Back-to-back is a good way to measure height between two people. It’s a productive way for baseball teams to hit home runs. And if you show up at a restaurant with a few too many people, it’s a great way to arrange the tables.
It is not the most desirable way to play hockey games. Before the weekend, NHL teams playing on the second night of back-to-back games were 6-11-1. But a night after winning in Dallas, the Blues fought off the back-to-back blues and rallied to defeat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime in front of 18,265 at Scottrade Center.
The Blues now are 8-9-1 on the back end of their last 18 two-night doubleheaders over the last two seasons. And in today’s NHL, consecutive nights are part of the curriculum. The Blues have eight more of the back-to-back breakers in the months ahead.
But Ken Hitchcock has been at this NHL coaching biz for 16 seasons. He hasn’t seen many teams like these Blues, who trailed 3-1 at one point Sunday.
“I’ve been around a long time, but the third period was impressive,” the Blues’ mentor said. “To do that back-to-back, it was a very physical game last night (in Dallas) and to come with that kind of effort, I think it was a real confidence booster.”
The Wild, having lost their two previous games, arrived in St. Louis on Saturday and were rested and loaded for Blues. And they carried a 3-2 lead into the third period before the Note, playing their sixth game in nine nights, got off the mat.
Goals from Chris Stewart and Barret Jackman gave the home team a brief 4-3 lead. An unconventional — to be nice — goal by Minnesota’s Dany Heatley sent the game to OT. But Vladimir Sobotka converted Andy McDonald’s feed with 2:44 left in the extra period to decide it.
Sobotka had his first goal and the battling Blues, 33-6-5 at home over the last two seasons, had their fifth win in six games.
“It just goes to show that as a team we’re pretty focused,” Stewart said. “Our depth played a big part tonight. I mean, we were a little tired, got in late last night. We could have used that as an excuse and packed it in, down by two goals. But I think we really wanted to dig in and get the two points.”
Twenty pounds lighter, Stewart now epitomizes the Blues with his extra gas tank.
“The difference is there is no drop in his level, from the start of the game to the end of the game,” Hitchcock said. “He is as refreshed and energized at the end as he is at the start. There were times last year where he was taking 15-second shifts. I wouldn’t even be able to have a name up and he’d already be coming off the ice.”
The Blues scored first, as they did in Dallas. David Backes got the puck to Wade Redden, who blasted it through traffic for his second goal in as many nights. Redden, 35, had not scored an NHL goal in nearly three years before Saturday.
The Blues led 1-0. Moments later, with the Blues on a power play, a shot by David Perron zinged off the post. But power-play fizzle was problematic for the Blues throughout. The Wild came into the game ranked 28th out of 30 teams in penalty killing on the road. The Blues were ranked first in home power-play efficiency. But for the second night in succession, the Blues’ power-play unit went scoreless.
The Wild enjoyed a slight 8-7 edge in shots as the first period ended, but the Blues remained unscored upon at home, their seventh consecutive shutout period. That streak came to an end two minutes into the second period, as Zach Parise scored a power-play goal to tie the score 1-1.
With 10:17 to play, the Blues took another tacky penalty, as Kris Russell got in the way of Mikko Koivu and drew an interference penalty. Parise struck again to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. Both Blues defensemen got caught in a corner and the puck squirted loose to Koivu, who fed Parise for his second of the period. It was the fifth goal of the season for Parise, who signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild last summer.
With the period nearly 11 minutes old, Minnesota had two shots, two goals and a 2-1 lead. The Wild made it three for three for a 3-1 lead with 5:23 to play, as Koivu ripped a shot past Brian Elliott. Parise assisted, his third point of the night.
The Blues got a goal before the period ended, enhancing their chances. Perron created, coming from the back of the Minnesota net and feeding Patrik Berglund for his third goal. The Blues trailed 3-2 with 4:28 to play in the middle stanza and carried that deficit into the third period.
“I think it’s something we learned maybe from the playoffs last year,” Perron said of his team’s elasticity, which includes three come-from-behind wins. “If we could have gotten one or two goals ahead of Los Angeles (in the playoffs), we could have found a way to close the games. But it seemed like if we got down one or two goals and we had a hard time coming back. I think we learned what it takes to do that.”
The charge came after the midway point in the third. After the Blues missed on a fifth power play, Alex Pietrangelo slapped a shot from the point and Stewart deflected it past Niklas Backstrom to tie things 3-3 with 8:40 remaining. The goal was the fourth for the resurgent Stewart.
“I think it’s our makeup,” Hitchcock added. “We have a few guys who have top-end skill, but we have a lot of workers. And there’s no give-up in us.”
A little more than two minutes later, one of the workers emerged. Jackman fired from the point and, again with bodies in front, the red light went on for a 4-3 Blues lead.
But Jackman’s goal didn’t stand up. With 4:08 to play, Heatley whacked a puck out of the air past Elliott. His stick looked questionably high, but it was reviewed and certified.
Heatley’s fourth tally of the season tied the score 4-4, providing a stage for Sobotka’s winner.