Alex Steen

NHL on NBCSN: Hot Wild, Blues fight for edge in Central Division

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the St. Louis Blues host the Minnesota Wild at the Scottrade Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

In some ways, the Blues and Wild are similar stories. Both franchises are on the upswing and hungry for more after disappointing first round exits in 2013.

Neither team is one of the most popular picks to win the Stanley Cup, but both have a lot of promise. They have young forwards stepping up like Nino Niederreiter in Minnesota or Jaden Schwartz in St. Louis along with elite defensemen capable of leading a playoff team like the Wild’s Ryan Suter and Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Monday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the link.

Most importantly though, lately they have been able to do no wrong. Of the combined 23 games these two squads have participated in this month, they have only lost three in regulation. It’s no wonder that St. Louis and Minnesota have two of the best records in the league at 16-3-3 and 15-5-4 respectively.

Of course, there are plenty of differences between these two squads too.

In addition to playing a solid defensive game, the Blues have managed to crush their competition by overwhelming them offensively. That’s due in no small part to Alexander Steen’s remarkable start with 17 goals and 27 points in 22 games, but even as he starts shows signs of slowing down, St. Louis is far from vulnerable.

The Blues have six players that have recorded at least 16 points this season and 11 with a minimum of 10 points. Forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie are enjoying the best campaign of their careers and they’re still hot going into tonight’s contest.

They’ll run up against one of the best defenses in the league though. Minnesota has limited its competition to an NHL-best 25.3 shots per game. That’s helped them maintain a team 2.17 GAA, although that statistic comes with an asterisk tonight.

Goaltender Josh Harding has been a big part of the Minnesota Wild’s success, but he suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday. Harding has since gotten good news from an MRI, but the best case is that he serves as the backup tonight, according to NHL.com.

That puts the Wild’s fate in the hands of Niklas Backstrom, who was great in his recent contest against Winnipeg, but has struggled overall this season.

Combine that with the Blues’ home ice advantage and the fact that they’ve won their last five games against Minnesota and it seems fair to give them the edge. But given how good these teams have been, anything is possible.

Backes scores OT goal on his birthday, Blues even up series with Stars

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The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.

The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.

With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.

Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.

Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.

Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.

The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.

That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.

Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.

 

Jamie Benn’s late goal sends Game 2 to overtime

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This definitely wasn’t the way the St. Louis Blues drew it up.

The Blues entered the third period of Game 2 with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to shut the game down on the road.

St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes before Dallas decided to pull Kari Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi. The move didn’t provide any results in the middle frame, but something certainly sparked the Stars in the third period.

Mattias Janmark cut the deficit to 3-2 with this beauty (notice how he split Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo).

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Stars captain Jamie Benn tied it up (top).

It’s safe to say this wasn’t a memorable third period for the Blues.

Video: Brian Elliott takes a blast off the mask, stays in the game

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A bit of a scary moment in the third period of Game 2 between the Stars and Blues.

Less than five minutes into the third period, Jason Spezza took a shot that caught Blues goalie Brian Elliott square in the mask. Play was halted as Elliott remained down. It appears as though the shot to the mask also made Elliott lose one of his contacts.

Thankfully, Elliott wasn’t seriously injured on the play. After being examined by the team doctor, he was allowed to stay into the game. He did need a new mask though (he got his original one back a few minutes later).

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.

The Blues currently lead 3-2 late in the third period.

Here’s some Twitter reaction:

 

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

Lehtonen
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Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.