The Blues got a break, got a scare and got a bounce on Thursday night, the end result being a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks in which the team and its fans moved from darkest fear to shining moment in a matter of about 30 minutes.
That was about how much time passed between when Vladimir Tarasenko, he of the eight-year, $60 million contract and the highlight-reel goals, another one of which he had on Thursday, left the ice skating very gingerly after taking an elbow to the face and a knee to the knee and when he returned at the start of the third period. He got a big roar upon his return and showed no signs of any trouble at all.
“I feel good,” he said. Then he noted the ovation he got when he emerged from the tunnel to the dressing room and returned to the ice. “It was pretty loud. Thanks for the fans.”
It wasn’t just the fans who felt great to see Tarasenko coming back. His teammates celebrated too.
“It’s uplifting,” forward Steve Ott said. “He’s our No. 1 player, and when you see your No. 1 player go down, it’s the worst thought possible because of how valuable he is to the club, let alone the league. For us to know he’s all right, that’s valuable minutes you can’t replace.”
So far, there hasn’t been much ordinary about the Blues’ young season. The game-winning goal was scored by rookie defenseman Colton Parayko, who actually missed on the play. His shot went wide but it bounced off the end boards, came straight back and caught the skate of Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen and banked into the net.
It was the fourth goal of the season for Parayko, who leads all defensemen, not just rookies, in that category. He had 10 shots on goal in the game, a Blues rookie record and the most by any rookie since Alex Ovechkin did it in 2006. Admit it: You wouldn’t have thought there was any way Ovechkin and Parayko ended up in the same sentence this season.
“He’s around big points right now,” coach Ken Hitchcock said, “which is a good sign for us. He’s getting a lot of big points, timely points, timely goals, timely assists, whatever. He’s having a big impact with us right now.”
In another sign of how Parayko is fitting in with the rest of the team, he was getting medical attention after the game after colliding with Anaheim’s Chris Wagner with about 6 ½ minutes to go. The Blues were beating a path down the tunnel all game long for medical treatment. In addition to Tarasenko and Parayko, center David Backes also spent time in the room, missing part of the third period.
“Tell me about it,” Ott said. “Guys were shaking their head on the bench. It was almost like a Yahtzee can with guys missing shifts out there. Seeing guys go through the tunnel is never fun to see. It seems like it’s contagious. Hopefully it stops soon.”
“It just seems like it’s going to be that type of year,” Hitchcock said. “We’re going to have to live with injuries. … We just have to deal with it. We’re happy (Tarasenko) is back, and he really played hard in the third period, which is a good sign.”
Both Blues’ goals were not from the textbook. The Blues were down 1-0 in the second when the Ducks mounted a charge on the Blues’ end. But they turned it over deep in the Blues’ end and Ott had the puck. He looked up and it was like Christmas morning. There were Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera, who had just come on to the ice, moving toward Anaheim’s net and all alone. Ott’s long pass was right to Tarasenko, who passed it to Lehtera, who gave it back to Tarasenko to beat Andersen.
“All of a sudden, you see two superstars at the other end and they’re playing give and go,” Ott said. “What a heck of a goal. You can almost guarantee those guys are going to score.”
“That’s how the coaches teach us in Russia,” Tarasenko said. “If you go two on 0, just make a pass from the blue line and let the guy do whatever. I think it was my first two on 0 in my NHL career, so it was pretty fun.”
The scare came with 9 minutes to go in the second, when Anaheim center Shawn Horcoff crashed into Tarasenko on the end boards and the Blues wing went down and stayed down, finally getting up uneasily. He left skating on his on his own, but very cautiously and with help at his side. He missed the rest of the period but came back at the start of the third.
It stayed 1-1 until midway through the third period, a period in which the Blues outshot the Ducks 15-4 and which Hitchcock said could be the best period the Blues have played at home this season. Scott Gomez won a faceoff and Ty Rattie flicked it back to Parayko at the blue line for his shot that just missed, only it didn’t.
“I sympathize a little bit, but not really,” said Allen, who made 22 saves and got his second straight win. “A win’s a win, but it doesn’t matter how the puck goes in the net. It’s a lucky bounce but we’ll take it. He’s very deserving of it, he’s played so well. He’s getting some breaks and getting some goals, and huge goals. He’s played great.”