DENVER – Ryan Miller used his head with the game on the line.
No, really, his head. Late in the game, the St. Louis goalie craned his neck into the air to block a shot, taking a puck square in the mask.
Anything for a win, especially this late in the season.
Miller stopped 26 shots, and David Backes broke up a scoreless game in the second period, helping the Blues beat the surging Avalanche 2-1 on Saturday in a Central Division showdown.
“I’m just trying to fit in,” Miller nonchalantly said. “I’m not here to save the day or anything.”
But he has excelled since being acquired from Buffalo last week. He is 4-0 thanks to plays like he made late in the third period with his team ahead by a goal.
Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog got loose in front, and while falling to one knee, tried to lift a shot past Miller. But the veteran rose up to thwart the shot.
He was just getting warmed up, too, for the division-leading Blues. Miller withstood a furious rally by the Avalanche in the final two minutes after they pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov.
“I’m here to become part of this club and work my way in, keep good habits,” Miller said. “I’ve played a long time and think I have a lot to offer. That’s my job right now.”
The more chaos around Miller, the more he seemed to calm down. That is one of his best attributes, coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“His whole disposition calms everybody down,” Hitchcock said. “He’s good. There’s a reason he’s won so many games.”
With the Blues up 2-0 early in the third, after Patrik Berglund added a pivotal insurance goal, Miller appeared headed toward his first shutout in nearly two years. But Colorado solved Miller when P.A. Parenteau lifted a shot over him.
“He’s been solid back there,” Backes said. “Doing everything that world-class goalies do.”
Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon had his point streak snapped at 13 games. It is the NHL’s longest streak by an 18-year-old player.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the Avs as their four-game winning streak was halted. They also lost one of their top offensive players when Paul Stastny went out with a back injury after his opening shift.
“That was disappointing, but we didn’t hang our heads, we just moved forward,” forward Matt Duchene said. “It’s a game of inches and they got a little more inches than us.”
Colorado coach Patrick Roy felt the same way.
“Sometimes you aren’t always rewarded for the way you play and your effort,” Roy said. “I thought we had better chances than them. I thought we deserved as much to win, and they did.”
Berglund gave St. Louis a 2-0 cushion at 3:53 of the final period when he gobbled up the puck down low, spun and lined it over the glove of Varlamov.
Moments later, Parenteau beat Miller after receiving a pass from Duchene.
That certainly revved up a crowded area, giving the game a playoff feel.
“The fans were into this one,” Landeskog said. “We left our best out there on the ice.”
St. Louis made it 1-0 at 7:03 of the second period on a play set up by a long pass from defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, who has thrived against his former team since he was traded three years ago.
Deep in his own end, Shattenkirk sent a pass to T.J. Oshie, who, as he was falling down, slid the puck to Backes. From there, Backes guided the puck past Varlamov’s left skate.
Shattenkirk has four goals and five assists in 12 games against Colorado.
Both teams had a failed power play in the first period and eight shots. Miller had the save of the period when he stopped a point-blank shot from Parenteau with his left shoulder.
“It’s great to contribute,” Miller said. “I wanted to come in and contribute.”
NOTES: Hitchcock tied Ron Wilson for seventh place on the NHL career wins list with 648. … The Blues have outscored the Avs 13-5 in taking all three games in the season series. The teams will meet again on April 5 in St. Louis. … Colorado had 13 of its 27 shots in the final period. … Roy said of Stastny’s injury: “We’ll know more in the next few days.”
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