CHICAGO • Go figure: A team that allowed so many goals this season with the opponent’s goaltender pulled for an extra attacker scored the biggest goal of its season under opposite circumstances.
“It all evens out, that stuff,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock beamed afterwards.
With the Blues’ playoff predicament disintegrating, Blues goalie Brian Elliott headed to the bench for a six-on-five advantage with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining in regulation, and four seconds later, Vladimir Tarasenko tied the score with his 38th goal of the season.
That Tarasenko goal sent the game to overtime, which earned the Blues a point and guaranteed them to host the first round of the playoffs at Scottrade Center. Then, Tarasenko’s second of the game with 1:23 left in OT capped a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Blackhawks, leaving the Blues with a chance to still win the Western Conference on the final day of their regular season Saturday.
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The Blues and Dallas remain tied with 107 points after Thursday’s games, including the Stars’ 4-2 win over Colorado. The Blues host Washington on Saturday, while Dallas will welcome Nashville; the Blues will have to finish with one more point than Dallas to win the conference because the Stars own the tie-breaker with more regulation/overtime wins (ROWs).
“We’ve got a lot to play for, both Dallas and us do,” Hitchcock said. “Home-ice, it’s not just home-ice for one series. It’s home-ice for a lot. So there’s lots at stake.”
A loss in regulation Thursday would have crowned Dallas division champs. The Blues didn’t even know how the Stars had fared when they met the media in the locker room afterwards.
“No idea if Dallas won or not,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who was told the Stars were victorious. “Well, there you go. Still one more game, (but) we had to win this game to give ourselves a chance on Saturday to pass them. We did just that.”
The Blues were on the verge of being shut out for the sixth time this season, after managing 15 goals in their last three games.
That’s when Tarasenko, with Elliott on the bench, scored his 38th of the season, setting a career high. Kevin Shattenkirk put a blast on net and the rebound off goalie Scott Darling went directly to Tarasenko, who tied the game 1-1.
It was only the third time this season the Blues had scored with their goalie pulled, compared to 10 for the opposition.
Then in OT, Tarasenko completed a superb passing sequence to finish off Chicago. Paul Stastny brought possession into the zone, dropped a pass for Pietrangelo, who left it for Tarasenko.
“I was thinking about changing, but Paul gave me that look like he was going to hit me,” Pietrangelo said. “When 91 is calling for it, you give it to him.”
Tarasenko had the easy tap in, wrapping up #Roarbacon Jr., as Blues announcer John Kelly creatively described on Fox Sports Midwest.
“I was calling for it and thanks for ‘Petro’ to give it to me,” he said. “It was good plays on my two goals by my linemates and teammates.”
Elliott made it possible, too, with a save on Chicago's Andrew Ladd on a penalty shot with 4:58 remaining in regulation. He also made three saves in overtime, including a breakaway on Patrick Kane. He finished with 24 to win his 11th consecutive decision; he's won seven straight on the road.
“We had a tough time generating stuff, but they did a good job, you’ve got to tip your hat to them,” Elliott said. “But we stuck with it and whenever you do that, you always give yourselves a chance.”
The two-goal rally offset what appeared would be a Chicago win on a goal by Jonathan Toews in the second period.
Toews scored the Blackhawks' goal four on four after the Blues failed on back-to-back second-period power plays, in which their unit combined for just one shot on goal.
When the game returned to full strength, the Blues made a change to their forward combinations, moving Jaden Schwartz up with Stastny and Troy Brouwer and dropping Magnus Paajarvi down with Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin.
The Blues, though, couldn’t manufacture any offense playing five on five, and with coincidental penalties on Tarasenko (hooking) and Richard Panik (embellishment), the teams went to four on four with 7:47 left in the period.
The Blues sent out Berglund, Paajarvi, Jay Bouwmeester and Shattenkirk, while the Hawks put out Toews, Kane, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Brent Seabrook.
Berglund won the ensuing faceoff against Toews, but Toews would get the best of Berglund by the end of the shift.
Chicago reset the play with van Riemsdyk holding the puck behind his own net. He came out the left side and sent a saucer to Toews, who carried the puck into the zone with little pressure from Berglund. Toews sent the puck across the ice to Kane, who sized up the situation. He then spotted Toews skating to the net, leaving Berglund long behind, and hit him with a return pass.
Toews took advantage, burying a 20-foot wrist shot through the legs of Elliott. That goal ended a stalemate that was nearly 33 minutes old.
Chicago had its goal and the Blues answered with their two, late in the third and then in OT — both from Tarasenko.
His first was his 11th of the year tying the score, and his second was his 16th giving the Blues a lead, meaning 27 of his 39 have happened in one of those two fashions.
The Blues now possess home-ice advantage and a chance to win the conference, but in Tarasenko’s mind they should be dreaming about much more.
“I think we need to think more about winning the Stanley Cup,” he said. “We just need to win every game. So just go and do what you can do.”