Connolly, Panthers Edge Out the Blues, 2-1

Blues forward David Perron (57) and Panthers forward Colton Sceviour (7) get in a footrace to chase after the puck. (Photo courtesy: Jeff Roberson, AP Photo)

CONDENSED REPORT

ST. LOUIS – With playoff implications only getting stronger, the St. Louis Blues (41-19-10) dropped a critical 2 points, losing 2-1 against the Florida Panthers (35-26-8). St. Louis played a strong game in Enterprise Center for the majority of the first period, until they went on their own powerplay.

Florida played an aggressive penalty kill and forced the Blues way back, and even had a breakaway after the kill. However, both goaltenders – Jordan Binnington for St. Louis and Chris Dreidger for Florida – were superb in the game.

The Panthers continued to outshoot the Blues in the second period, but the forechecking work by Alex Steen contributed to Colton Parayko blasting in his 10th of the season to give St. Louis the first goal of the game midway through the second. However, the red-hot Panther Mike Hoffman scored his 29th of the year shortly after on the powerplay.

Aleksi Saarela got his second assist of the game after an awkward collision behind the net knocked Jordan Binnington off his pad and Brett Connolly scored on a wide-open net. The Blues threw everything but the kitchen sink at Dreidger for the next 15 minutes, but even a powerplay and an extra attacker couldn’t get the Blues a goal. Florida took a big two points over St. Louis in regulation by a 2-1 final.

“These are games we can win; we’re better than that, so not happy about this one,” Jordan Binnington said afterwards. “It’s the time of year where you can’t make excuses and you gotta find ways to win, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

The Blues head back to Anaheim to play the rescheduled game on Wednesday against the Ducks, while the Panthers head to Dallas to play the Stars on Thursday.

1ST PERIOD

St. Louis got off to a solid start in the game, as the third forward line of Robert Thomas, Tyler Bozak and Alex Steen created the best chances for the Blues early. However, up-and-coming Panthers goaltender Chris Dreidger was stellar in net to open the game, robbing a few solid shots from the Blues skaters. The Panthers were able to create some opportunities for themselves in their offensive end, but the Blues defensive pressure forced most high-danger chances away from the middle of the ice.

When they couldn’t make the defensive play, Jordan Binnington was there to clean up the mess. St. Louis went on a late powerplay, but looked worse than when they played at even strength. Florida neutral zone coverage and aggressive penalty kill helped contribute to several shorthanded chances for Florida, while St. Louis made some costly errors in their own zone.

The biggest save of the night came in the final minute of the period, when Mackenzie Weeger was sprung from the box for a breakaway, when Binnington made a jaw-dropping split save.

The best chance for the Panthers in the game finished off the first period, as both teams skated off of Enterprise ice scoreless. Florida and St. Louis were even in shots at 11 apiece.

2ND PERIOD

While the Panthers continued to outshoot the Blues, they remained vigilant on the backchecking and shutdown play from the defenders. The third line contributed to a great offensive setup down low as Alex Steen fought his way by two Panthers skated and got the puck up to Robert Thomas. Thomas lured two more Panthers to him and made a perfect feed to a wide-open Colton Parayko above the hash marks, who blasted a slapshot high glove side.

St. Louis got on the board first with 8:40 left to play in the period thanks to Parayko’s 10th of the season, but Marco Scandella took a questionable penalty after he was interfered by Mark Pysyk.

The Blues nearly had a shorthanded breakout on the penalty kill, but the Panthers made a great play at the line to keep it in. Mike Hoffman got the puck not once, but twice and managed to wire a shot perfectly beneath Jordan Binnington’s stick side.

Hoffman’s 29th of the season and 8th goal in 11 games tied the game, 1-1. Neither team could find the net in the final four minutes of play, and the Blues skated off tied once more. Florida put a myriad of shots on St. Louis in the second, outshooting them 16-7 in the period.

3RD PERIOD

The Blues and Panthers continued business as usual, with St. Louis restricting the Panthers to far fewer shots in the third. Off of a faceoff, an awkward check by Saarela knocked Vince Dunn into the back of the net, which shoved the post into the back of Jordan Binnington’s helmet. The sudden impact was enough to throw off Binnington and give Saarela a chance to pass to Brett Connolly, who scored his 19th on a helpless Binnington.

The Blues turned on the desperation switch after the fluky goal gave the Panthers the lead. They used their league-leading offensive possession to outplay the Panthers at 5-on-5, but goaltender Chris Dreidger protected his cage well from the Blues attackers. As time began to wind down, head coach Craig Berube began to switch up some of the Blues line combinations to get a spark going.

The Blues got a critical late-game powerplay, but the Panthers defense in front of Dreidger and down the middle in the slot was frustrating enough to block shots and get the kill. Head coach Craig Berube pulled Jordan Binnington for an extra attacker in the final 2:30 of the game. Despite being 6-on-5, the Blues couldn’t break the shot blocking Panthers or Chris Dreidger, and Florida skated off with a 2-1 win. Florida decimated the Blues in shots in the second, finishing with a total of 34 to St. Louis’ 27.

POSTGAME

It was a frustrating loss, but the Blues still put forth their maximum effort at the end of the game to try and salvage a point. “It’s always tough on a back-to-back,” Robert Thomas said after the loss. “We were in that game right until the end. They scored on a powerplay, we needed to score on our powerplay, so that’s what it came down to.”

“These are games we can win; we’re better than that, so not happy about this one,” Jordan Binnington said afterwards. “It’s the time of year where you can’t make excuses and you gotta find ways to win, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

The Blues can expect and emotional return to Anaheim to re-play the Ducks after Jay Bouwmeester’s cardiac episode stopped play in the first. The Panthers continue through the Midwest to play the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

For local Blues stories, recaps, insights and more, visit bluesrants.com!

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