At a point in the season when the Blues can’t afford to lose too many more games, they also can’t afford to lose any of their top players either.
The Blues pulled out a dramatic 4-3 overtime win over the Rangers on a goal by Brayden Schenn after playing the final two periods without leading goalscorer Vladimir Tarasenko, who suffered an upper-body injury. Blues coach Mike Yeo said after the game that an update on Tarasenko would come Sunday morning, and he wouldn’t say if Tarasenko would accompany the team on its late-night trip to Chicago for a game there on Sunday.
With that hanging over their heads, as well as the knowledge that a loss to a Rangers team that is out of playoff contention would do severe damage to their already precarious playoff chances, the Blues did a few things they seldom seem to do. They tied the game in the third period on a power-play goal, their first this month, and won a game in which they had trailed for the first time since Jan. 16.
“The season is on the line really,” Schenn said. “We’ve got games in hand, we’ve got to grab two points every time we can here down the stretch.”
The desperately needed win puts the Blues three points out of the second wild-card spot with a chance to make it one with a win over Chicago, though three of the four teams with 84 points — Colorado and Dallas, who hold wildcard spots, and Anaheim, which is out on a tiebreaker at the moment — are all in action as well on Sunday.
“It’s a big win, a big response in the third period,” Yeo said. “We knew how important this game was.”
Tarasenko took an elbow to the mouth on the first shift of the game from New York’s Neal Pionk as they both went for a puck behind the Rangers goal, and Tarasenko skated away with his hand to his mouth and looked in a slight bit of discomfort on the bench, but he finished the period without missing a shift. But when the second period began, Tarasenko did not return. Yeo said he hadn’t noticed anything off in Tarasenko’s game after the hit.
“I actually thought he was OK, but obviously I don’t know,” Yeo said. “The players know (how they feel) and I know Vlady. He’s a competitor and he wanted to be out there.”
“I thought he just got caught, his lips or something,” said forward Nikita Soshnikov, who scored his first goal as a Blue to make it 2-1. “Concussion is a serious thing. I don’t know what it is exactly, but if he doesn’t want to go out there, I think it’s his choice, it’s his career. It’s a big deal.”
Tarasenko leads the team in scoring with 27 goals and came into the game tied for the team lead in points with Schenn at 58. Though he has just one goal in his past seven games, the Blues’ offense has regained some form since he was put back on a line with Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.
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Schenn hadn’t scored in 10 games before coming up with a goal the team desperately needed. About a minute into overtime, he took a puck at his own blue line, came up the ice defended by John Gilmour and threw on the brakes, did a spin move and came alone into the slot where his shot beat goalie Alexandar Georgiev. It was the second overtime winner of the season for Schenn.
“He looked like a pretty quick defenseman there,” Schenn said. “I was kind of skating stride for stride with him and felt like I wasn’t going to beat him. Just tried to turn up, pull to the middle and I was able to beat him off the wall.”
“That’s a pretty dynamic goal,” Yeo said. “That’s the purpose and the beauty of three-on-three hockey, it opens itself up for skilled players to make skilled plays and that’s what he did there.”
The goal wouldn’t have been possible if Jake Allen didn’t make a pad save on Chris Kreider shortly before — “It was more of a desperation save than anything,” Allen said — and if Alex Pietrangelo hadn’t scored a power-play goal early in the third period.
The Blues, who dominated the first period and then let the lead slip away in the second , had two power plays before that, running their drought there to 15 chances without a goal. On their two in the first period, they didn’t even get a shot on goal. And then they got their chance in the third when Paul Carey went off for slashing.
“When we got that power play, I think everybody thought this was our chance right here,” forward Alexander Steen said.
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With the power play almost over, Pietrangelo took a shot from the blueline. Steen was screening Georgiev on the play and after letting leads of 1-0 and 2-1 get away, the Blues had gotten even.
“Steener did a great job there,” said Pietrangelo, who had two goals and an assist. “Schwartzy giving me a lane there to shoot. It’s a good job there by them when they’re in front of the net. It’s easy to see the back of the net and I just found a hole.”
The Blues have nine goals in the past three games. Four are from defensemen and two are from the fourth line.
“We don’t care who scores them,” Yeo said. “Defensemen, forwards, goalies, whatever. Any pucks that go in the net is a good thing.”
Just like any win is a good thing.