You almost have to feel sorry for the Blues. They finally figured out how to contain Chris Stewart, got a full game out of Chris Mason, faced a rusty Peter Budaj and essentially kicked the living snot out of the Avalanche for most of the game. And they still lost.
For the 2nd game in a row, the Avalanche got a win they didn't really deserve. It was a big win, though, as it moved the Avalanche into 5th in the Conference standings and away (for now) from a potentially killer opening-round playoff round against the Canucks. They also pulled 9 points ahead of the #9 seed in the West - a team (Calgary) that we'll be playing in less than 24 hours.
St Louis didn't waste much time, scoring just 8 seconds in (tying a franchise record for fastest goal to start a game). Although the Blues dominated much of the first period, they couldn't get another one past a shaky-looking Peter Budaj (Exhibit A as to why you don't sit a backup goaltender for almost two months). Budaj found himself out of position often, especially in the first half of the game, but posts, missed shots, lucky bounces and some timely saves kept the Blues from extending that early lead. With just over 5 to go in the 1st, Peter Mueller rifled a rocket past Mason on the powerplay to tie the game and then Matt Duchene drew 4 St Louis players to him before feeding Milan Hejduk in front to give the Avs an improbably 2-1 lead after 1.
In almost a carbon copy of the start of the game, Patrick Berglund scored just 34 seconds into the 2nd period to tie the game up and the Avalanche caught a huge break a few minutes later when Keith Tkachuk's goal was waved off due to a questionable interference call on the Blues' DJ King. It was a bad call in my opinion, one of several tough breaks to the Blues in the season series against the Avs (a series that saw the Avs sweep for the first time in franchise history). Not long after the long goal, TJ Galiardi appeared to trip Barrett Jackman at the blueline - another call that didn't go St Louis' way. Galiardi kept control of the puck and, with Jackman on the ice, Stastny skated in unmolested to the slot. Galiardi found him to give the Avs a crucial goal, and a big 3-2 lead. Peter Mueller scored 90 seconds later to give the Avalanche a 4-2 lead and make every Avalanche fan in the world mutter "Wolski who?". David Perron scored a few minutes later to make it 4-3, and set up a very tense final 29 minutes of hockey.
There was still almost half of the game to play, and it was not pretty to watch. At all. The Avs didn't play well at the start of the game and got steadily worse as the game went on. They were outshot 30-14 in the final two periods, and that doesn't count the posts and wide open nets missed by the Blues. The Avs' best player in the 2nd half of the game was Budaj. Although the 3M line (Duchene, Mueller and Hejduk) was really strong early going, they were as flat as everyone else as the game drew on. The Avs looked like a team on the 2nd half of a back-to-back game, not the first. I can only imagine what they'll look like tomorrow. The Avs played TERRIBLE hockey for much of the game, and looked even worse trying to protect a 1-goal lead for almost 30 minutes. It is amazing that St Louis couldn't tie it up (Paul Kariya, looking for his 400th career goal was oh-so-close on a number of occasions). Peter Budaj didn't make the stars list tonight, but he deserves a stick tap from everyone else in the locker room.
Chris Stewart scored a late goal to ice the game. Stewart scored his 12th point against the Blues this year - tying a record held by a couple of other players. Stewie had 2 points in the game but was a non-factor for much of the game. Actually, I felt this was one of his worst games of the season. He'll take the 2 points, though, and the Avalanche will certainly take their 2 points. Neither earned it, in my opinion. Here's hoping there's a little effort to be found under the rainbow tomorrow.