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NHL Winter Classic

Vladimir Tarasenko stands out at Winter Classic

Blues forward shines in spotlight, scores two goals in win against Blackhawks

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- When Vladimir Tarasenko was growing up in Novosibirsk, Russia, his team would practice outdoors every day at 7 a.m., usually in temperatures well below freezing.

"The only way they canceled it was if it was more than minus-25 degrees Celsius," the St. Louis Blues right wing said. "Minus-25, we were still skating."

By comparison, it was balmy for the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium on Monday, with an opening faceoff temperature of 46.7 degrees Fahrenheit or 8.2 degrees Celsius. Neither the temperature nor the sporadic light rain that fell throughout the afternoon bothered Tarasenko, who scored twice in a span of 1:53 in the third period to propel the Blues to a 4-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It's really an important win for us, and it's not about my goals," Tarasenko said. "We have a great team, we have a great captain (Alex Pietrangelo), a great goalie (Jake Allen), and we really needed these two points, especially against Chicago."

Although Tarasenko, 25, downplayed his performance, it seemed fitting that he was the standout player on the grand stage the Winter Classic provides. He's continued his emergence as a game-breaker this season, leading the Blues with 18 goals, including four game-winners.

Video: CHI@STL: Tarasenko banks puck off skate and in

He leads St. Louis with 41 points, two back of Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin for the NHL lead. Tarasenko's 138 shots on goal rank third in the League.

"He's a hungry offensive player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's a guy that he sniffs out weaknesses or he sniffs out coverage issues and jumps on them. When he's engaged like he was [Monday], like he's been for the most part of this year, he's dangerous because he's one shift away from breaking the thing wide open."

Tarasenko was a force throughout, finishing with a game-high nine shots on goal and 13 attempts, but particularly in the third period. With the score tied 1-1, Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford thwarted Tarasenko on a breakaway with a blocker save at 2:50.

Then, Tarasenko hit the left post with a power-play shot from the left circle at 5:33.

With his shots not going in, Tarasenko opted to pass on a 3-on-1 rush, sliding a backhand feed back into the slot intended for center Jori Lehtera. The puck hit the left skate of Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson instead and skidded into the net for the go-ahead goal with 7:55 left.

"Big-time players, you ask them to come through in big games and he's a guy who shoots a million pucks a game, but the one goes in off a skate for him," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "That's hockey right there."

Tarasenko displayed his world-class skill on his second goal, which extended the Blues' lead to 3-1 with 6:02 remaining. Lehtera's pass was in Tarasenko's skates, but he kicked the puck to his stick and then waited for Crawford to get off his angle before firing a left circle shot in past his catching glove.

Video: CHI@STL: Tarasenko wrists home a quick second tally

"It wasn't on purpose, the bounce," Tarasenko said of his first goal. "The second one, my linemates just created a good chance for me."

Following the 2017 NHL Winter Classic Alumni game on Saturday, Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull and his son, Blues legend Brett Hull, pulled Tarasenko aside outside the locker room area to offer some kind words. Being encouraged by the two Hockey Hall of Fame players had great meaning for Tarasenko.

"They both told me good stuff and really helped me," Tarasenko said.

Just practicing at Busch Stadium on Sunday made Tarasenko think back to his childhood in Russia. As arguably the Blues' most-skilled scorer since Brett Hull left following the 1997-98 season, he has an opportunity to write his own legend in St. Louis.

Games such as the one he had in the Winter Classic can only help, but Tarasenko had no interest in contemplating where the moment ranked in his career.

"It was just different, a different experience that we maybe have once in a lifetime and there is no way to rank it," he said. "It just stays separate. It's really cool and I was really happy to win [Monday], especially to make all our Blues fans happy. This is probably the most, best feeling when you win the game."

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