Tarasenko’s first career hat trick gives Blues OT win in Dallas

There was some discussion as to whether Vladimir Tarasenko would even make the trip to Dallas because of an infection that continues to trouble the Blues.

But the 22-year-old Russian not only got on the ice, he scored the first hat trick of his career, capped off by the game-winner in a 4-3 overtime victory at Dallas. A rocket of a slap shot ended a special night for the budding superstar and even snapped a streak of 11 straight power plays without a goal for St. Louis.

The first of three impressive goals for Tarasenko came on an unstoppable quick wrist shot into the corner of the net just 35 seconds after Dallas took a 1-0 lead. That snapped his five-game goal-less streak and was a picture-perfect example of why St. Louis believes he has nearly limitless potential and could notch 40 goals in a season in the not-too-distant future.

Tarasenko showed no signs of illness or anything else slowing him down early, playing aggressively and challenging for pucks on both ends of the ice. Even when the Blues’ other lines began to struggle, he proved to be the catalyst for an offense that has had plenty of shots but often not enough goals.

He even made the key play to tie the game in the second period, when he raced down the ice and threaded the puck between two defenders to Jori Lehtera. Tarasenko’s former KHL teammate put a perfectly placed backhand into the net to even the score at two.

The pair combined again in the third period when Lehtera picked up a puck deep on the left side of the Blues’ defensive zone and fired it across the ice to Tarasenko. He made Stars forward Ryan Garbutt look silly with a stutter step move to get a better angle before letting loose another laser past goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who had to make a strong save to stop Tarasenko from completing the hat trick in the closing seconds of regulation.

St. Louis needs some of its skill players to step up in the continued absence of Paul Stastny, and Tarasenko certainly looks ready to fill the role. The only danger for such a young and talented player could be trying to do too much, but he found the right balance Tuesday night.

The Blues’ top line saw some significant shakeups before and during their second road win in four tries.

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Forward Jaden Schwartz took the third forward spot that has at times belonged to Patrik Berglund, Magnus Paajarvi and Steve Ott so far this season. After some early pressure, they struggled to match up with the red-hot Dallas forward line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, which was on the ice for the first two Stars goals.

Blues captain David Backes went down hard on a hit near the blue line and his head appeared to slam into the ice before he took close to a minute to finally get up and slowly make his way to the bench, then the locker room. Berglund returned to the line, and St. Louis announced Backes would not return midway through the second period.

Two goals and three assists in seven games only begin to tell the story of his importance to the Blues, who seemed to lose significant momentum shortly after Backes left the game. His constant physicality and presence in front of the net can wear down opponents, not to mention the boost he gives teammates with veteran leadership on and off the ice.

It’s tough to say how long Backes will be out, though the injury brings back some bad memories of head and neck injuries that kept him out at the end of last season. 

St. Louis did finally get some good news on the injury front as defenseman Carl Gunnarsson made his Blues debut after missing more than two weeks with a hip injury. He played just under 13 minutes as 34-year-old defenseman Jordan Leopold took the night off, and forwards Chris Porter and Paajarvi were also scratched.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.