Two of the league's best defensive units combined to allow eight goals in an exciting, high-scoring affair that saw the Blues chase Roberto Luongo after one period with three goals in a 7:25 span. Luongo finished the opening frame with 10 saves on 13 shots.
The Cats got off to a good start, taking an early lead at the 5:05 mark on Derek MacKenzie's sixth of the season. The veteran pivot pounced on a rebound of Shawn Thornton's shot and smacked it by Brian Elliott.
David Backes used the boards to get around Aaron Ekblad and snapped a shot through Luongo's pads at 12:16 to tie the tilt. Colton Parayko picked up the lone assist on the goal, which ended a ten-game drought for Backes.
Schwartz pumped home a rebound of Parayko's shot from the right circle to put the Blues on top 3:39 later. Vladimir Tarasenko drew the secondary helper on the play.
The Blues converted a power play opportunity with 19 seconds left in the first to go up by two. Paul Stastny tried to center in front, but had the puck deflect off the skate of Alex Petrovic. Unfortunately, for Luongo and the Panthers, it ended up on the stick of Robby Fabbri, who dented the twine with ease. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was also credited with an assist.
Former Panther Jay Bouwmeester combined with Schwartz at the 8-minute mark of the second to set up Tarasenko for the eventual game-winner. The Blues gained with the zone with some pretty passing and Tarasenko put Bouwmeester's rebound into an empty net after Al Montoya denied the blueliner.
The Cats halved the deficit 2:44 later when Jaromir Jagr loosened the puck from Joel Edmundson and Jonathan Huberdeau fed Ekblad for a one-timer. The goal was Ekblad's eleventh of the campaign.
Huberdeau would bag his eleventh midway through the third period pull the Panthers within one. Jagr started the play by cutting across the Blues' zone and finding Brian Campbell, who skated in on Elliott before throwing a goalmouth pass across to a waiting Huberdeau.
St. Louis responded quickly to squelch the Cats' comeback bid. After taking a behind the net pass from Backes, Alexander Steen roofed a spectacular backhander from in close on Montoya to complete the scoring. Patrik Berglund collected the secondary helper on Steen's sixteenth.
Elliott, who finished with 29 saves, shut the door the rest of the way as the Blues raised their record against the Eastern Conference to 11-9-5 after going a sparkling 21-8-3 last year.
The Panthers get right back on the horse tonight when the Nashville Predators visit the BB&T Center. The Predators dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, allowing the Bolts to shave two points off the Cats' Atlantic Division lead.
It will be interesting to see if coach Gerard Gallant goes back to Luongo or if Montoya, who stopped 13 of the 15 shots he saw in relief, gets the start. Either way, the Panthers will have to clean things up in their own end if they want to take two points from Nashville.
Sharps & Flats
- The Panthers lost for the first time in regulation this season when scoring at least three goals. The Cats were 23-0-1 coming into the game.
- Roberto Luongo made his 907th regular season appearance, albeit a brief one, snapping his sixth place tie all-time with the legendary Glenn Hall.
- The two-point nights from Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau allowed each player to hit the 40-point plateau. Jagr (1,842) is now eight points away from tying Gordie Howe for third place all-time in scoring.
- In a game where the Cats needed every goal, the team's red-hot second line was blanked despite combing for nine shots on goal, including Reilly Smith's game-high six. Vincent Trocheck was in the box for delay of the game when Robby Fabbri lit the lamp late in the first, a key moment which gave the Blues control of the scoreboard.
- In his first game back after fracturing his ankle in October, Jaden Schwartz logged 13:31 TOI and contributed three shots and two hits in addition to his two points. The goal was Schwartz' first of the year.
- Not sure if it was the opponent or a Friday night thing, but the crowd at the BB&T Center was a rather sparse 13,904.
- war-on-ice has the advanced stats breakdown for you right here.
- The folks at NHL.com have put a together a nice highlight package for you to see with your own eyes.
- St. Louis Game Time is the place to be for the other side of the final Blues-Cats match of 2015-16. Unless, of course, the two teams meet for Lord Stanley's chalice later this spring.