Win at Colorado a significant passed test for Blues in fight to stay atop standings
If St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock looked at Saturday’s game at Colorado as a barometer for the current state of his hockey team, he had to have liked what he saw.
Sure, the Blues’ 2-1 win over the Avalanche featured some anxious moments over the final minutes, but it represents a significant passed test for Hitchcock’s guys as a difficult, grind-it-out road victory against an up-and-coming team trying to chasing them down in the Central Division standings.
"We knew they were playing well and it was going to take a great effort to beat them," David Backes told FOX Sports Midwest’s Bernie Federko on the "Blues Live" postgame show. "We had a lot of guys doing the little things that it takes to win — taking hits, making plays, blocking shots — and the result is a pretty solid performance by our guys."
The Blues, playing their fifth road game in six contests since the Olympic break, won for the fourth consecutive time and improved to 17-0-1 against Central Division opponents and 43-14-6 overall with 92 points in 63 games. They are now four points ahead of Chicago and five in front of Colorado, with one game in hand on both clubs.
St. Louis is just one point behind Anaheim (93 points in 64 games) for the top spot in the NHL. The Ducks, who have lost in shootouts to Montreal and Pittsburgh in their past two games, don’t play again until Monday. So the Blues could move into first place with a win in Minnesota on Sunday night.
That figures to be another tough test.
"We need to prove ourselves every night," Backes said. "We can’t take anything for granted. We start 0-0 and we need a solid 60 minutes against Minnesota, which has had some success and is another team that’s going to be gunning for us."
Blues goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 26 of 27 shots, including a stop with his helmet on a point-blank shot in front from Gabriel Landeskog with 6:05 remaining.
The Avs turned up the pressure late in the third period. The Blues even played five against six for more than 2 minutes after Colorado pulled its goalie. The Avs recorded 13 shots on goal in the third period and Miller stopped 12 of them.
"They were hungry," Miller told Federko. "… They were working to prove a lot right now. They’ve got some talented guys. They work it down low really well, as you could see on their goal in the third period. They get to the net. They have some guys who are shifty. For the most part we did a great job and battled hard and we earned that one."
Saturday marked Miller’s first win in his career against Colorado, which was the only team in the NHL he had yet to record a victory against.
"It’s been a tough battle against these guys, but it’s fun to come in here and get a victory and help the boys out," Miller told Federko.
Miller is 4-0-0 with the Blues and now has a 1.50 goals-against average and .933 save percentage (84 saves in 90 shots).
BLUES SCORE FIRST
The Blues are now 35-1-4 when scoring first this season and are 29-0-4 when leading after two periods.
That early lead came as a result of T.J. Oshie’s circus-spectacular stick work setting up the second-period goal by Backes, his 21st on the year.
The first line of Backes, Oshie and Alexander Steen had another strong game. Backes’ goal was the third for that trio in the past two games, a sign that the Blues’ first line could be rounding back into the form it showed early in the season.
BERGLUND DOES IT AGAIN
Patrik Berglund’s resurgence continued with a third-period goal on a wicked wrister that gave St. Louis a much-needed 2-0 advantage.
The goal was Bergie’s 12th of the season, but it was his fourth tally in four games — all Blues victories.
The big Swede’s work centering the line of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko could be one of the keys to the Blues’ success down the stretch.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.