COLUMBUS, Ohio – Keith Tkachuk took the shot from beyond centre ice toward an empty net. One “lucky bounce” later, his entire team was swarming him.
Tkachuk became the 41st player in NHL history to score 500 goals, and added an assist to help the St. Louis Blues beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 on Sunday in the season finale for both teams.
Tkachuk, a 16-year veteran, scored his 27th of the season, a short-handed goal into an empty net, with 1:34 remaining.
“About half way down it looked like it was going in,” he said. “Trust me, I wasn’t looking. I was just shooting. I got a little lucky bounce.”
And he was given attention from those who matter most.
“Just the reaction I got from my teammates coming onto the ice, I don’t care how old you are … it makes you feel pretty good.”
He scored three goals in the final two regular-season games – both wins against Columbus – to reach the milestone.
“You’re just trying to survive and make it in the NHL,” said Tkachuk, drafted 19th overall by Winnipeg in the 1990 draft. “Sixteen years later, you look back at a number, a lot of hard work by your parents, and the people around you … and all the great players I played with, they’re the reason why I’m in this situation.”
Blues coach Andy Murray enjoyed every second of the historical play, but thought there could have been more attention given to the moment.
“It was exciting watching that puck go down the ice into the empty net,” he said. “I wish they’d inform the people right away what was going on here. That’s a special moment. They should have said that’s Keith Tkachuk’s 500th goal, it’s something special.”
Tkachuk, traded to St. Louis in 2001 in a multi-player deal, was only concerned about the puck crossing the line.
David Perron had a power-play goal and an assist, and Brad Boyes and David Backes had the other scores for the Blues.
Hannu Toivonen made 35 saves for his first win since Dec. 7 for St. Louis (33-36-13), which finished last in the Central Division and 27th in the league with 79 points. The Blues missed the post-season for the third consecutive season after qualifying 25 straight times. They started the season with a promising 22-14-5 record, but went 11-22-8 the rest of the way.
“We won the series against Columbus. That’s what we had to play for today,” Murray said. “We got the job done today, but we didn’t get the job done for the year.”
Michael Peca scored on the man-advantage for Columbus, which closed out the season with one win in its last nine games, but had the best season in franchise history with 80 points.
“Obviously, we wanted to have a better season,” Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said. “I don’t think people expected us to do what we did. We’ve got to move on, look at it as a positive and start worrying about next year.”
The Blue Jackets (34-36-12), who entered the league in 2000, have yet to qualify for the post-season and finished 25th overall. However, general manager Scott Howson is expected to have around US$20 million to spend this summer to upgrade a team that flirted with a playoff spot.
Peca staked Columbus to an early 1-0 lead on a pass from Nash for his eighth at 4:50 of the first period.
The Blues got themselves back in the game 10 minutes later on Backes’ 13th. Goalie Fredrik Norrena – who had only 13 saves – made the initial stop on a deflected point shot, but Backes controlled the rebound in traffic and slotted it home.
Boyes, acquired at last year’s trade deadline, made it 2-1 at 13:08 of the second period with his 43rd, extending his career high for goals in a season.
Perron scored on a redirection in front of defenceman Ron Hainsey for his 13th at 10:12 of the third period.
Notes: St. Louis’ Jamal Mayers missed the final two games with cuts near his left eye. … The Blue Jackets were without regulars LW Fredrik Modin, RW David Vyborny, C Dan Fritsche, C Jiri Novotny, D Dick Tarnstrom, D Ole Kristian Tollefsen, and LW Jason Chimera, whose consecutive games streak ended at 243. They had six of their minor league affiliate regulars in the lineup.