ST. LOUIS -- Playing on the road is not as easy as the Islanders had made it look, after all. As any weary traveler can tell you, there are all kinds of germs out there. And this night became a headache for the Islanders from start to finish.
Goalie Evgeni Nabokov took the morning skate, then took ill with flu symptoms. He was a last-minute scratch. So when the Blues poured it on with a three-goal second period, Al Montoya had to stand there and take one for the team. He withstood a 5-1 defeat that ended the Islanders' road winning streak at four, kept them eight points out of the last playoff spot and sent them wheezing back home.
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Coach Jack Capuano said he learned "later in the day" that Nabokov was sick, as was defenseman Steve Staios, who came down with stomach flu. Even though Nabokov had to dress as the backup because there was no other goalie on the trip, he didn't last long on the bench. It was all in Montoya's lap -- sort of like the big Blues players who crowded him on two power-play goals.
No excuses, though. Not from the coach or the players, and definitely not from the goalie who was surprised to learn just before the game that he was starting.
"I know the position I'm in. Nabby has been playing well for us. It's my job to be ready at any time," Montoya said. "Tonight is one that I want back, but the puck had eyes; it was finding its way through. It's tough that I couldn't have had a better game, but I'll look it over and put it behind me."
His teammates did not blame Montoya after he was beaten by Kevin Shattenkirk's slap shot, which was helped by having David Backes on the goalie's doorstep. That power-play goal at 17:12 of the first period put the Blues ahead to stay, 2-1, and fired up a crowd that has helped the team to a home record of 25-3-4.
"We feed off the energy in the building," said Shattenkirk, who grew up a Rangers fan in New Rochelle, rooting for his team at the Garden against the Islanders.
Still, it was up for grabs early in the second. Jay Pandolfo had a good scoring chance for the Islanders, but it was blocked by Blues goalie Brian Elliott. The puck caromed long, the Islanders didn't have a forward in the high slot and the Blues took off on a three-on-two rush, finished by Andy McDonald's first goal of the season. At 2:53, it was 3-1 instead of 2-2.
"Those are the kinds of bounces that happen in the run of a hockey game," said the Islanders' Andrew MacDonald.
"I feel terrible for Al. He has played so well for us this season. Those goals aren't his fault," Matt Martin said.
P.A. Parenteau added, "I don't think Monty had a bad game. I think we let him out to dry a few times."
Montoya, who finished with 17 saves, was told of those verbal pats on the back.
"It's awfully nice of them," he said, "but it's my job to stop those, give the team a chance. It's a tight game. A save here, a save there could have been huge. It was a tough go for me, but I battled through it and I'll move on."