CHICAGO — It has been a long time, hasn’t it, since the Blues met their old friends from Chicago.
Last season, the teams had met three times by Oct. 27, and four times in the Blues’ first 16 games. It took until Monday night — Game 29 for the Blues this season and in the month of December, no less — for the 2019-20 edition of the Midwest rivalry to get underway.
For Blues fans this one was worth the wait. Behind a 38-save performance by goalie Jake Allen, and goals by Mackenzie MacEachern, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Tyler Bozak, St. Louis blanked the Blackhawks 4-0 before 21,204 at United Center.
“Never an easy building to come into, so it’s good to obviously get a win here,” Schwartz said. “It would be nice to finish off in Pittsburgh for a good little road trip. It was a good solid team win for us. I thought the second period wasn’t our best, but we found a way to get it done.”
It was the fourth victory in a row for the Blues (18-5-6), and extended their road point streak to 10 games (8-0-2), the second-longest streak in franchise history. They can tie the franchise road record of 11 games with at least a point, achieved during the 1999-2000 season, on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
And don’t look now, but the Blues have two red-hot goalies. After Allen’s first career shutout in 20 games against Chicago and his 20th shutout overall, he’s 4-0-2 over his past six games with a 1.78 goals-against average and a save percentage of .946.
Allen is now tied for second in career shutouts with Jaroslav Halak on the Blues’ franchise list. Brian Elliott has the franchise record with 25.
“He’s dialed in,” said Schwartz, whose tip-in of an Alex Pietrangelo shot gave the Blues a 2-0 lead in the first period. “He’s in the zone, making huge saves — timely saves — for us. We know how good of a goalie he is.
“Every player, every goalie has a rough few months or an off year in their career. He’s a guy that just continues to work. Even when he’s not playing, he comes to the rink and he’s working and he’s getting better. You can see how good of a goalie he is and you can tell that he’s confident right now.”
For the last couple of games in particular, there has been a calmness to Allen’s game. Call it locked in, call it whatever, but he doesn’t seem to be moving around as much in the crease, perhaps because he’s been so positionally sound — seeing the puck and being in the right place at the right time.
“My goal after the first couple games of the year, I sat down and said, let’s just try to get better every single time,” Allen said. “The starts at that point were a little few and far between. Getting some games, obviously closer to consecutive games, gets you a little bit more in the groove.”
When MacEachern scored at the 2:34 mark of the first period, it made it three games in a row that the Blues had scored first. Prior to that, the opposing team had scored first in six of the prior seven games.
“I think coming into this building, everybody knows it’s pretty hostile,” MacEachern said. “So I think scoring early kind of eases the nerves and kind of lets us play our game.”
The Blues got a lucky bounce on his goal. Vince Dunn’s shot off the end boards bounced back towards the slot and skipped over Chicago goalie Corey Crawford’s stick to MacEachern, who swooped in for the puck and sent it past Crawford, glove side.
“Fortunate maybe, but he’s doing the right thing by skating and driving (to the net), and he got a good bounce,” coach Craig Berube said. “We’re a good team when we’ve got the lead.”
It gave MacEachern goals in back-to-back games for the first time in his young career; he has seven career NHL goals and four this season.
Then came Schwartz’s goal late in the first — his eighth of the season. He didn’t get his eighth last season until March 19 (against Edmonton). This one allowed the Blues to take a 2-0 lead into the second period for only the second time all season, and the first time since Oct. 27 in Detroit — a game the Blues had to huff and puff their way to win 5-4 in overtime.
There was no huffing and puffing Monday, although the Blues did hit a lull in the second period.
“In the second period our puck play wasn’t very good,” Berube said. “And then they had the puck way too much. We didn’t have it very much until maybe the last six minutes of that period we got some shots.”
The Blues were sloppy and sluggish for much of a scoreless second period. Nathan Walker was penalized for slashing just 21 seconds into the period, and that allowed Chicago to gain early momentum. They kept it for much of the period, outshooting the Blues 8-2 over the first eight minutes.
“When you have a two-goal lead or any sort of a lead, to get the next goal is huge,” Berube said. “I don’t want to sit back. I don’t want to play that way. We want to be an aggressive team no matter the score, and I thought that our guys did that in that they went out and got that next goal. That’s what we talked about in between periods: let’s go get that next goal.”
With 11:04 to play in the third, that next goal belonged to Schenn, who took a backhand pass from Walker and had time to tee up the puck and rifle it past Crawford for his 14th goal of the season. Bozak capped the night with his third goal of the season with 1:49 to play.