Vladimir Tarasenko’s two-goal spree overtakes Winter Classic

To see Vladimir Tarasenko sitting in the interview room of Busch Stadium, hands tucked into his sweatshirt and a smile spread across his face, is to witness an anthropomorphic icebox hinged at the middle. Technically, the St. Louis roster lists its leading scorer at 6′ 0″ and 219 pounds. It does not, however, specify the exact breakdown between bone, muscle, and rocket-fueled, Russian-fused steel. “He’s dangerous,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said later, “because he’s one shift away from breaking the thing wide open.”

Sheathed in fog and drenched in drizzle Monday afternoon, the city of St. Louis will gladly forgive Tarasenko for needing an extra shift to overtake the 2017 Winter Classic. Past the midway point of the third period, his two-goal spree within 113 seconds flipped a tie game into a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. By then the Gateway Arch had disappeared from sight beyond the right-center seats, but who needed sentimental sightlines with Tarasenko whipping the sellout crowd into an outdoor frenzy, and then snapping a celebratory selfie in front of the home dugout steps? “Leave it to Vladi to put us on top there,” forward Robbi Fabbri said. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from him.”

If Tarasenko’s second goal—an on-the-rush dart that beat Chicago goalie Corey Crawford glove-side, giving the Blues a comfortable 3-1 cushion—was the 25-year-old as his most dominant self, the game-winner at 12:05 required a bit more luck. With forward Ryan Reaves’ interference penalty successfully killed, Hitchcock deployed Fabbri with Tarasenko and center Jori Lehtera, instead of usual winger Jaden Schwartz. As the Blackhawks turned the puck over in St. Louis’ zone, the trio took off with only defenseman Nicklas Hjalmarsson in their way. Hjalmarsson handled the odd-man rush well, swiftly recovering onto Tarasenko after Fabbri saucered the puck ahead from the blue line. But as Tarasenko tried backhanding a centering pass to Lehtera from below the right faceoff circle, the puck ticked off Hjalmarsson’s skate and trickled past Crawford. “It wasn’t on…