Comeback kings rally past Canucks

Thursday, April 17, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Trailing early is no big deal for the Blues, even in the playoffs.

Martin Rucinsky had two goals and an assist as the Blues, the best comeback team in the NHL during the regular season, did it again to take a commanding lead in their first-round playoff series. St. Louis rallied from a flat start to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 Wednesday night.

The Blues were a league-leading 22-15-3-6 when giving up the game's first goal in the regular season, falling behind in more than half of their games.

"As soon as they scored, you're taking the most positive thing out of anything," said center Doug Weight, who had two assists. "Hey, we've proved all year that we're good coming from behind and it's something we definitely talked about."

Dallas Drake and Chris Pronger scored in the second period after spotting the Canucks a goal. Then Rucinsky scored twice in 1:37 late in the third as the Blues took a 4-1 lead.

"They came out hard, that's what we sort of expected," Rucinsky said. "We stayed focused. We stayed with the game plan."

St. Louis, which got a strong game from goalie Chris Osgood to offset a 33-20 shots deficit, can close out the series in Game 5 on Friday night in Vancouver. The Blues have won all six series in franchise history when taking a 3-1 lead.

The Canucks were second in the NHL with 264 goals in the regular season, trailing only the Red Wings, but have been outscored 14-4 in the first four games.

"It may sound funny, but if we play like that, more times than not we're going to win," Markus Naslund said. "I don't think the series is over."

Neither did coach Marc Crawford, who noted improved play by his team.

"I thought it was our best game of the series," Crawford said. "Sometimes, you get beat by the goaltender on the other side and I think that's what happened tonight."

The Canucks outshot the Blues 12-5 and took a 1-0 lead in the first period as Naslund, the NHL's second-leading scorer in the regular season with 104 points, snapped a playoff drought with his first goal.

A strong first period by Osgood, who made a sprawling save on a break-in by Trevor Linden, kept the deficit from growing. Osgood also stopped a second-period break-in by Brandon Reid.

"He seemed so composed," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Ozzie kept us in the game. We were fortunate only being down 1-0."

Pronger, who missed the first 77 games of the season with wrist and knee injuries, tied it with his first goal of the playoffs on a floating wrist shot from just inside the blue line that somehow eluded Dan Cloutier at 4:35 of the second. En route to the net, one Canucks player ducked the puck and another flailed at it.

Drake capitalized on strong plays by his linemates to make it 2-1 on a two-on-one break at 15:07, also his first goal of the playoffs. Rucinsky started the play by outfighting two Canucks for the puck at center ice, and Weight fed Drake in the slot for his team-leading sixth point of the postseason.

Rucinsky got his first goal of the postseason with 5:51 remaining on a two-on-one break with Drake. He scored again with 4:14 to play, beating Cloutier with a backhander from the right side of the net.

The Canucks broke up their No. 1 line of Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison, which was throttled in the first three games. Naslund, held to one assist previously, scored on a high wrist shot at 11:57 of the first to break his personal drought.

The shot deflected off Weight's glove for Vancouver's first goal at even strength in the series.

"It definitely didn't help," Weight said. "But my linemates made it all better as the game went on."

Bertuzzi, perhaps the NHL's top power forward, let his emotions get the best of him on a couple of occasions. He retaliated to a slash by Barret Jackman that wasn't whistled in the first period, and got caught spearing Jackman.

Bertuzzi also took a double-minor for roughing after another skirmish with Jackman in the second period. Jackman was sent to the penalty box for two minutes.

Notes: Blues F Scott Mellanby, one of the team's three alternate captains, was scratched with the team described as flu-like symptoms. He was replaced by C Steve Martins. ... The Blues played their second game without captain Al MacInnis, expected to be sidelined two-to-four weeks with a separated right shoulder. ... None of the Canucks have more than two points in the series. ... The Canucks were 0-for-5 on the power play and are 3-for-29 in the series.

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