Blues edge Pens in battle of elites
ST. LOUIS -- Some consider the Pittsburgh Penguins meeting the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup finals to be a pretty good bet in the playoffs after this regular season.
If Saturday's meeting between the two teams is any indication, that would be a heck of a series.
The Blues prevailed 2-1 at Scottrade Center in the first of two regular season meetings this season.
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored the game-winner, his first goal of the season, with 9:08 remaining. Shattenkirk simply flipped the puck at the net from the right point, and it squirted through the five-hole and under Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Blues right winger Vladimir Tarasenko might have distracted Fleury on the play. Tarasenko was in front of the net and tried to deflect the shot and appeared to miss. Fleury appeared to have the shot covered, but it trickled under him and in.
"We think someone might have tipped it, but for now, I'll take it," said Shattenkirk, who acknowledged that the scoring might be changed at some point. "We'll see what happens when I wake up tomorrow."
For his part, Fleury didn't know how that shot sneaked in.
"I don't know; I've got to see it again," he said, before asking, "Who got the goal? Was it the guy in front? I want to see it again."
But he might like to have it back.
"It was a long shot, though," he said.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma also wondered who got the goal.
"We looked at it several times and can't definitively say whether it did (get deflected) or not," he said. "It kind of goes by Tarasenko there. We can't tell."
Whatever, the puck went into the net, the red light went on, and the Blues won the tight, hard-fought game -- one of the best teams in the Western Conference vs. one of the best in the East.
"The game was almost as expected -- the tightness of the game and the matchups," Bylsma said. "And there wasn't a lot out there. That game was identical to the way that you'd expect both of those teams to play."
Right winger Ryan Reaves also scored for the Blues, who have lost just twice in regulation this season and are 11-2-2 for 22 points -- matching the best start in franchise history. They also were 11-2-2 in the 1997-98 and 1993-94 seasons, but that was in the time before shootouts. The Blues have two shootout wins this season.
Left winger Jussi Jokinen scored for the Penguins, who fell to 11-6 for 22 points
The Blues limited the high-flying Penguins to just 20 shots on goal, outshooting them 32-20 and keeping NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby off the board.
"They are probably the best in the league playing this defensive-minded, checking game," Jokinen said. "We still generated enough chances to score three or four goals, but we didn't bury those chances. ... There's only so many chances you get these games. We had to find a way to get those two, three, four goals. We played pretty good. We didn't give them too much. But they are a good team."
The teams hadn't met at Scottrade Center since Jan. 24, 2012, when left winger Chris Kunitz netted the shootout winner in a 3-2 Penguins victory.
The game got off to a raucous start with Reaves and Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland squaring off after the opening faceoff, three seconds into the game.
"I felt like I had to get the crowd into it early," Reaves said. "I had a tough game last game, not very physical. I kind of brought that on myself to get the boys going. When I got that start ... he looked at me and I was ready to go. That's what I was hoping for."
The crowd loved it, but it precipitated an otherwise ho-hum first period, with the sides each finishing with nine shots. Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak made the save of the period, robbing Crosby on a breakaway after right winger T.J. Oshie's giveaway in the neutral zone.
Reaves lit the red lamp early in the second period, staking the Blues to a 1-0 lead. At 2:22, Reaves redirected from the mid-slot a pass from center Maxim Lapierre at the right point. Left winger Alexander Steen and Engelland were tussling in front of Fleury, screening the Penguins netminder.
Pittsburgh tied the score at 1 a little more than five minutes later at 8:06 on the power play. With Blues defenseman Roman Polak serving an interference minor, Jokinen put one behind Halak on a sweet pass from center Evgeni Malkn.
Halak's best stop was on the Crosby breakaway. Otherwise the Blues stifled the Penguins, who had only six shoys in the second period and five in the third.
"Across the board, we got a lot of good efforts from most people," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we got stronger and stronger as the game went on. The third period was our best, our second was awful good, too. We played a really smart, hard hockey game."
NOTES: With D Jordan Leopold (hand) sidelined, the Blues inserted D Ian Cole into the lineup for his third game of the season. Cole played on the third pairing with D Roman Polak. ... LW Chris Porter replaced LW Adam Cracknell in the Blues lineup and skated on a line with C Maxim Lapierre and RW Ryan Reaves. Cracknell was a healthy scratch. ... LW Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) and LW Brenden Morrow (ribs) are on IR for the Blues. ... LW-RW James Neal (upper body) and RW-LW Beau Bennett (lower body) returned to the Penguins lineup. Neal, who had missed 15 games, played on the right side with C Evgeni Malkin and LW Jussi Jokinen. Bennett, who had missed 11 games, skated on the left side with C Brandon Sutter and RW Matt D'Agostini. D Paul Martin (undisclosed), C Dustin Jeffrey and C Jayson Megna were scratches. D'Agostini returned to the lineup after sitting out four games as a healthy scratch. ... RW Chuck Kobasew (lower body), D Rob Scuderi, (ankle) and G Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) are on IR for the Penguins. ... The family of C Joe Vitale, who hails from St. Louis, hosted the Penguins for an Italian dinner Friday night.