LAS VEGAS — On the day after clinching a postseason slot, Craig Berube talked about the need to maintain intensity and good habits.
“I think it’s really important,” Berube said pregame Saturday. “This game for me is still a big game. We might face this team in the playoffs. We need to go play our game and play ’em hard.
“They’re gonna play because it’s important for them, the points, and things like that for their standings. First place. So they’re gonna be a competitive team and we gotta match it.”
And then the game started. One team looked like it was playing for first place in the West Division — that would be the Vegas Golden Knights. The other team looked like it had nothing to play for — that would be the St. Louis Blues. Having wrapped up a playoff berth in Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss, that was the case for the Blues. They’re locked into fourth place, marking time until the postseason.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the team closing in on first place won 4-1 Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
The Blues fell to 24-20-9 and their season long eight-game points streak (5-0-3) came to an end. They finished the regular season 2-4-2 against Vegas. They’ll have to do much better than that to survive their likely first-round playoff series with the Golden Knights.
At 39-13-2, Vegas moved one day closer to wrapping up the West Division title. Colorado remains four points back and Minnesota five back. The Golden Knights and Avalanche have three games remaining; Minnesota just two — both against the Blues this week.
To say that the Blues came out sluggish would be understatement. Actually, the Golden Knights came out sluggish as well after Friday night’s battle. But the Knights eventually woke up. As for the Blues? Nope.
It took 16 minutes — 16 — before St. Louis had its first shot on goal. By that time Vegas already had a 2-0 lead. And with Marc-Andre Fleury in goal — you know, the third-winningest goalie in NHL history — things looked pretty good for the West Division leaders.
The Blues were sloppy from the start, with passes that misconnected and wall battles that were lost. About 81/2 minutes in, Alex Tuch picked Marco Scandella’s pocket as Scandella was trying to skate up ice not too far in front of the Blues' net.
Ville Husso, making his first start since April 29 in Minnesota, saved a goal with a stop on Tuch’s shot. Things didn’t go as well later in the period when Reilly Smith came crashing in on the rebound of a William Carrier shot.
Smith’s backhand from Husso’s lap, deflected off Jaden Schwartz’s leg and in for the game’s first goal with 7:34 left in the first. It was Smith’s 12th goal of the season, three of which have come against the Blues.
Just 29 seconds later, Mark Stone was sent off for slashing David Perron. Out game the Blues’ ninth-ranked power play. This would be a chance to get right back in the contest, right? Wrong. After yielding a shorthanded goal in the first period Friday night, Vegas returned the favor Saturday.
Attempting a stretch pass out of his own zone, Perron instead sent it right to former teammate Alex Pietrangelo, who fed Chandler Stephenson for a slap shot and a goal.
So it was two goals in 66 seconds for Vegas and a 2-0 lead. During the intermission player interview on the video scoreboard at T-Mobile, Pietrangelo said the Knights noticed something on tape that helped them against the Blues' power play.
He then confessed, smiling: “It’s something we ran last year. I kind of knew what was coming.”
Last year . . . with the Blues, of course.
The Blues started the second period still slumbering, with no shots on goal in the period at the first commercial break — six minutes in. Negotiating the neutral zone was a struggle; offensive zone time was a rumor.
But with the second period winding down, the tone of the game changed. First, Brayden Schenn was turned away on a breakaway, with Fleury doing the splits to make a glove save with 2:50 left.
(Fittingly, Fleury figurines were handed out to fans attending Saturday’s and Friday’s games.)
Shouts of “Fleury! Fleury!” came from the crowd of 7,567.
Next the Blues' Kyle Clifford had a near breakaway, but Pietrangelo detained Clifford as he closed in on Fleury — but with the aid of a hooking penalty. An off-balance Clifford made minimal contact with Fleury. And in these parts that’s a no-no.
A skirmish ensued behind the net, with Mackenzie MacEachern drawing a roughing penalty coming to Clifford’s aid.
The resulting four-on-four play, with Pietrangelo and MacEachern in the penalty box, came out in the Blues’ favor when Colton Parayko stripped the puck from Shea Theodore and then swooped in front of the net to beat Fleury with a backhand with 37 seconds remaining in the second.
So outshot 21-8 after two periods, the Blues suddenly trailed by only 2-1 thanks to Parayko’s second goal of the season.
But hope quickly faded for the Blues after Jake Walman went to the box for tripping early in the third period. Left alone net front, Smith’s initial shot was stopped by Husso. The rebound was a different matter. Smith's second goal of the night and fourth of the season against St. Louis made it a 3-1 game just 4:11 into the third.
He would finish with his first NHL hat trick, with an empty-net goal with 48.4 seconds left.
Things got a little chippy at this point with Brayden McNabb elbowing Robert Thomas into the boards and down to the ice. The Blues complained but no penalty was called. There would be more penalties and more hits before this one ended.