ST LOUIS, Mo – For several weeks, the most popular debate among Blues fans has been how neither goaltender has been playing like a playoff-caliber backstopper. It is possible this debate might be put to rest for awhile as Jaroslav Halak dominated the crease with a 3-0 shutout of the Jaromir-Jag-led New Jersey Devils.
After a successful four-game road trip in which the only blemish was a 7-1 drubbing to New Jersey, the Blues, despite not admitting publicly, had redemption on their mind. They started quickly and their top scorer led the way.
Just over three minutes into the game, David Backes led the 3-on-2 St. Louis charge up ice. Upon crossing the blue line into the New Jersey zone, he dumped the puck off to Jaden Schwartz. The Blues’ sniper sent a pass over to his left where a streaking Alex Steen sent a wrist shot above the blocker of Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. It was Steen’s 100th goal as a St. Louis Blue and his team leading 27th marker of the campaign.
The remainder of the period and all of second saw no scoring and little in the way of penalties. New Jersey had the upper hand in shots in the middle frame doubling up St. Louis 10-5. It was Halak who played a huge role in securing the win.
In the final period, New Jersey pushed for the equalizer. Halak was no bigger than when he stopped Damien Brunner with a right pad stop just a few minutes into the third period. Then the Blues, playing perhaps their best period of the game, went to work.
Halfway through the third period while on the power play, Patrick Berglund dug the puck out of the corner to the right of the New Jersey goal and sent the puck back to the right point. That is where Jay Bouwmeester sent a drive toward Schneider as Brenden Morrow timed his path to perfectly deflect the shot under the glove of the Devils’ netminder. It was Morrow’s 8th of the season and an important step in securing the victory.
New Jersey pushed to narrow the Blues lead, but fell short. An empty net goal by Max Lapierre, his 7th of the season, gave the Blues a 3-0 lead and win.
Although the game had 48 minutes in penalties, 42 of them came in the final 2:08 in what was otherwise a relatively uneventful game. Halak stopped all 23 shots he faced registering his 4th shutout of the season and 20th of his Blues’ career, a franchise record. At the other end of the ice, the Devils continued to provide Schneider no scoring help. He was solid in stopping 22 of 24 shots for the game in which the Devils where shutout for the 6th time.
The St. Louis victory along with a overtime loss by Chicago in Calgary Tuesday night locked the two teams into a first place tie in the Central Division with 77 points. The Blues have three games in hand.
The Blues are 36-11-5, good for second in the Western Conference and League behind Anaheim 39-11-5 for 83 points. The Blues face the Ducks in Anaheim after the Olympic break on Friday, February 29th
Next up for the Blues is a road game in Raleigh, North Carolina where they face the surging Hurricanes who are fourth place in the Metropolitan Division at 24-20-9 with 57 points, one point behind Philadelphia and two points behind the New York Rangers. Puck drop is set 7:00 PM Eastern Time.
St. Louis closes out the pre-Olympic portion of their schedule with four home games; Saturday night at 7:00 PM vs. Nashville, Tuesday night at 7:00 PM vs. Ottawa,
Thursday night at 7:00 PM against Eastern Conference Champion Boston and finally, Saturday afternoon at 1:00 PM against the newly retooled Winnipeg Jets.
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