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Blues live on -- Bozak's OT goal sends series back to St. Louis

Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Hockey

DENVER — On eight occasions this season, the Blues put together winning streaks of three games or more. They won five in a row to start the season and won nine straight in April.

Well, they need one more three-game streak to keep their season alive, and got a start in that direction Wednesday with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. The oldest Blue, Tyler Bozak, scored the game-winner at 3:38 of overtime as St. Louis rallied from a 3-0 deficit.

With Game 6 of the second-round playoff series set for Friday in St. Louis, Colorado still leads the series three games to two. So the Blues still need to win the next two or call it a season.

During the regular season, the Avalanche tied for the NHL’s best home record at 32-5. But the Blues have now won two of three games here in the postseason.

Coach Craig Berube stuck with Ville Husso in goal, but after seven consecutive games using 11 forwards and seven defensemen he switched to the traditional 12/6 lineup. Nathan Walker, not seen since Game 2 of the Minnesota series, returned to action as the 12th forward joining Alexei Toropchenko and Tyler Bozak on the fourth line.

Defenseman Marco Scandella, not seen since Game 4 against the Wild, returned on the second pairing with Justin Faulk. The lineup moves meant Calle Rosen and Scott Perunovich were healthy scratches.

Berube also re-arranged his top three lines, most notably reuniting the potent Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko line.

It all clicked as the team attempts to rally from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series for only the third time in franchise history. (It happened previously in 1999 against the then-Phoenix Coyotes and 1991 against the Detroit Red Wings.)

Among everything else happening in this series, the Blues had done a great job keeping the lid on Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon, holding him without a goal through the first four games of the series. Well, MacKinnon had a coming-out party in the first period Wednesday, scoring twice.

After a pretty good start by the Blues, Colorado took off on a 2-on-1 rush that was finished off by MacKinnon in the slot. So just 3:51 into the contest, the Avalanche led 1-0. It marked the first time in the series they had scored first.

The crowd at Ball, many of them waving “Stand with Naz” signs in support of forward Nazem Kadri, loved it. They booed David Perron almost every time he touched the puck, probably in response to the Perron cross-checking penalty on Kadri in Game 4. The Avs were physical, knocking a couple of Blues down like bowling pins in the opening minutes.

Husso made a couple of huge saves to keep the score at 1-0, once thwarting a 2-on-1 rush, and once on a MacKinnon breakaway at the eight-minute mark.

 

But the Avs kept coming, and made it 2-0 — again by MacKinnon — after defenseman Robert Bortuzzo went off for holding the stick of Darren Helm in front of the St. Louis net. MacKinnon’s goal came at the net front with just 1:37 left in the first period and marked his eighth career multi-goal game in the playoffs.

Just 21 seconds after that goal, Brayden Schenn was sent to the penalty box for cross-checking, and it looked like the Blues were unraveling.

The Blues killed off the remainder of the penalty that spilled over into the second period, but it didn’t take much longer for the Avalanche to extend their league. At the 4:02 mark of the second, Gabriel Landeskog deflected in a Devon Toews shot from the point to make it a 3-0 game.

Four minutes later, Niko Mikkola went to the box for roughing Kadri. The raucous crowd at Ball responded with chants of Kadri!, Kadri!, Kadri! The Blues penalty kill unit got out of that two-minute dilemma with no further damage on the scoreboard. The Blues’ seemed to settle in and contest that game at a more even level.

And with the period winding down, the Blues finally got on the scoreboard. With 5:18 left in the second, Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first goal of the series to make it a 3-1 game. A Nick Leddy shot from the left point was blocked by Avs forward Artturi Lehkonen, but the puck rolled out to the slot where Tarasenko swooped in moving laterally and whipped a high shot past Darcy Kuemper.

The third period began the same way as the second ended, with the Blues holding their ground and no longer seeming to be overwhelmed as was the case in the first half of the game. Even so, the Blues managed only one shot in the opening 7 ½ minutes of the third. The much-needed push hand not materialized.

The league’s third-best offense in the regular season, could not solve Kuemper or get much traction against the quick, hounding Colorado defense.

But then Buchnevich carried the puck down right wing, hounded all the way by that tenacious Colorado defense. Just as he got down near the goal line, he sent a crossing pass to Robert Thomas, who beat Kuemper far side for his first goal of the playoffs. Suddenly it was a 3-2 game with 10:03 to go in the third period. And the game took on a whole different tone.

The Blues kept pushing, pressuring. Suddenly, it was the Avs back on their heels. And there was Justin Faulk, during a net front scramble by the Blues banging in his first goal of the postseason. Suddenly, somewhat amazingly, it was a tie game at 3-3 with 4:46 to play

But then along came MacKinnon. Displaying his trademark speed, his blazed through traffic, zipped around defenseman Nick Leddy, and lifted a backhander past Husso with 2:46 to play. Like several goals allowed in this series, Husso was beaten nearside. The place went bananas. Hundreds of hats found their way to the ice.

Undismayed, the Blues pulled Husso and kept pressing. And with 56 seconds remaining, Thomas was there at net front, banging in a goal to tie it at 4-4 with 56 seconds remaining.

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