St. Louis Blues (45-21-7) at Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-10)
|Date & Time||Tuesday March 24, 2015, 7:00 PM (EDT)|
The Line: Pittsburgh Penguins / St. Louis Blues --- Over/Under:
|TV Channel||Stream NHL games all season on ESPN+ for only $4.99 a month. Sign up now!|
With a losing streak causing a lot of stress for the organization, the Pittsburgh Penguins finally found a way to pull out a victory on Saturday night. Pittsburgh had lost four straight games by a combined score of 11-2 and missed their opportunity to really take a stranglehold on home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. More than that the Penguins have allowed a black cloud of doubt to continue to hang over their fan base as they head toward the post season. While general manager Jim Rutherford made some moves in the off season and pre-trade deadline that made many Penguins fans smile, he also made some others that left people scratching their heads. Trading Simon Depres to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy is one of those moves that is really hard to understand from a Penguins perspective, and it hasn’t seemed to benefit the club at all. Saturday night in Arizona against the woeful Coyotes the Penguins needed a lucky bounce and they finally got one. Trailing 1-0 after allowing a shorthanded goal in the opening period, the Penguins cashed in unconventionally in the second. With Pittsburgh on the man advantage they dumped the puck into the offensive zone hoping to outnumber Arizona’s defense, but it was Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith that found his way to the puck first. Normally reliable as a puck handler, Smith turned and decided to shoot the puck up the center of the ice as he was being pressured. Brandon Sutter turned to avoid being struck, but the puck hit Sutter in the back and ricocheted into an empty net to tie the game and get the Penguins on the board. Less than three minutes later it was Daniel Winnik redirected a point shot from Kris Letang after Sidney Crosby won an offensive zone faceoff to give the Penguins the lead. Crosby would add an empty net goal in the third period to seal the 3-1 win. It wasn’t pretty in any way, but the Penguins needed that victory in the worst way possible. Now they’ve got to step up in class when they host the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.
St. Louis heads into this meeting with Pittsburgh on a downswing of their own. The Blues had a golden opportunity to put significant distance between themselves and Chicago and Nashville for the division title, but instead have allowed both of those teams to stay in play. After three consecutive losses the Blues currently lead the Predators by just one point in the Central and their five point lead over the Blackhawks looks tenuous as well with Chicago’s two games in hand. No matter what happens to the Blues down the stretch there isn’t going to be an easy opponent waiting for them in the opening round. Facing off against Nashville or Chicago could spell another early round exit for this franchise, and playing the red hot Minnesota Wild might be a recipe for disaster as well. Brian Elliot might have the numbers that make him look like a No. 1 goaltender, but anyone who has watched him play knows that he can’t be trusted. Jake Allen got the start for St. Louis on Sunday and played well, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Blues’ lack of offense. Alexander Steen gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead in the second period with his 23rd goal of the season coming on the power play, but the lead was squandered just 24 seconds into the third. Both clubs played a safe, defensive type of third period but it ultimately backfired on the Blues. Patrik Berglund was whistled for tripping with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, and the Red Wings were able to bang a rebound by Allen in overtime to send St. Louis to a 2-1 defeat.
These two clubs are both struggling a bit here as we head toward the end of the season. Pittsburgh found a way to get a win on Saturday night, but they looked just as bad against the Coyotes as they have in their recent losses. The Blues have been blowing games as well, but they’re still the much better club overall.