By Lou Korac
CHICAGO — The Blues had the chance to make it a three-way tie atop the Central Division standings with two games to play.
It was shaping up to be a buckle-up situation for the Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators.
It still is, but it was seconds away from basically dwindling down to a two-team race before the Blues rallied to claim a huge point before succumbing to the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-3 in a shootout on Wednesday at United Center.
Tyler Bozak scored with 38.9 seconds remaining in regulation as the Blues (43-28-9) rallied from a two-goal deficit with 7 minutes 37 seconds remaining to pull out a critical point when it wasn’t nearly their best game.
Now with two games remaining, the Blues have 95 points; the Jets and Predators each have 96.
“Yeah, it’s a big point,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “I don’t think we played the way we needed to play. It wasn’t a very good game for us, but to find a way to get a point, that’s big. Get some more help again and control our own destiny.”
That’s what the Blues will need starting Thursday night at home against Philadelphia, and it has to be a much better first period than the one they played here Wednesday.
Too many mismanaged pucks, particularly on the neutral zone fed into Chicago’s transition game and led to a Jonathan Toews goal with 3:34 remaining in the first for a 1-0 Chicago lead.
“I don’t know. We were flat in the first,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “Not a lot of emotion in the first period, but I thought we got better as the game went along. Good third period to tie it up. We did a good job there, good power-play goal. Goes into a shootout and it’s up for grabs, but the first period was not very good.
“We didn’t support the puck very well and turned it over a lot in the first period. It was sloppy.”
It was very uncommon from previous games in which the Blues were strong in the first and maybe not as strong as they’d like to be in the second and third periods.
But it was the opposite here, and it was a third period in which the Blues appeared to be the hungrier team, especially after Patrick Kane scored at 11:37 to make it a 3-1 game.
All appeared lost, but a David Perron power-play goal 46 seconds later made it 3-2 and helped the Blues, who had 22 shots on Cam Ward in the third, gain the necessary energy needed.
“It would have been massive to get the other point obviously, but yeah, it’s obviously good to get a point you don’t think you’re going to have 10 minutes before that,” Perron said. “I think our energy wasn’t the greatest to start the game, but I think we started finding it in the third. We pushed pretty good.
“We’d like to have another power-play or two maybe there at the end. ‘Schwartzy’ gets tripped, I get tripped. I don’t know what it is. I know it’s getting close to playoffs, but when they’ve been called all year. ‘Schenner’ I think tripped Duncan Keith behind the net on another play, why don’t we get the same thing? But it is what it is. We found a way to get one point right now. Let’s have a good start tomorrow.”
The Blues found that jump early in the second when Vladimir Tarasenko sniped a shot off a 2 on 1 just 26 seconds into the second to tie the game 1-1. But Artem Anisimov’s redirection goal at 13:20 gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead after two periods, and the Blues haven’t been a good comeback team when trailing after two (2-23-5).
“I think we skated for support,” Pietrangelo said. “We were playing more as a unit of five, I think, keeping pucks down low, the D were getting involved. Tough to handle when we’re like that.”
Kane’s breakaway came off a lost puck and line change that gave him a lane to get a breakaway on Jake Allen to make it 3-1, and a bad loss appeared imminent.
But Perron scored from the slot with a shot in the right circle and the Blues had life.
“We haven’t had too many power plays recently the last four, five games,” Perron said. “It was nice to get out and feel the puck a little bit. I thought Petro and Schenner and Vladi had some real good looks on breakouts. That was great to see. The way our breakout is, if there’s an opening, Petro can keep going, so it’s good. I kind of pulled it around the D and put it on net.”
Bozak scored crashing the net when Pat Maroon made a play from his blue line, skated up the left side into the Hawks zone before zipping a puck to the crease that caromed off Bozak’s skate, Ward made the stop and the puck lay in the crease before Bozak was able to pop a backhand in. It came with Allen, who made 35 saves, on the bench.
“I just saw Patty carrying it wide and saw a lane to kind of get behind their guys,” Bozak said. “Great play to get it to the net. It bounced off my foot and the goalie and it was just sitting there and I was able to put it in.
“It’s nice to claw back and get a point and give us a chance to win. … It’s obviously huge to get a point, especially being down two there in the third. We’ve got a big game tomorrow night and we’re going to need a better effort than we had tonight.”
Gaining points without your best was vital Wednesday, and the Blues will now look to close out strong at Enterprise Center Thursday against the Flyers and Saturday against Vancouver and see where it gets them.
“We can get four more here and bring the total hopefully to 99 and that would be huge for our club and let’s see where that takes us,” Perron said. “We’ll worry about tomorrow first and four more points, who knows where it’s going to take us.”