Blues forward Jaden Schwartz (17) watches his shot beat Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37). (Photo courtesy: Jeff Roberson, AP Photo)
ST. LOUIS – The Winnipeg Jets (21-15-3) and St. Louis Blues (26-8-6) got right back in action Sunday afternoon at Enterprise Center, with St. Louis coming out on top, 4-1. After the Blues and Jets traded blows on Saturday in a 5-4 overtime victory for St. Louis, the two teams faced off again for the second-last game of the calendar year. It was the Blues’ eighth straight victory this season, the highest of the 2019-20 season and longest active in the NHL.
After an intense start going both ways, Ryan O’Reilly broke the tie with his first goal on home ice this season, giving the Blues a 1-0 lead after the first. The Jets came out heated in the second period with dominant possession and chances, and new Jet Nick Shore scored his first goal in ten games to tie it.
The goal was a wakeup call for St. Louis as they got to their style of play in the second half of the period. After a bad line change, Alex Pietrangelo sent a stretch pass up the ice that put Jaden Schwartz in a 2-on-1 rush to score. St. Louis reclaimed the one-goal lead after multiple goalposts on the Jets powerplay saved them late.
Robert Thomas scored a wicked goal on the powerplay to put the Blues up 3-1 in the third, and the Jets had another late powerplay, only to be stonewalled by Jordan Binnington for the remainder of the game. Jaden Schwartz tallied another with the empty net, and Binnington took his 19th win of the season making 25 saves.
Captain Alex Pietrangelo’s assist on the first goal put him on top for all-time assists with the Blues franchise, passing legendary Blue Al MacInnis. “Little awkward walking around the room, now,” he joked as the fans gave him a big standing ovation.
The Blues can wrap up the calendar year with a 9th straight victory on New Year’s Eve at 8pm CT, facing the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale. Winnipeg also plays New Year’s Eve, facing the division rival Colorado Avalanche.
The Blues and Jets picked up right where they left off to start the game and went to work north-south the entirety of the period. Neither team could trap the opponent in the neutral zone, leading to rush plays back and forth on the ice. Both defenses kept the chances under wraps, and goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Jordan Binnington mopped up the rest for the majority of the period.
After getting snakebit on home ice for almost half the season, Ryan O’Reilly broke the tie in St. Louis. All five blues skaters contributed to the rush as Oskar Sundqvist’s shot was blocked in the slot, teeing up Alex Pietrangelo. The rebound fell right to Hellebuyck’s stick side and O’Reilly cashed in on the open rebound.
With under six minutes to play in the first, the Blues took a 1-0 lead. Alex Pietrangelo’s assist on the play gave him the top spot for Blues’ all-time assists (326), passing retired Blue Al MacInnis.
Neither team lowered the intensity in the remaining minutes, but O’Reilly’s eighth of the year was the lone goal through 20. With a late powerplay, Winnipeg hit two goalposts just seconds apart, but couldn’t put a goal in late. After 1, the Blues and Jets shot total was dead even, 7 all.
The Jets came out with much more urgency in the second period, dominating possession time and rush chances. They caught St. Louis on their heels for the first nine minutes of the period, as the Blues failed to get one shot on net in that time frame.
As the chances mounted, one finally broke through Jordan Binnington. Logan Shaw stripped the puck from Robert Bortuzzo in the offensive zone and made a great cross-ice feed to Nick Shore, who one-timed it perfectly in the net.
Shore’s third of the season tied the game five minutes into the period. The goal was a wakeup call for the Blues, as they began to ramp up the physicality and the forechecking in their own zone, as the ice slowly tilted in their favor.
As the Jets were in the middle of a poor line change, Alex Pietrangelo nailed a stretch pass from behind the net right to Brayden Schenn. He fed Jordan Kyrou for a 2-on-1 rush as Schwartz buried it five-hole on Connor Hellebuyck.
The Blues went back on top thanks to Schwartz’s 12th of the season, with five minutes to play in the middle frame. The Blues continued to drive the momentum after the goal, but Winnipeg was granted another powerplay opportunity late in the period. The Jets dinged another goalpost in attempt to tie the game, and superstar Patrik Laine was denied by Jordan Binnington off a great one-timer.
Laine would also take a penalty, giving the Blues a short powerplay advantage to start the third. After two, the Blues maintained a one-goal lead, while getting outshot 14-18.
The Blues used their powerplay to dictate their pace early in the third period, but the penalty killers for Winnipeg came up strong. Jordan Binnington continued to stand pat in his net, making crucial saves in the beginning of the final period.
The Blues were granted a powerplay just five minutes into the period, and Robert Thomas scored a brilliant goal after Vince Dunn’s point blast bounced off of Hellebuyck’s pads and left him sprawled out on the ice.
Thomas’ goal doubled the Blues lead, 3-1, and the Jets entered desperation mode. They laid an onslaught onto Jordan Binnington, who remained sharp as a tack as he had the entire year, making save after save. The Blues sealed the deal by killing off one final Jets powerplay, with the goaltender pulled, in 6-on-4 hockey. Jaden Schwartz made an intercept at his blue line to bury the empty netter.
The Blues swept the home-at-home over the Jets by a final of 4-1, with Jordan Binnington making 25 saves. Jaden Schwartz scored a pair, as well as the game-winner, and captain Alex Pietrangelo took the all-time record in Blues’ assists.
The Ryan O’Reilly line was clicking this Sunday afternoon and in this win streak, as he, David Perron and Oskar Sundqvist have combined for 20 points since December 12.
“I think the staple of our game is being hard to play against. That’s where our game builds from, we know we’re gonna see a lot of top lines on teams, and we know we have to make it very difficult for them, and once we get in the O-zone, that’s when we get creative,” O’Reilly said to Darren Pang. “I think it’s worked really well, we’ve been holding onto the puck a lot, getting some great opportunities.”
“ROR” also gave high praise to coach Craig Berube, who has become a potential candidate for the coach of the Central Division All-Star team. “It’s amazing the kind of pulse ‘Chief’ has on everything. Being able to read the situation, know when it’s time to [get it going], or make a little adjustment to get a spark,” O’Reilly continued.
“I think with the core group of guys that have been here a while, and what they’ve established, you’re expected to play hard. With that, I think it makes everything good, and Chief is able to manage us the right way.”
The Blues wrap up the calendar year with the top spot in the Western conference, as they head to Arizona to face the Arizona Coyotes on New Years’ Eve. Puck drops at 9pm ET, to follow the game’s action, tune in to:
STL: FSMW, ESPN 101.1, Fox Sports GO, NHL.com
ARI – FS-A, KTAR 620, NHL.com
For local Blues stories, recaps, insights and more, visit bluesrants.com!