By Lou Korac
Sometimes, you just have to win a game like this.
It’s not the way the Blues draw it up, but in a battle for points, the old saying is: a win is a win is a win.
And the Blues got one, their fifth in a row on Tuesday against their old nemesis.
The Blues’ 6-5 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, highlighted by a come-from-behind third period — the second time this season the Blues have scored four third-period goals against the Hawks to win when trailing after two period — was one of those subtle reminders of how hockey in the NHL was played back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
It was back-and-forth, teams trading punches, open ice, power plays cashing in, goalies … well, not liking a game like this much. That goes for Blues goalie Jordan Binnington and Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Everyone else? Depends on which side you’re on.
Zach Sanford, coming into his own with each passing game, scored the tiebreaking power-play goal with 6 minutes 25 seconds to play to cap off the second Blues’ four-goal third period against the Blackhawks in this building this season.
“It was definitely very offensive tonight,” said Blues center Ryan O’Reilly, who had a goal and an assist.
“Those ones are always fun to be part of,” said Sanford, who had two goals and an assist to give him 15 goals on the season.
They’re fun if you win them, and the Blues (37-17-10) found a way to win a game in a style that goes against every which way they like to play and have success in the way they play.
When the Blues have success, they’re tight-checking, puck-possessing, playing tight, working hard in all areas of the ice, getting the key goaltending and taking advantage of their offensive chances.
Well, on this night, the Blues’ penalty kill, which came in 16-for-16, was porous. Binnington didn’t get the kind of support necessary due to coverage breakdowns and mistakes, and this game had all the makings of dropping points against a nemesis that is hanging on by a thread in the Western Conference wild card and one that would like nothing more than to spoil a rival’s chances of perhaps winning a division.
“We obviously showed good resiliency and were able top put the puck in the net at the right times, but we definitely want to be better defensively, especially on the PK too,” O’Reilly said. “We didn’t help ‘Binner’ enough and gave them too many good looks. That’s not really our style, but I feel at the end of the day, we got two points and a big win for us.”
Despite the wide open play of their game Tuesday, the Blues showed they could win a run-and-gun game. It’s not a habit they want to get into, but with the amount of chances they created throughout, even when they got down 3-1, there was a sense they were never out of this.
A 3-0 deficit to Chicago (27-28-8) on Dec. 14 in the third period that resulted in a 4-3 Blues win should be proof positive enough.
“Yeah, that went through my head for sure,” said Blues center Robert Thomas, who has a goal and two assists. “Even when we were down, I felt like we were taking it to them. They capitalized on some chances there. We knew if we stuck with it and kept on pushing that we’d have success.”
Blues coach Craig Berube agreed.
“Yeah, we were getting a lot of chances,” Berube said. “We had tremendous puck possession and we were doing a lot of good stuff. You look back to the last time they were in here, we were down 3-0 at one point and came back and won. Guys stuck with it, did a good job.”
There never seems to be a time when the Blues are feeling like they’re out of a game. There have been games when the score didn’t indicate it, and there have been games where they simply didn’t have it, but the demeanor is always that there’s a chance.
“We gave them a lot that we should have given them and we let them be in that game,” Sanford said. “I thought we should have dominated a lot more than we did. But definitely good to come out with two points.
“I think even in the second period, we were holding on to pucks a lot. We were doing a lot of good things in the O-zone and we turned over pucks, especially that O’Ry goal, Schwartzy [Jaden Schwartz] comes back, picks it off and we’re going back the other way. It’s a lot of those little things like that that are helping us win right now.”
The Blues moved five points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, who have three games in hand, in the standings, and Dallas stayed four points back with their 4-1 win at Carolina, so this win was imperative.
It’s going to be a race to the finish for the Western Conference top seed, and all signs points to whoever gets that will also win the Central. The Blues, Stars and Avalanche are in a three-team race even though Vegas has been coming on the Pacific Division.
“A lot of guys got in on the scoring, that’s always good,” Thomas said. “Binner made a ton of big saves to keep us in that when they went up 3-1. All around, good game but need to tighten it up a little bit. We shouldn’t be allowing five goals and that’s on us players.”
Brayden Schenn has a goal and an assist for the Blues, and David Perron had two assists. Justin Faulk, who scored the game-winner against the Hawks here on Dec. 14, scored a crucial tying goal in the third period to make it 5-5.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports