Blues clinch Central crown despite loss
ST. LOUIS (AP) — There was no sign of celebration in the locker room. Coach Ken Hitchcock stalked off after a couple of minutes at the podium.
The St. Louis Blues needed help to clinch their first Central division title since 1999-2000, stumbling at home against the NHL’s last-place team. The Columbus Blue Jackets caught a team perhaps expecting to win, and then struggling to maintain its composure.
“Obviously, if we want to be a good team we can’t play like that,” Blues forward Andy McDonald said after the Blue Jackets’ 5-2 victory Saturday night. “We just got really worked up about the officiating, about how things were going, and we weren’t able to reign it in.
“It just kind of spun out of control.”
R.J. Umberger scored twice and rookie goalie Allen York made it three wins in three career starts for Columbus. Jared Boll, Derek Dorset and Vinny Prospal also scored for Columbus, and York finished with 34 saves.
“It’s huge for our confidence,” the 22-year-old York said. “We showed that we’re not the team that everyone thinks we are. We’re a very dangerous team.”
David Backes and David Perron scored for the Blues, who wrapped up the division when Chicago beat Nashville 5-4 not long before the final horn in St. Louis. The Blues are second in the Western Conference, a point behind Vancouver. A small cheer went up in the stands when that game finished, not that players seemed to notice.
While playing catchup in the third period, the Blues were whistled for eight penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call on defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. That made it tough on goalie Jaroslav Halak, victimized for four goals for the second straight game.
“The officials were not the issue, not one bit the issue,” Hitchcock said. “We were the issue. They called what they saw and what they saw was us taking stupid penalties. I would have made the same calls.”
The Blues had been 13-1-1 in their previous 15 at home since mid-January while outscoring opponents 43-16, before inexplicably struggling against a franchise that’s last overall in the NHL. The Blue Jackets have won three in a row for just the second time this season, and handed the Blues just their fifth home loss of the season, and first in regulation since a 4-2 loss to Boston on Feb. 22.
St. Louis has lost its last two, also falling 4-3 in a shootout at Chicago on Thursday night. Hitchcock said the Blues “showed probably a little bit of a lack of respect” for Columbus.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t really care right now how many points we’ve got,” said Backes, the Blues’ captain. “The slate’s wiped clean for playoffs, which is really the big picture.
“If we’re not playing our best, whether you’re the 1, 2 or 3 seed, doesn’t matter.”
York has been subbing for injured Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford, and has allowed no more than two goals in all three of his starts. This time he bested a St. Louis lineup that was intact for the first time in 160 games since March 30, 2010, with forwards Andy McDonald (shoulder), Matt D’Agostini (concussion) and defensive Roman Polak (lower body) returning from injuries.
Umberger scored on an unassisted breakaway off Chris Stewart’s giveaway in the second period, and Dorsett scored on a 5-on-3 power play for a two-goal cushion in the third with Kent Huskins, David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo all in the penalty box.
Prospal added an empty-net goal with 1:26 to go. “They had a lot on the line with clinching the division and we just didn’t want that on our time,” Umberger said. “Anytime we play these guys it’s always heated.
“You know the two teams hate each other.”
NOTES: Among the Blues’ scratches was D Carlo Colaiacovo, whose giveaway led to a goal Thursday night in a shootout loss at Chicago. … Umberger has five goals the last three games and eight in his last six, including a hat trick against Carolina March 23. … The crowd of 19,150 was the Blues’ 23rd sellout. … The Blues had been 13-1-1 against Columbus at home since 2007-08.