There was a lot of emotional ground to cover Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
There was a hockey team to receive, a Blues bunch the faithful had not seen in nearly a month. There were Olympic champions to toast, Team Canada members Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong among them.
There was love for T.J. Oshie, whose shootout performance was the theatrical crescendo of the games in Sochi, Russia. Foremost, there was a new sheriff in town who needed a proper welcome. Acquired from Buffalo last week, Ryan Miller now holds the hearts and hopes of the sports community in the sweaty palm of his trapper. And 18,602 let him know it with a resounding ovation.
“That was really special,” Miller said.
Ah yes, then there was the business of hockey to conduct. Appearing in a neighborhood near you for the first time since Feb. 8, the Blues re-introduced themselves with a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Goals from Patrik Berglund, Oshie, Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko paved the way, while Miller turned aside 15 of 17 Lightning shots. It was the fewest opposing shots the Blues have allowed all season, the second fewest saves Miller has made for a victory in his career. The bearded backstop was handling an average of 35.3 shots in Buffalo.
“It's going to be about changing gears a little bit,” said Miller, who was named Star of the Game. “I'm going to have to get used to (fewer shots) a little bit. But it's the same mentality, it's just just about how you approach the game. You have to be really aware of situations that come up.”
There were actually two goalies making debuts, including a St. Louisan. Chaminade High product Ben Bishop started in goal for the Lightning (34-23-5), his first performance in the building as an opposing player.
Bishop played 13 games with the Blues before being traded to Ottawa in late February,m 2012. Subsequently, he was peddled to Tampa Bay. The 27-year old had not stood between Scottrade pipes wearing an opposing sweater before Tuesday. Carrying 29 wins, a 2.05 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, he was a motivated virus in the way of the Miller download.
As they did in Phoenix on Sunday, the Blues fell behind 2-0. Playing without their marquee scorer, injured Steven Stamkos, the Lightning struck first. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk backhanded a pass intended for Barret Jackman, but Teddy Purcell intercepted and fed Alex Killorn.
Alone in front, Killorn fired a shot that trickled in off Miller's pad. Tampa Bay led 1-0 with just under 13 minutes remaining the first period. The score became 2-0 with 5:11 to play. A three way passing play provided Tyler Johnson with an open net and he tapped in his 18th goal on the power play.
“The goals that have gone in on (Miller) have been completely our fault,” Blues captain David Backes said. “He's been great, made all the saves he's supposed to. If we limit the quality of the chances a little bit, he's going to make tons of saves. He's going to be great for us.”
Still, to that point, the St. Louis native was out-shining the new St. Louis resident. But the Blues (41-14-6) got back in the mix on Berglund's goal 3 ½ minutes into the second. Bishop stopped a drive by Jaden Schwartz, but Berglund was there to sweep the rebound past for his 11th goal and third in two games. The margin was narrowed to 2-1.
“Berglund's line has played three games in a row where they've really played well,” Hitchcock said. “Bergie's playing great, it's the best he's played all year.”
Miller was prominent during another Lightning power play midway through the second, making several saves in close. The visiting Bolt got yet another PP late in the stanza, with Backes taking a retaliation penalty.
That led to a stunning shorthanded goal by Oshie. Clearing their zone, the Blues attacked at the other end with Steen leading the charge. He got the puck to Oshie, who dipsy-doodled around Victor Hedman, danced past Martin St. Louis and backhanded a shot past Bishop for his 15th goal. The SportsCenter moment made it 2-2 with 2:56 remaining.
“I didn't want to get the shot blocked, so I made one move,” Oshie said. “Then I made the second one and I'm not sure where it went in. I just wanted to get it on net and fortunately it found a hole.”
Relentless now, the Blues made it 3-2 less than four minutes into the third. Backes traversed the back of the Tampa Bay net and found Steen. The Blues' leading scorer stutter-stepped on the forehand, moved to the backhanded and lifted the puck over Bishop's shoulder. The goal was Steen's 29th.
“We needed our best players to be our best players tonight and that's exactly what happened,” Hitchcock said. “Oshie's goal was terrific, Steen's goal was terrific … As the game wore on, our best players were our best players.
“Our goalie was great in the third, made three big saves. Our top pair on defense did a heckuva job.”
Shortly his goal, Steen received a goaltender-interference penalty, creatively called by NHL official Kelly Sutherland. But, as he did previously, Miller calmed things down with reassuring saves, including a rejection of Hedman's blast from 18 feet.
Tarasenko took the tension out of the building with an open-net goal with 39 seconds to play. In the end, Bishop couldn't keep the emotional evening in check.
“I would have liked to have done a little better,” he said. “It's one of those things where it's nice to play in front of family and friends and it would have been nice to get the 'W.' ”
In Miller's only previous start at Scottrade - Jan. 21, 2012 - he and the Buffalo Sabres lost 4-2 to Jaroslav Halak and the Blues.
Maybe what goes around really does come around.