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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It Is Time to Give St. Louis Much More Respect, Because They are One of the NHL's Top Teams

The playoffs are a different story but for now at least, you can reasonably conclude that the Blues (21-11-4) are one of the best teams in the NHL. St. Louis came to Boston for the second night of a back-to-back (they choked away a 3-goal lead in a 4-3 loss in Philly) and they impressively beat the Bruins (19-10-4) 2-0 at TD Garden. It was Boston's first regulation loss since December 7 (3-2 vs. Nashville) and it cost them a chance at first place in the Atlantic Division after Montreal (20-13-3) lost 2-1 to Minnesota. Still, the B's are only one point back of the Habs with a game in hand. Who would have predicted that after their respective starts?

Goaltender Jake Allen made 32 saves for his fifth shutout of the season (tying him with Corey Crawford for the league lead) and 10th of his NHL career. Budding superstar right wing Vladimir Tarasenko tied Dallas' Jamie Benn for the NHL lead with his 22nd goal of the season and rookie Robby Fabbri added the insurance tally.

This was the first time that Boston was blanked in 2015-16 so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it was also the first instance where they didn't have a single power play. When you have the top-ranked power play in the NHL, not giving them at least one chance figures to be an issue. Additionally, they didn't crash the net with their typical fervor, meaning that Allen's shutout could not have been the hardest one of his life.

It was 0-0 after the first period and the only power play of the game occurred late in the second period when Brett Connolly stuck his leg own and tripped a Blues player. St. Louis' power play couldn't take advantage and it was 0-0 after two. There were some chances in that frame as Alexander Steen had hit the post, the Blues bungled a 2-on-1 and Allen stuffed Marchand's backhander following a juicy rebound.

Tyler Randell and Ryan Reaves had a heavyweight bout early in the third that got the crowd into it. A defensive breakdown by Boston led to a breakaway for Tarasenko at 7:35 and the MVP candidate did what he does. Magnus Paajarvi and David Backes (USA, USA, USA!) had the assists. Fabbri's goal at 12:50 was an absolute snipe over Tuukka Rask's (27 saves) shoulder. Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester had the helpers on Fabbri's seventh goal of the season. Truthfully there was nothing that Rask could have done better on either tally, they were simply outstanding plays by talented players.

The B's used their timeout with 2:38 left in regulation and they pulled Rask shortly after that but it wasn't to be. St. Louis earned a big two points that propelled them to second-place in the stacked Central Division and second-place in the Western Conference. The entire NHL is off for the next three days and Boston returns with a back-to-back on Saturday (7, NESN) vs. Buffalo (14-16-4) and Sunday (5, NESN) at Ottawa (17-12-5). It is surprising but they have yet to play either of those Atlantic Division foes so far this campaign, which makes those two particular games mighty important in the old Eastern Conference standings.

Happy Holidays everybody!

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