ST. LOUIS - ST. LOUIS -- It was worst-case scenario for the Blues, who faced elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 5 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Nashville Predators.
The Blues found when the final lineup was turned in that team playoff scoring leader and locker room leader Alexander Steen would miss the game with that prolonged lower-body injury that had been ailing him throughout the playoffs.
Steen, who blocked a shot in Game 4 and affected the injury even more, had played in every playoff game for the Blues while skipping all the practice sessions. He was tied with Jaden Schwartz with seven points on three goals and four assists.
Enter Dmitrij Jaskin, who made an immediate impact in his first playoff game and first game since April 9. He led the charge with a big goal, and Schwartz scored his third game-winning goal of these playoffs as the Blues stayed alive with a 2-1 victory before 19,168 at Scottrade Center.
The Predators now lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, with Game 6 set for Sunday in Nashville (2 p.m.; NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).
When Steen declared himself unavailable, he had a little chat with his replacement.
"He actually called that I'm gonna score," Jaskin said. "Yeah, before game. We were kind of talking. Thanks to him."
Steen's intuitions came true, and Jaskin provided the Blues with not only a fresh set of legs but a big goal.
Jaskin finished with a career-high eight shots on goal, which was 25 percent of the Blues' 32, four of St. Louis' 31 hits, two takeaways and two blocked shots in 15:46 ice time.
"It's tough," Schwartz said of losing Steen. "He's a big leader on this team. Obviously he's a huge player for us, plays in all situations, really leads the way up front. It's tough when he's not in the lineup, but I thought 'Jask' did a great job of coming in and other guys stepped up. When you see a guy like Steener out, you want to play for him. Hopefully you give him a shot to come back and play again."
Having already used both Zach Sanford and Ivan Barbashev in the playoffs, coach Mike Yeo elected to go with Jaskin's big body in a series that's become increasingly physical by the game.
"Just the way the series has developed and get the feel for the way they're playing what to expect going into a game," Yeo said. "We felt he was a guy that ... I don't know that we thought he would be as good as he was tonight because he was impressive. We felt confident that he'd go in and play a really good game, but eight shots on goal, a big goal. I thought he was a force along the walls at both ends and a difference-maker."
Steen took the pregame warmup Friday but couldn't go; he's dealing with a lower-body injury that's hampered him throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We didn't have time to dwell over it or sit around and feel sorry for ourselves," Yeo said. "And this is the attitude that we've had. He's such an important part of our team, not just special teams, there's his 5-on-5 play both offensively and defensively and his leadership. He's been an outstanding leader for us right from the drop of the puck in Game 1 of the playoffs. So, it's a loss, but somebody else has to step up and that's what happened tonight."
Jaskin played on a line with Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka and scored his first goal in 29 games (Dec. 3 against the Winnipeg Jets) to give the Blues the first goal of the game in the series.
"It's unbelievable what we had to do tonight and we did it," Jaskin said. "Everybody's happy and can enjoy it now for a few minutes and forget it and get another one.
"I was hoping that (I) would (provide fresh legs). I think our line did a great job. We got some chances and I think I bring that energy a little bit."
The Blues were the better team in 5-on-5 play and had a golden chance to score in the first when they got a 5-on-3 for 1:50 that also included 1:41 of time following Mattias Ekholm's four-minute high-stick on Sobotka.
But instead of momentum, the Blues got one shot over all that time -- a 45-footer from Alex Pietrangelo with no traffic in front of Pekka Rinne and halted any momentum build off strong zone time and puck cycle.
"It wasn't good enough," Schwartz said of the Blues' power play, which was 0-for-5 for the game, 2-for-29 in the playoffs and 1-for-14 in the series. "We want to be more of an impact. Power play's a big part of winning games. It's something we'll look at and make some adjustments. It's got to be better for sure."
But Yeo was more impressed that the Blues kept playing their game after the failed 5-on-3.
"That for me is the story," Yeo said. "Listen, we'll have lots of time to answer questions about the power play, but the mentality that we had to be able to bounce back from that -- really impressive. And that's what we asked our guys before the game, whatever happens good or bad, you have to make sure that you come back and you're ready to go out and perform. It's one thing to say it, it's another thing to go out and deliver, and that's what those guys did."
And the Blues did; they came out and scored the first goal of a game in the series when Jaskin folowed up Pietrangelo's shot from the right point, driving the net and beating Rinne short side at 5:43 of the second to make it 1-0. Berglund won the faceoff to Sobotka, who was able to get the puck to Pietrangelo falling to the ice.
"I think that's what we have to do now," Jaskin said. "Just get those pucks through from the blue line and work it down there. It's simple but it's hard."
But the Blues' power play was its own worst enemy again, and it resulted in two penalties called on Berglund for holding Viktor Arvidsson and Pietrangelo tripped Ryan Johansen.
And unlike the Blues, the Predators cashed in on their extended 5-on-3 when James Neal scored his third goal of the series, from down low over Allen, off a P.K. Subban pass at 13:50 to tie the game 1-1.
The Blues had a power play at the end of the second period that extended 17 seconds into the third. They didn't score but Schwartz's goal almost was like a power-play goal when he scored 25 seconds into the third for a 2-1 lead.
Colton Parayko intercepted Roman Josi's clearing attempt around the glass, fired a wrister at the net that Schwartz tipped on Rinne, then picked up the loose change and popped it home.
"When it's a close game or a tied game, you want to step up for your team," Schwartz said. "... We even had a few more chances, but gotta do this on Rinne when he's feeling it. Gotta try and make him feel uncomfortable as you can throwing pucks there. I thought we did a better job of getting them through from the point. Still could probably do a better job, even the forwards as well. This time of year, that's how you're going to score goals, getting bodies and traffic at the net."
So for all those extra days of skating by himself, or taking optionals that included few skaters, Jaskin prepared himself for this time, just like he did last season when he scored a big goal in the second round against the Dallas Stars that put the Blues ahead 2-1 of a 4-1 victory in Game 5 of a 2-2 series.
"It's always hard when you have to bag skate and do extra stuff," Jaskin said. "It's about a mindset and if you have this trait it's good. There's a lot of days when it's difficult but you have to push through it. That's what you have to do."
And his teammates were happy for him.
"He was real good all game," Pietrangelo said. "From the start, he got rewarded with the goal and had a couple other chances, brought some really good energy that we needed and you're happy for a guy like that. He gets a chance to come in and has an impact."
Jake Allen did his part by making 21 saves, including a key one on Filip Forsberg with 6:11 remaining (Nashville's last shot on goal). Rinne made 30 saves.
Now the Blues' task is to try to extend the series to seven games, and that means winning a road game at Nashville.
"We still have our backs against a wall on Sunday," Allen said. "We've got to come out even harder, even better in a really, really tough building. We'll see how it goes. It's going to be great. That building's rocking. It always is. It's fun to play in, they love to play there. We have a lot of pride in shutting teams down in their building. We're going to have a huge test Sunday.
"... We had a must-win (Friday). We've played well in spurts in this series. I don't think we've played consistently great. I think tonight was a step."
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