TAMPA, Fla. – The Blues were already in a run of games that wasn’t going to be easy. Two games with Tampa Bay, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, and then two games with Florida, which started Thursday with the second-best points percentage in the league.
Then it got harder.
On Thursday, the Blues first lost goalie Jordan Binnington to a positive COVID-19 test, then lost defenseman Justin Faulk. Add in injured forward David Perron, who missed his third game in a row on Thursday, and a big chunk of the Blues, on offense and defense, is missing.
With Ville Husso all of a sudden the Blues No. 1 goalie, the sophomore from Finland stepped into the action unexpectedly and kept the Blues in the game with some sound play in goal, only to run into trouble in the third period. The Blues’ offense did not do its part, scoring just twice in a 4-2 loss to the Lightning at Amalie Arena.
The loss snapped the Blues’ modest two-game winning streak and came at the end of what must have seemed like a long day for the Blues.
The Blues were once again done in by late goals, as Tampa Bay scored three times in the third period. Tampa Bay took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Anthony Cirelli five seconds into a power play. Cirelli won the faceoff, and two passes later, it was back to Cirelli to fire past Husso with 15:34 to play.
The Blues tied it less than three minutes later on a power-play goal of their own. The second unit, which had gotten the first goal, went out first and Scott Perunovich and Pavel Buchnevich passed the puck back and forth until Buchnevich saw an opening and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to the top right corner to make it 2-2.
The tie was short-lived. Fifty-three seconds later, after Pat Maroon picked off an O’Reilly clearance attempt, Victor Hedman beat Husso on a shot from the top of the slot to make it 3-2 with 11:51 to play. Hedman got another goal 2:40 later when the puck came out of a battle along the boards to him, and he was all alone against Husso and made it 4-2.
Husso figures to get more games in the next two weeks than he has so far this season. He has started consecutive games just once in his brief NHL career, but he figures to get the next four, and maybe five, depending how the Blues handle the back-to-back games next weekend.
“It's obviously new for him to handle a load,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “I’m going off his play this year so far: He’s played extremely well. I think that in practices and things like that, he's looked really good, worked extremely hard. I think is whole mindset has changed from last year. I thought that toward the end last year he really came on and started taking on more time, did a good job, so I believe he's in a better place and learned to work and practice and do the right things and I think it's paid off this year to play. … I'm not going to think about can he handle the load or not. He's gonna handle the load.”
“I think the biggest thing is confidence,” center Robert Thomas said. “I think he's a lot more comfortable handling the puck. I think he's more aggressive. In practice he's hard to score on and I think he's been he's been awesome this year, he saved us in a lot of games and he's kept us in a lot of games so I'm really happy to see him doing so.”
Faulk’s unexpected absence — he took part in the morning skate — was the one the Blues were actually prepared to handle. They were already going to dress seven defensemen in the game because they have only 11 healthy forwards, and had still another defenseman, Jake Walman, waiting in the wings. Walman had been a healthy scratch for eight consecutive games and while the Blues have needs at forward, they didn’t want to send Walman down because he has to pass through waivers and the Blues believe they would lose him.
Tampa Bay led 1-0 after one period, which as far as the Blues were concerned was better than Tuesday, when they trailed 3-0 after one. Ondrej Palat scored with 12:44 to go in the period, putting in a puck that caromed to him off Colton Parayko’s skate in a scramble in front of the goal.
The Blues tied the game with 5:53 to go in the second on a power play. Robert Thomas passed from the top of one circle, through the slot to Brandon Saad waiting at the far post for an easy redirect for his ninth goal of the season, tying him for the team lead with Jordan Kyrou.
The game swung both ways in the next few minutes. O’Reilly put a shot off the post, and then about a minute later, Walman, on one of his rare shifts, was called for cross checking. The Blues killed the penalty, and Walman came out of the box just in time to take an outlet pass for a breakaway, only to be stopped by Tampa goalie Vasilevskiy, who was back in goal after sitting out the game on Tuesday.©2021 STLtoday.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.