ST. LOUIS – Brian Elliott gave the St. Louis Blues another shootout shutdown. Coach Ken Hitchcock said it never should have gone that far, criticizing officials for missing a boarding call that led to the tying goal.
Hitchcock was so incensed after Elliott stopped all three shootout chances in the Blues’ 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night that he was whistled for a 10-minute misconduct. He said Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo was checked from behind “almost to the fifth row” by the Coyotes’ Martin Hanzal, freeing the puck from a scrum in the corner just before Radim Vrbata’s power-play goal with 1:07 to go.
“There’s no ice in the fifth row last I looked,” Hitchcock added. “From behind.”
Hitchcock had no quarrel with a cross-checking penalty to Blues captain David Backes that gave the Coyotes a late power play.
“You can’t take that penalty at that time and he knows it, OK?” Hitchcock said. “That’s not the one that bothers me. Never mind they scored a goal, we could have lost the player, and that bothers me.”
Unlike Hitchcock, Pietrangelo skirted controversy.
“I’m not going to talk about the end of the game,” Pietrangelo said. “You guys probably want to hear something. It wasn’t our best effort, but we found a way to win.”
Elliott stopped all three chances in a shootout for the second straight game, bouncing back from the late goal that denied him a fourth shutout this month.
Andy McDonald was the first to go in the shootout and got the only goal, beating Chad Johnson. He’s 4 for 4 on the season. Johnson made his fourth start of the season after being recalled from the minors earlier in the week.
“Every time he comes in he plays great,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of Johnson. “Too bad we couldn’t help him out more in the shootout.”
David Perron scored his first goal in 17 games for the offensively challenged Blues, who have scored two or fewer goals in 12 of their last 16 games. They’ve won 10 of those games thanks to tight defence and strong play in goal. They are 5-1 in shootouts.
Elliott clinched it with a glove save against Oliver Ekman-Larsson, whose pass from the boards set up the tying goal. Elliott also stopped three straight chances by the Canucks in a 2-1 shootout victory Tuesday night.
“I’d rather win it in regulation,” Elliott said. “Getting that first goal is huge in the shootout, it gives you a little breathing room.”
Several players were bunched in one corner when Ekman-Larsson dug the puck loose and fed it to a wide-open Vrbata, who faked his forehand and beat Elliott with a backhander.
“It was a gritty performance,” Tippett said. “We were desperate for points and at times we were really strong in the game.”
The Blues have 52 points with five games to go, all but one at home. They entered seventh in the Western Conference and jumped a point ahead of Minnesota, which lost to San Jose.
The Coyotes have faint playoff hopes with 44 points for 11th in the conference, five points out of the last spot with five games to go.
Elliott, who was benched earlier in the season and sent on a conditioning stint in the minors, posted all three of his shutouts this season in successive road games at Detroit, Nashville and Minnesota.
Before Vrbata’s late goal, the Coyotes’ best chances came in late in the second period on shots off the goal post by Rob Klinkhammer and Zbynek Michalek.
The Blues swept the season series 3-0 from Phoenix, including a 6-3 victory at Phoenix on March 7 that matched their season best for goals. They played it considerably closer to the vest in this one.
“We can’t play like that at this time of the year,” Hitchcock said. “Even if you do get into the playoffs, there’s too many holes in your game.
“The goalie saved us tonight.”
Perron’s stick was high enough for a review on his first-period deflection of Backes’ shot from the point, but it was low enough to count for his first goal since March 12 against San Jose. He totalled four assists the previous 16 games and earned a point in consecutive games for the first time since he had two goals and three assists in a three-game span March 3-7 capped by a three-assist game at Phoenix.
Pietrangelo got the second assist, giving him points in consecutive games for the first time since tallying two goals and three assists in a three-game stretch March 5, 7 and 9 at Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose.
NOTES: The Coyotes have totalled five goals the last five games. … The Blues needed overtime to reach 30 shots for the fourth straight game. … Perron’s goal was the first by a Blues forward in four games. … Vrbata totalled one assist the previous four games. … Coyotes goalie Mike Smith missed his second straight game with a lower body injury.