As the rain fell heavily around the St. Louis area Friday afternoon and night, the local Blue Note skaters were able to keep the dark clouds from completely swallowing their season. You know what they say: there comes a time when players are looking at a tee time more than a puck drop, but for the time being, Blues fans can rest assured that those swings are at least a week away.
Big times call for big time players, and right when the Blues needed their studs to be great, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jake Allen rose to the challenge in their Game 2 triumph over the ferocious Nashville Predators. Nothing comes easy for the Blues, so when the Preds got out to a 1-0 lead on a flukey goal Friday night, the Blues needed output from their studs.
Let’s start with Tarasenko.
Before the game began, NBC Sports put up a graphic of Tarasenko and P. K. Subban’s playoff totals; it was like sounding an alarm over the Mississippi River. Subban’s three points in Game 1 alone equaled Tarasenko’s six game playoff total, so something had to change. Subban’s howitzer from the point changed Wednesday’s game, and his overall ability to disrupt the Blues on both ends of the ice triggered the Game 1 Predators triumph. Tarasenko, held to only two shots and never given the space he needed, was a non factor.
Before the first period could conclude Friday, Tarasenko made his presence felt, and it was classic Tank destruction. The Blues were on a power play, and Steen cycled the puck up to Alex Pietrangelo, who then dished it over to Tarasenko. He seemingly had a room alone to himself in the slot, and every NHL player knows that’s the kill zone for the sniper. He rifled a wrist shot over Rinne’s right shoulder, which perfectly utilized a Paul Stastny screen. Check it out, but grab a napkin first.
It was like Steve Martin telling Carol Kane in My Blue Heaven as they stood in the frozen food section at the grocery store: “You need to be careful, because you could melt all this stuff.” Tarasenko’s shot could melt the Scottrade with a single burst, but he wasn’t done yet.
Late in the game, with the score tied at 2 and overtime lurking, he capitalized on a play that developed so fast, a few replays were required to properly enjoy it.
Jaden Schwartz’s greatest tool is his breakout speed, and he gathers the puck across the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, holding the puck until he draws a Predator or two towards him. Right then, he sends the puck across the ice towards Tarasenko, but first, Joel Edmundson must play Landon Donovan and kick the puck to the Russian for a one timer that Rinne had no chance to set up for. It was like a sword fight breaking out, but one guy had three swords and the other guy had a knife. No chance.
Did I mention Schwartz didn’t even look when he passed? That is the work of a devilish ginger right there.
Then, Jake Allen went to work.
The Wild did this time and time again; enter the zone, assemble an attack, and unleash shot after shot on Allen. Nashville, through two games, has done the same thing. They get set up, smother the defense, and unleash everything that isn’t stuck to the ice or a bench. Allen stopped 92 percent of the shots Friday night, but he saved his best for last as the Predators closed in with under 120 seconds left and down 3-2.
The Predators came at him like the series was 3-2 Blues and not just the game, and Allen just kept stopping shots. Post to post and crossbar insured, Allen simply wouldn’t break.
Before the Tarasenko difference maker, Subban had a chance to give Nashville the lead, and he missed the net on a point blank opportunity from the right dot. While one may fault the defenseman for missing out, Allen’s aggressiveness paid off in moving out of the crease and cutting down Subban’s shooting lane. My fellow scribe from Philly-Dillon Friday-broke it down:
@buffa82 to be fair that's great goaltending from Allen to come out of his crease and get square. No space there— Dillon Friday (@noclassfriday) April 29, 2017
*The Blues did a helluva job of making it hard for Nashville’s defenseman to get their shots to the net, blocking 24 shots and helping their netminder. In Game 1, the Blues could only manage four registered blocks, which broke the levees on Allen. Game 2 was a different story.
*Penalty reduction. For the entire 46 hour break between games, Blues fans and writers stressed that the team couldn’t take so many foolhardy penalties. In Game 2, the Blues served one penalty and it was an off-setting one, so the Predators had zero power play time. The Predators served 23 penalty minutes, with the Vernon Fiddler knee to knee hit on Colton Parayko swinging the game back in St. Louis’ direction.
At the end of all of it, Tarasenko and Allen out-studded Subban and Rinne. When a big performance was needed for victory, the Russian superstar and the comeback kid of the year showed up big time.
What happens in Game 3 Sunday? I wish I could tell you, but first, I’ll check the missing person report to see if David Perron has been found yet.