ST. LOUIS — Busch Stadium played host to the first outdoor NHL game in St. Louis and the Blues gave the hometown fans something to cheer about beyond the spectacle.
Entering the game, the big story was the rain. With a puck drop temperature of 46.7 degrees, it was the second warmest outdoor game on record and the rain had the potential to turn ice conditions treacherous.
“The first was tough, obviously with the rain,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. “Your stick gets wet. Everything is puddling around. I think once the rain stopped in the second period and everything froze over, it actually wasn’t too bad.”
— NHL (@NHL) January 2, 2017
With the Blackhawks only leading the division by a single point over the Minnesota Wild and the Blues in a distant third, the two points on the line were significant, even if the focus was a huge event showcasing how big of a hockey town St. Louis has become.
Chicago broke the seal early, with Michal Kempny tallying his second goal of the season just 1:02 into the game. That’s the second-fastest goal to be scored in an NHL game, behind a Colby Armstrong goal that came just 21 seconds into the 2008 Winter Classic.
Maybe it was the scale of the game, but the Blues struggled to find their feet in opening minutes. However, they started to pull it together as the first wore on and they were able to establish a consistent forecheck.
“I think we did a good job as a group of six back there limiting the second opportunities, that was something that we made sure of,” said Pietrangelo. “You could see the bounces, you didn’t know what was going to happen, a little unpredictable, you look at that first one. So that was a bit of an eye opener for us.”
It didn’t take too long for the Blues to knot things up at one. Patrik Berglund posted his sixth of the season on a one-timer from Jay Bouwmeester, causing an eruption in Busch Stadium from the sell-out crowd of 46,556.
Things began getting chippy in the second, right up until a Robby Fabbri boarding penalty. After that infraction, the chippiness dissipated, but the power play remained a big story for the Blues.
The Blackhawks entered the game with the second-worst penalty kill in the league and gave the Blues ample opportunity to take advantage with three minor penalties in the opening two frames. The Blues
finished both periods on the power play but failed to pull any momentum as they crossed the field to the locker room.
Tarasenko returned in the third as a man possessed, determined to score a goal. He started the period with a breakaway that ended in a blocker save for Corey Crawford. Then he pinged one off the pipe on yet another failed power play chance for the Blues.
The Crawford save might have loomed large were it not for an outstanding glove save by Blues netminder Jake Allen during a Chicago power play.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) January 2, 2017
The breakaway save by Crawford was also negated by Tarasenko finally beating him a little more than halfway through the third. The Russian winger intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and led a 3-on-1 that ended in a Tarasenko pass ricocheting off the skate of Niklas Hjalmarsson and past Crawford.
Just 1:53 later Tarasenko would net his second of the game with a chip past Crawford’s glove.
“He’s a hungry offensive player,” coach Ken Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. “He’s a guy that he sniffs out weaknesses or he sniffs out coverage issues and he jumps on it. And when he’s engaged like he was today and like he’s been for the most part of this year, he’s dangerous, because he’s one shift away from breaking the thing wide open.”
With an empty-net goal by Alexander Steen, the Blues would march to a 4-1 win over the division rivals. “We always seem to get a little bit of a different feel in our games against the Blackhawks,” said Kevin Shattenkirk after the game. “For us, it was a team that we are chasing. They’re the top team in our division, top team in the West. That was a team that we feel we have to catch. Most importantly, it was just a critical game.”
CHI— Michal Kempny (2) assisted by Artemi Panarin (24) and Duncan Keith (25)
STL— Patrik Berglund (6) assisted by Jay Bouwmeester (7) and Alexander Steen (16)
STL— Vladimir Tarasenko (17) assisted by Robby Fabbri (13)
STL— Vladimir Tarasenko (18) assisted by Jori Lehtera (7) and Robby Fabbri (14)
STL— Alexander Steen (4)
THW Three Stars
First: Vladimir Tarasenko
Second: Jake Allen
Third: Duncan Keith
Carolina Hurricanes at St. Louis Blues
Scottrade Center, 8 p.m. EST on January 5
Broadcast Channels: FS-MW, FS-SE/p>
Buffalo Sabres at Chicago Blackhawks
United Center, 8:30 p.m. EST on January 5
Broadcast Channels: NBCSN, CSN-CH