Canucks denied by inspired Blues
The St. Louis Blues scored a pair of goals less than two minutes apart midway through the second period and never trailed again in a 3-1 road victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.
David Backes scored his second goal of the game at 11:48 of the middle period, followed 87 seconds later by Keith Tkachuk.
St. Louis is 5-4 in December, but the losses have been painful. The Blues squandered a three-goal lead on Dec. 11 against Edmonton, and coach Andy Murray said his team let the fans down with a 6-3 home loss against Tampa Bay on Friday.
They were clearly up to the task on Sunday at GM Place, with goalie Ty Conklin outstanding in net with 28 saves.
For whatever reason, the Blues are a looser team away from Scottrade Center. They improved to 9-3-3 on the road, compared with a 6-11-2 ledger at home.
The Canucks are finding out that their extended homestand is no picnic. Vancouver has won four generally tough games while dropping two.
The losses have come to the Blues and Anaheim Ducks, two teams near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault scoffed at the suggestion the Canucks are losing to weak clubs.
"I don't know how anybody could suggest the team we played against today is not a good team, and I don't know how anybody can suggest Anaheim's not a good team," Vigneault said. "Those are basically the same teams as last year, and they [were] two playoff teams.
"We're in a tough conference and sometimes you out there and you bust a gut and you don't play as well as you can, but it's not from lack of trying."
Shane O'Brien scored the lone goal for Vancouver (20-16-0). Henrik Sedin had his nine-point streak snapped, and the Canucks went 0-for-4 on the power play.
Roberto Luongo finished with 23 saves in net.
Backes scored one second shy of the three-minute mark of the opening period, a power-play goal. The Canucks turned it over at the St. Louis blue-line and the Blues quickly worked the puck up ice.
The Blues received a fortuituous bounce once they set up shop in the Vancouver end, with Paul Kariya's pass attempt going off Backes and past Luongo.
Canucks forward Tanner Glass tested Conklin early, while Luongo was forced to make a pad save on Tkachuk.
Conklin got over quickly enough for Kevin Bieksa's bid, but he wasn't as fortunate with O'Brien's shot from a similar spot. The defenceman's shot, taken while the teams were four skaters aside, trickled through Conklin and past the goal-line.
O'Brien hadn't scored in 102 previous regular-season games with Vancouver, although he did net a playoff goal in May.
On the same shift early in the second, Luongo had to make an arm save on Patrik Berglund, and watched as B.J. Crombeen's attempt hit the post.
Sami Salo tried a slapper from the point but couldn't beat Conklin while at the other end, Jesse Winchester blasted a shot from the left wing that forced Luongo to the ice.
The Blues then took over, their go-ahead goal originating from a Vancouver turnover.
Backes flew up the left side with the puck, getting the angle on Bieksa and switching from backhand to forehand to slip the puck by Luongo as he crossed the crease.
St. Louis dumped the puck deep on the next goal, and it bounced wildly off the back of the Vancouver net and out front. Luongo couldn't handle it with his stick, and Blues forward Brad Boyes passed over to Tkachuk for an easy putaway.
The Canucks applied the pressure late in the period, but Mason Raymond and Steve Bernier couldn't get clean shots off.
"In the second they came on a little bit stronger and they had a good push … and played a real solid system that forced us into a couple of turnovers that hurt us," said Vigneault.
Vancouver didn't come particularly inspired in the third, with Jay McClement allowed to cruise in for a rebound chance that Luongo stopped.
The GM Place crowd got a temporary buzz with the puck in the back of the St. Louis net, but were greatly displeased by the outcome. The puck went off Blues defenceman Barret Jackman and in, but it was ruled that the original volley came from a distinct kicking motion from Vancouver forward Alex Burrows.
"I looked at the replay, and yes, Alex does turn his foot. It goes off his foot and then there's a forward motion, but not on the initial deflection," said Vigneault.
While it appeared that Burrows was trying to heel the puck over to a teammate and not direct it at the net, the call stood.
The Blues took consecutive penalties not long after the contested call, but couldn't close the gap. Daniel Sedin had a shot from point-blank range, but Conklin made the save.
The St. Louis goaltender then was in position for Bernier's bid with Luongo on the bench, the puck deflecting off his stick and over the glass.
St. Louis (15-14-5) will play on Monday in Edmonton, the team they pushed to the bottom of the West standings with the win. Vancouver plays the second-last game of their current homestand Tuesday against Nashville.