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Tank you very much: Tarasenko leads Blues to Winter Classic win over ‘Hawks

Vladimir Tarasenko breaks the 1-1 tie late in the third when he tries to send the puck back, but instead sends it ricocheting off the skate of Niklas Hjalmarsson.

As has often been the case this season, Tank made the difference when it counted.

Vladimir Tarasenko -- who, for the record, doesn’t love the Tank nickname -- continued his terrific campaign on Monday afternoon, scoring a pair of third-period goals to pace St. Louis to a 4-1 win over Chicago in the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium.

Dubbed “a man on a mission” by NHL on NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, Tarasenko was a going concern throughout the day, finishing with a game-high nine shots. Yet it was a pair of strikes in the final frame -- coming less than two minutes apart -- that proved the difference.

The first, Tarasenko’s 17th of the year, was certainly a lucky bounce. He took Robby Fabbri’s pass and tried to center the puck, only to have it carom off Niklas Hjalmarsson’s skate and past Corey Crawford.

That proved to be the eventual game-winner, but Tarasenko wasn’t done there.

Just 1:53 after putting the Blues up by one, he was at it again, taking a Jori Lehtera feed to snap a shot past Crawford:

Alex Steen netted the final goal for the Blues, who scored four unanswered goals after Michael Kempny opened the scoring for Chicago just 62 seconds into the affair. Kempny’s marker was second-fastest goal in Winter Classic history and, fittingly, something of a knuckle-ball shot, skipping along the ice before eluding Blues goalie Jake Allen.

That was about the only thing that didn’t go right for the Blues on the day.

It was a great result for the franchise and, by proxy, the city of St. Louis. It had been reveling in the Winter Classic celebrations for days leading up to the event, excited at the opportunity to showcase itself as one of the league’s most passionate markets. Though less-than-ideal weather conditions threatened to derail things -- the NHL had to come up with a contingency plan to finish the game, should the rain have made conditions unplayable -- the crowd was enthusiastic and huge: 46,556 were in attendance, making it a sellout.

And fittingly, St. Louis’ game-changer changed the game.

Tarasenko, as mentioned above, is in the midst of a fantastic season. He now sits sixth in the NHL in goals, with 18, and continues to almost single-handedly carry the Blues. His 41 points are tops on the team, well clear of the No. 2 scorer (Fabbri, who has 25).

Afterward, he explained what today’s win meant.

“We really tried to prepare for this game because, you know, the Chicago Blackhawks are in first place in our division,” Tarasenko told McGuire. “It was a really important game for us, and I think we all just tried to play our best tonight.”