned it into a three-point game.
“Yeah it’s a good win,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “Had a good first period, second period not so good, just unforced errors and then the third period was pretty good. Unfortunately let them tie it up, but we’re in a good spot, you know.
“… I said it was going to be a desperate game for them. They’re battling for playoffs and they played hard. I thought though we had a real good first period, did a good job with the puck and making plays and attacking and had some real good opportunities. We could have had two or three goals in the first period. We only ended up with the one and the second period they were obviously going to make a push and we just … unforced errors and turned the puck over too much and didn’t play a simple period … got three-quarter ice a little bit and we were back on our heels.”
The Blues absolutely dominated the first period, getting a goal from Jaden Schwartz 7:07 into the game to go up 1-0. This, after initially scoring at 1:40 on a goal by Tyler Bozak that was called back for offside after an Avalanche challenge.
Schwartz redirected Oskar Sundqvist’s centering pass past Philipp Grubauer, who had to be sharp to keep it a 1-0 game.
“Well you always want to be up more than that, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Berube said. “Their goalie played really well, he’s been playing really well and that’s how it goes. When you come in after a period like that, you know the team is going to get a push the next period.”
And the Avalanche did, outshooting the Blues 10-3 and sustaining much zone time in the Blues’ end.
“We played well in the first, but we’ve got to find a way to carry that over,” Pietrangelo said. “We didn’t play very well in the second, they kind of controlled the pace in the period. It’s good to get up on a team like that, but again, got to find a way to play better in the second.”
Tarasenko’s team-leading 31st just 14 seconds into the third, a sharp angle shot off a rebound of O’Reilly’s shot, put the Blues up 2-0 and thoughts were that would be good enough to get the win.
But Gabriel Landeskog, who had a goal and an assist, made it 2-1 when he redirected Patrik Nemeth’s shot past Binnington.
It was game on from there.
And when Colorado pulled Grubauer with over 2:16 remaining, they had ample zone time that wore the Blues skaters down before finally an errant pass came out of the zone and the Blues were looking for fresh legs. It didn’t go down the ice far enough as MacKinnon was able to retrieve it, get it to Landeskog before he flipped it to Kerfoot, and he redirected it off the ice and over Binnington.
“A little confusion there on the line change with the D,” Berube said. “They quicked-up the puck on us and ended up driving the net and threw it there and tipped it, so … just got to change a little bit better on that play.
“It can be (a tough read). Those guys were out there for a while. It’s a smart play by them, not letting us get off and get an easy change. They got it up quick and made a good tip play. Two tipped goals on us tonight.”
Binnington, at no fault, wasn’t happy to allow it.
“I wasn’t happy about going to overtime but you have to handle the situation,” Binnington said. “They have six guys out there and they have some talented players on that team. I was frustrated with that one but regrouped and we competed hard in overtime and O’Ry got one in the shootout.”
The Blues used Bozak, O’Reilly and Tarasenko in the shootout, and O’Reilly, who was drafted by the Avalanche, scored his first of the season in three attempts, while Binnington was able to make saves on MacKinnon and Landeskog before Sven Andrighetto had a puck roll off his stick on Colorado’s final attempt.
And in the end, moved the Blues up the ladder some more.
“We’ve earned it,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s been a long road to get here, but we’ve earned the spot that we’re in right now.”
The Blues will close their season with the final road game Wednesday at Chicago and home games Thursday against Philadelphia and Vancouver on Saturday.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports
Post-Game Audio--Craig Berube, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko